Eyes wide open

Warner Home Video Director’s Series: Stanley Kubrick

Warner Bros. knows a cash cow when it owns one: Reportedly hurried into production to take advantage of the impending holiday buying frenzy, and thus missing a couple of vital works, the Warner Home Video Director’s Series: Stanley Kubrick, a 10-disc set of five remastered Kubrick films, plus loads of extras, is the third such collection in a decade. But even if Warner is simply milking the legions of fat-walleted, trainspotting Kubrickophiles unable to resist owning, say, the anamorphic widescreen transfer of A Clockwork Orange (1971), unavailable last time around, it deserves a little slack. After all, the studio ponied up for Stanley’s perplexingly lifeless 1999 finale, Eyes Wide Shut.

Besides, Kubrick’s movies lend themselves to obsessive reconsideration. Among other things, this set offers a keen reminder of his dexterity with literary adaptation. Stubbornly eschewing slavish duplication, which—Coen brothers’ upcoming take on Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men notwithstanding—hardly ever works anyway, Stanley was apt to winnow texts down to their essence. When he wasn’t expanding them, that is, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Sometimes the trimming worked: His The Shining (1980) is a hair-raising disquisition on dithering creative inadequacy in a pressure-cooker memory maze with nary a sentient hedge animal in sight. And sometimes it didn’t: Full Metal Jacket (1987) cuts a central sequence from its source, Gustav Hasford’s The Short-Timers, and thereby diminishes its visceral climax. Other times (Eyes Wide Shut again), you wonder why he bothered.

Whatever. Despite the occasional misstep and a reputation as a fussy, rigid brainiac, Kubrick remains a rare Hollywood heavyweight who understood cinema’s wide-open mutability. As for rendering unto Warner what is Warner’s, there’s good news: Except for Full Metal Jacket, each of the movies in this set is available individually, with extras intact, at a ridiculously reasonable price.