Sunday, January 10, 2010

DR. STRANGELOVE: Blu-Ray (Columbia 1964) Sony Home Entertainment

A byproduct of the 'cold war' age is that it provided Hollywood with sufficient fodder to explore and even celebrate the art of espionage through a series of political thrillers.

Some took the threat of communist infiltration and possible WWIII doomsday scenarios quite seriously, while others chose to embrace the threat of catastrophe as utter rubbish and farcical nonsense. Of this latter ilk, Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb (1964) remains a sobering milestone in critiquing intellectual insanity and the incredulity of world politics.

Originally intended to be a faithful adaptation of Peter George's dramatic novel 'Red Alert', the screenplay by George, Kubrick and Terry Southern eventually was tailored to suit Kubrick's more perverse sense of dramatic irony.

Perhaps Kubrick had always intended it so - as, unlike other filmic projects, he did very little preliminary work on preparing a dramatic script, but rather, jumped headstrong into amassing research and then exploring the demented psychology of warfare. Thereafter, the screenplay placed a veritable collection of loose cannons on whom the fate of the planet rests with one simple push of a self destruct button.

With an intent to educate through the ladling of absurdity upon hyperbole, the story opens with Brigadier Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) declaring a state of emergency at a high security military base in order to launch his own counteroffensive against communism. It's a private war with very public consequences. Summoning Gen. Capt. Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) to his office, Gen. Ripper reveals that his intent is to bring about total world annihilation through the use of the atom bomb.

Naturally, the more cool-headed Mandrake is outraged and terrified - but powerless to stop the general in his efforts. Meanwhile, high overhead, a U.S. patrol of B-52 bombers under the command of Major King Kong (Slim Pickens) are ordered to fly toward Russian air space to detonate their nuclear devices.

Inside the U.S. war counsel room, President Merkin Muffley's (also Peter Sellers) is attended by ensconced feckless stooge, Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott), gregarious alcoholic, Russian Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky (Peter Bull) and the mysterious cripple - Dr. Strangelove (also Sellers); the latter an exiled Nazi genius put to work for the U.S. on the secretive doomsday device that now threatens the very existence of life on earth.

For the next two hours these models of political inefficiency will endlessly debate the pros and cons of destroying the world before inevitably, though quite accidentally, bringing about an end to civilization. Such was and remains Kubrick's message; that at any point in time in history the fate of billions hangs in the balance of omnipotent powers that may or may not have the best global concerns at heart.

Today, that message remains as relevant as ever - perhaps due in part to the epically tragic portraits of political decadence derived through brilliant performances within the film. It must be said that Peter Sellers gives three of the most startlingly wicked and satirically unique character studies ever conceived for film.

His Mandrake is a foppish and placid political fool; his Muffley an ineffectual egghead and finally, his Strangelove, the most sinister, yet utterly brainwashed demigod. Separately, these characterization span the gamut of hack politicos run amuck: together, they are comedic brilliance tinged with more than an ounce of sobering reality.

Sony's Blu-Ray of Dr. Strangelove represents a quantum leap forward in both clarity and contrast levels. Previous DVD releases of the film (and there have been four) have chosen to either bump up or tone down contrast so severely that either the gray scale appeared slightly washed out or much too dark to appreciate the more subtle details in the B&W image.

The Blu-Ray gets it right with a finely nuanced, sharp and minutely detailed image that is quite stunning and superbly rendered. Film grain is evident but quite natural in appearance. This is, at long last, a fitting visual presentation, perfectly complimented by a 5.1 soundtrack. For purists, the original mono track has also been included.

Extra features have been imported from the previously issued 40th Anniversary standard edition DVD, save a 'picture in picture' added feature exclusive to this Blu-Ray release. Bottom line: highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)