THE DOORS: SPECIAL EDITION
Review by Michael Jacobson
Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kevin Dillon, Kyle MacLachlan, Frank Whaley, Kathleen Quinlan
Director: Oliver Stone
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 138 Minutes
Release Date: February 20, 2001
“Did you have a good world when
you died, enough to base a movie on?”
I can still remember being more excited about Oliver
Stone’s film The Doors than just about any movie release in my life.
Although they were technically before my time, I discovered the music of
the Doors and the poetry of Jim Morrison during my adolescence, and found both
to be the perfect backdrop to my growing up.
I felt a strange kinship to the man, not so much because of his rock
stardom or his famed excesses with drugs and alcohol, but because of his
literary mind. I was on my way to
becoming an English major, and to read his poetry and to learn about the vast
amount of books he had read and his incredible knowledge for literature made Jim
Morrison into something more than just another rock icon for me.
And Oliver Stone, a professed fan who discovered the
band’s music during his youthful tour in Vietnam, seemed like the perfect
filmmaker to bring their story to the screen, if there was such a thing.
Stone had proven an ability in his body of work not to report, but to
express, and his visual flair combined with the otherworldly music of the Doors
seemed a can’t miss proposition.
“Let me tell you about heartache and the loss of
Of course, such an undertaking would not be easy.
The project was met initially by the surviving group members with
apprehension at best. Though all three would eventually agree to allow Stone the
rights to produce his film, it’s become a cornerstone of vehement controversy
over the years, particularly between him and keyboardist Ray Manzarek.
In his autobiography, Light My Fire, Manzarek doesn’t miss an
opportunity to spew venom Stone’s way about his treatment of the Doors and
Morrison. He’s quick to point out
every disagreement, every inaccuracy, and ever overdose of creative license used
in the film. Now, with the
commentary track on this DVD, Stone gets his chance to fire a few shots back at
him, calling him “squarish” and daring him to prove certain scenes were not
correct. Both drummer John Densmore
and Robby Krieger lent their aid to the film, though it’s difficult to
pinpoint where they stand on it now. Both
seemed to join Manzarek in dismissing the movie on their group commentary for The
Doors: Special Edition music
video DVD. Then again, Robby
appears in the featurette on this disc to offer his thoughts.
Amusingly, John Densmore wrote his book Riders on the
Storm prior to the beginning of the movie, and in his final chapter, he contemplates his worries about such a
film, stating that he knew that any filmmaker would have to condense many years
of their life and work into two and a half hours, then blow it up to the size of
a hundred story building. Yet Riders
became a principle screenplay source for the film.
Others who continue to express hostility toward the film:
Patricia Kennealy, the self-proclaimed witch who claims to have cursed
the project because of the way Stone had her portrayed in the film (as performed
by Kathleen Quinlan). The parents
of Pamela Courson, who apparently were a thorn in Stone’s side from day one
about the way their daughter was portrayed, forcing him to omit certain truths
like it was her that introduced Jim to heroin.
And many others who knew Jim, claiming the film only focused on his
reputation for wildness, and didn’t really capture his sweeter side that made
everyone like him.
“Indians scattered on dawn’s
highway, bleeding…ghosts crowd the young child’s fragile eggshell mind.”
The legend of Jim, by his own account, occurred when he was
about five years old, riding with his parents through the desert when they came
upon an overturned truck. The
passengers, American Indian workers, were all either hurt, dying, or already
dead. Jim claimed he felt the soul
of one or more of those Indians leap into his body, beginning his lifetime’s
leanings towards the supernatural and the idea of the shaman, or medicine man,
of the group.
When he grows up, Jim (Kilmer, in an electrifying
portrayal) moves to Los Angeles, where he meets up with his on again, off again
girlfriend Pam (Ryan), and a fellow film student, Ray (MacLachlan).
One inspires his creativity, the other helps him channel it.
Soon, with the addition of two more musicians, Robbie (Whaley) and
Densmore (Dillon), the Doors are born, and poised to take over the California
In the age of flower power and love-your-neighbor
sentiment, the Doors descended like a dark cloud upon American culture.
These were not the safe, happy, FM friendly songs that had dominated the
airwaves through the early 60’s. This
was a somber, contemplative music made heavy by Ray’s mournful organ,
Robby’s shrieking bottleneck guitar and John’s interpretive pounding.
All of this was done to accent the lyrics of Jim, who wasn’t afraid to
sing about death, pain, loss of innocence or breaking on through to the other
But for Jim, it wasn’t an artificial lifestyle, or
something he wore like a costume that he could take off and laugh about at the
end of the day. His work was
personal, and reflected his own attitudes about excess and monstrosity.
