A Clockwork Orange, 1971.
Directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Starring Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Miriam Karlin, Warren Clarke, James Marcus, Michael Tarn, and Michael Bates.
Stanley Kubrick’s classic A Clockwork Orange arrives on 4K with a remastered print created in collaboration with the director’s estate and his assistant, Leon Vitali. Most, but not all, of the bonus features from previous editions were ported over.
I’m not the first person to note that Stanley Kubrick was a unique director, but it’s worth repeating, especially for new generations discovering his movies for the first time. Watch 2001: A Space Odyssey and you might think he had been steeped in science-fiction. Take in Barry Lyndon and you could say he was obviously known for his period movies. Or was he a horror director or a war film guy?
He was all of those things and none of those things. He simply wanted to tell stories that interested him, with the assumption that others would find those tales intriguing too. And for someone who was known for being so meticulous, sometimes he changed his mind on a whim. For example, in the bonus features in this new 4K edition of A Clockwork Orange, someone notes that Kubrick at first felt that no one would want to watch a movie told in Nadsat, and then he ended up tossing the script and using the novel as his guide, which meant the film would be full of author Anthony Burgess’s invented slang.
Kubrick left us before the year that he tried to foretell in his only science-fiction movie came to pass, but his estate worked closely with his assistant, Leon Vitali, and a team at Warner Bros. to remaster the film in 4K. From the opening shot, A Clockwork Orange displays rich detail – if you want to see every imperfection on Malcolm McDowell’s face in that first close-up, now you can.
To be fair, we’ve reached a stage with home video where the leap from 2K to 4K doesn’t seem nearly as great as the jump from DVD to 2K was, regardless of how many pixels we’re talking about. However, if you’re a fan of a particular film, it’s certainly work your while to pay a little more for a 4K release. Even if you don’t have a 4K setup yet, most releases come with a Blu-ray too, so you can watch that in the meantime.
That’s the case with this edition of A Clockwork Orange: Warner Bros. tossed in a Blu-ray that has the movie and all the bonus features, along with a code for a digital copy where some of the extras can be found too. My understanding is that it’s the same Blu-ray issued by the studio in 2011, so that copy of the film doesn’t take advantage of the new transfer. A cursory comparison of the two copies of the film showed that the 4K definitely retains an edge in fine details, with more vibrant colors and a light amount of film grain. The Blu-ray looked like some DNR (digital noise reduction) was applied to it, resulting in a bit of a waxy look to characters’ skin. It didn’t seem as egregious as some movies have looked on Blu-ray, however.
Warner Bros. didn’t commission any new extras for this release, so the decision whether or not to upgrade comes down to how important 4K is to you. The studio did bring forward most of the extras from previous releases, starting with a commentary track with McDowell and filmmaker Nick Redman, which can be found on both platters in this release. The two play off each other really well during their conversation, with McDowell providing anecdotes about the production and Redman offering his views on how the film fits into Kubrick’s career as well as overall film history.
The rest of the bonus features are:
- Still Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange (44 minutes): Created by the BBC, this is a documentary that goes well beyond your usual EPK (electronic press kit) kind of features, digging deep into a movie that Kubrick actually pulled from release in England because some teenagers blamed their crimes on it. There are no easy answers to the question of an artist’s obligation to society, but the participants here do their best to sail those choppy waters.
- Great Bolshy Yarblockos! Making a Clockwork Orange (28 minutes): This is a pretty standard making-of piece, with some famous directors like Steven Spielberg and Sidney Pollack dropping in to offer their thoughts on Kubrick in general and this film in particular. The infamous scene with Alex’s eyes pried open gets plenty of attention.
- Turning Like Clockwork (26 minutes): This featurette treads some of the same territory as Still Tickin’, but it does so in the context of newer films in comparison to Clockwork, which admittedly feels a bit tame in comparison to what you can see on HBO these days.
- Malcolm McDowell Looks Back (11 minutes): The actor talks about the making of the film, prompted by a big pile of photographs that have been splayed across a table for him. Of particular amusement is an image of the screenplay’s cover page with the title crossed out and a new one, The Ludovico Treatment, written in. Luckily, Kubrick changed his mind about that.
The theatrical trailer, which is worth watching just to see the kind of trailer that would never be created today, rounds out the platter. A documentary about McDowell, the 86-minute O Lucky Malcolm!, isn’t found here, but it is included in the extras found with the digital copy, along with Looks Back, Great Bolshy Yarblockos!, and the trailer. However, the Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures documentary that was included with the 2011 Blu-ray is nowhere to be found.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★★