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A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corbi, Miriam Karlin
Director:  Stanley Kubrick
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.77:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  See Review
Length:  137 Minutes
Release Date:  October 23, 2007

"I was cured, all right."

Film ****

There are some images in life, like traffic accidents, forest fires and others that are utterly horrifying to look upon, yet somehow…we can’t look away.  A Clockwork Orange is a film with many such moments.  This is one of the most disturbing films ever made, both in terms of content and visuals, and remains as potent and controversial today as when it was first released nearly thirty years ago.

The protagonist, Alex (McDowell) is a thoroughly unlikable character.  He and his gang of ‘droogs’ get their jollies from spending their nights indulging in acts of ‘ultraviolence’.  They brutally beat an old homeless men.  They leave another gang of toughs near death.  They invade a couples home and force the husband to watch as they rape his wife in front of his eyes.  This is all within the first fifteen minutes of the film, and I have know some people not to make it past that point.

But what all of this leads to is one of the greatest examples of dramatic irony in storytelling.  Alex eventually goes to prison for murder, only to get out early by agreeing to an experimental treatment.  In one of the most bizarre, frightening and fascinating sequences, we watch Alex undergo a chemically induced transformation, whereby his body learns to react with harsh debilitating sickness whenever he feels the urge to indulge his propensity towards sex and violence.  And in this helpless weakened condition, he is turned loose on the streets, where one by one, all of the victims he wronged earlier in the picture get to extract a measure of revenge against him.

The film centers on the idea of conflict, in many forms and ways.  The conflicts between youth and old age, the conflicts between good and evil, and without naming names, certainly a conflict between extreme liberalism and extreme conservatism.  Turns out Alex is a pawn for both sides as they argue over how best to deal with the ever growing problem of violent criminals.  Even the color schemes are constantly in conflict in the film…hardly anything matches.  Bright oranges are constantly juxtaposed with deep blues, creating a jarring effect on the eyes.  Check out some of the clothes being worn, too, especially by Alex’s parents…everything is a combination of colors that are completely mismatched.  It’s like Martha Stewart’s worst nightmare, but Kubrick knew what he was doing, and the effect is intentional.  Even the classical music score, mostly by Beethoven, is performed on electronic synthesizers, creating a strange conflicted effect as well.

This is truly a film designed to unsettle the audience, so not everyone will embrace it.  But one thing is for sure:  once you’ve seen it, you’ll never forget it.

Video  ****

This new anamorphic version corrects all the problems of the old, and presents A Clockwork Orange in magnificent, colorful glory.  The print is much cleaner, and images are stronger, sharper, and with greater detail.  The range of colors is strong, including deep blacks and pure, clean whites, natural fleshtones and a terrific juxtaposition of often clashing colors with no bleeding or distortion.  A superb job!

Audio ***1/2

Gone is the thin sounding original mono soundtrack in favor of a full-bodied 5.1 mix.  The electronic and classical music sound better than ever, with fuller range and more depth...this is evident from the first few opening notes.   Dialogue remains crisp and clear on the center channel.  Surrounds are mostly used to open up the score a little bit, but serves that purpose well.  Overall, the audio is clean, dynamic and better than ever.

Features ****

The first disc contains a solid new commentary track with Malcolm McDowell and historian Nick Redman...a real treat.  There is also the original trailer.

The second disc features a Channel Four documentary on the film, a making-of featurette, and a career profile of Malcolm McDowell, directed by longtime Kubrick collaborator Jan Harlan.

Summary:

A Clockwork Orange is one of Kubrick’s most visual triumphs, and his sense of cinematic storytelling serves the classic novel by Burgess well.  It’s a disturbing, violent film with many horrifying and unforgettable images, but all of it serves the terrific irony of a tale of crime and punishment, of ideals and results, and of just what constitutes morality.

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