The same intellectual curiosity that drove his poetry also drove him to
take drugs and consume alcohol in quantities that amazed even the most hardened
substance abusers. He lived his life like he knew death was always around the
corner, waiting for him, and he left the light on and the door open for that
The Doors rode the crest of their success for as long as
they could, but it began to come apart under the same force that brought them
“Blood on the streets in the town of New
Some say the beginning of the end was their concert in New
Haven, Connecticut: after a scuffle
backstage with a cop who didn’t recognize him, Jim got an eyeful of mace just
before the show. Later, during the
concert, he began purposely taunting the police who were working the venue as
security guards. After the cops had
all they could stand, they ended the show, and pulled Morrison off the stage and
straight to jail. It was the first
of Jim’s legal troubles, but it wouldn’t be the last, nor the most famous.
“Your ballroom days are over, baby…”
The real beginning of the end occurred in Miami.
The concert audience was already restless to the point of distraction
because Jim was a few hours late to the show.
When he arrived, he was under some pretty heavy influences.
He stopped the show and taunted the crowd into a near riot, and was later
accused of exposing himself on stage. On
the basis of a small number of questionable witnesses, but mainly by a society
who’d had enough of Jim and the Doors, he was convicted.
The appeals processes were still lingering on at the time of his death.
“Wake up, girl.
We’re almost home.”
The Doors never fully recovered from that blow.
Faced with concert cancellations, a hateful music press, no invitation to
Woodstock and the growing strife within the band, the four members would begin
their separate journeys, though, ironically, they recorded one of their greatest
albums during that time, L.A. Woman. Jim
would move to Paris to try to find anonymity enough to concentrate on his
poetry. He would be dead a year
later at the age of 27.
Stone’s movie touches on all of this, with a sense of
accuracy and authenticity. I
don’t think the quibbles about the film are in the large details, but with the
interpretive manner in which he filled in the gaps. Stone has always been a master of putting his feelings on
screen with a minimum of subtlety, and as for me, I’ve never chosen to watch
this film as a biography. I watch
it as a testament by Oliver Stone as to what the Doors’ music meant to him.
Sure, there was more to Jim than what was captured between
the sprocket holes here, and to be certain, there was much more to the other
band members as well. But like
their music, this movie creates art out of a heightened sense of reality.
The lines blur, the facts cloud, the very lives get lost in some kind of
effervescent haze of personal memory, but the reality here lies not in
accountability, but in the strong doses of perception that taints our personal
views of life. In a way, I think
Jim Morrison would be pleased…it’s a cinematic capturing of everything he
stood for, while keeping him as enigmatic an icon as ever before.
I was hoping with this new release that Artisan would
provide us with a better transfer than the original DVD put out by Live when
they still existed as a company. No
such luck. We still are deprived of
an anamorphic transfer, and the video is still as flawed as before.
Colors are generally good, and strong, and very expressive, but the
entire film suffers from softness and lack of detail.
The depth and spatial relationships within certain shots seem a bit hazy
and lost, and other scenes suffer from lines and/or grain that distract.
Some of the desert scenes exhibit a bit of unnatural shimmer.
The disc is far from unwatchable, but unfortunately, it’s equally as
far from reference quality.
The 5.1 surround really only comes to life during the
concert scenes. With them, you get
a full, ambient range of sound from all speakers, and the subwoofer really adds
bottom end to the music’s bass. All
of these sequences are real treats for fans, as they seem to capture the essence
of a long gone band’s legendary live performances. At other times, the audio is fine, with clear dialogue, but
stays mostly forward staged, with so little activity from the rear channels that
you’ll forget about them until the next musical number.
This is one of Artisan’s best offerings so far.
On disc one, you get a commentary track by Oliver Stone…a little slow
starting, and as usual with him, no real sense of beginning or ending, but as it
goes along, he has plenty of good stories to tell and a lot of information
(including, as mentioned, a dig or two at the project’s most vocal opponent,
Ray Manzarek). There is also a
jump-to-a-song search feature.
Disc two contains the remaining supplements, including a
terrific 43 minute documentary “The Road of Excess”, featuring interviews
with Stone and his cast members, in addition to Robby Krieger and Patricia
Kennealy. There is also a five
minute featurette, a teaser and trailer, production notes, talent files, and a
Cinematographic Moments feature that delves into the movie’s unusual look and
camera styles. A terrific package!
The Doors broke on through in many ways, and Oliver Stone’s film The
Doors does its best to capture that essence expressively and musically.
While hardly a bio pic, and still drawing the ire of concerned parties
almost a decade after its initial release, it remains an entertaining cinematic
achievement that does a fine job of turning into visuals what the group did with
“This is the …end…”