"A Clockwork Orange" is one of my favorite films of all time. Whenever I feel the need to watch a little of the ole ‘ultra-violent' or the notion of the ole ‘in out, in out' comes to mind, "A Clockwork Orange" always comes to mind. This morality tale directed by the late and great Stanley Kubrick and based upon the book written by Anthony Burgess stirs up controversy as only Kubrick could create and delivers a wealth of memorable images central to a world gone mad where a man and his droogs can patrol streets nightly and engage in all sorts of mischief and ill behaviour. "A Clockwork Orange" may be dated to the 1971 social mentality of its time and thematics towards behaviorism and other psychologies now lost concepts that are years forgotten, but the underlying messages delivered by "A Clockwork Orange" still stand the test of time.
Who can hear the song "Singing in the Rain" after seeing "A Clockwork Orange" and not remember the brutal beating and rape depicted in the film? Before watching the Kubrick classic, the song may rekindle memories of Gene Kelly and umbrellas, but the images left by Kubrick's vision are powerful and poignant. The white-clad thugs and their athletic codpieces are unmistakable as anything but imagery from "A Clockwork Orange." The phallic nose adorned by Malcolm McDowell as he croons "Singing in the Rain" is another image burned into memory by Kubrick's film. Even Beethoven's unfinished Ninth Symphony takes on a new meaning after just one screening of "A Clockwork Orange." Other themes from the show have been repeated and mimicked elsewhere. The usage of violent imagery to change behaviour has been used as recent as the third season of ABC's television show "LOST."
The essential plot of the story finds young Alex DeLarge (McDowell) hanging out with his droogs Georgie (James Marcus) and Dim (Warren Clarke) frequenting British milk bars and delivering bloody violence by night all in the name of fun. They are a gang whose purpose is sex and violence. The battle rival gangs and display their dominance through fisticuffs. Alex, Dim and Georgie attack an author's house and brutalize him and rape his lovely red-haired wife. Alex is the alpha male of the three man gang and leads them to whatever acts of violence he desires. He is intelligent and cultured and appreciates Ludwig von Beethoven as much as he does the bashing of skulls and forced sexual intercourse. He rules his droogs with a mean spirit and is often as harsh to them as he is their victims.
By day, Alex is an unwilling school boy who is frequently truant and causes nothing but stress to his parents. His home and parents are forever marred by the stylings of the late Sixties. During the day he is without his droogs, but Alex frequents record schools and finds sexual conquests in the form of young women. His parents believe that Alex spends his nights doing odd-jobs such as helping others and fully believe his ill feelings in the mornings are a result of his kind evening activities. They are completely oblivious to his true violent nature and the women he brings back to his room while they are off working. One day while he is truant, the school principal visits and talks to Alex about his truancy. He pushes off his school superior and brings two young girls back to his place to enjoy the "William Tell Overture."
After detailing his sordid affairs, violence and poor social behaviour, Alex is betrayed by his droogs and he is placed into police custody. Eventually, Alex is placed into prison. After using his intelligence and wit to show good behaviour towards the warden, it is decided that Alex is trying to become a well-adjusted member of society and he is enrolled into a new psychological program called the Ludovico Technique that promises to fix his social shortcomings and return him to his family and freedom. During the mental training, Alex is strapped to a chair and his eyes are forced wide open. He is shown horribly violent pictures and trained to have a Pavlovian response towards violence and sex. One of the unfortunate occurrences during this training is that the images shown to him are set to the music of his beloved Ludwig von and he finds an aversion to that music as well as sex and violence. After a display of his new disposition, Alex is placed back into the general populace.
Alex's freedom finds him a timid and gentler person. However, he is unable to cope with the violent world surrounding him. His parents had rented his room out to a strong young man who now considers Alex's parents his own. Alex is left without a home. He runs into Dim and Georgie, who are now policemen. They brutally beat Alex and leave him nearly dead. In his escape, Alex finds solace at the home of the man he beat and whose wife he had raped earlier with Georgie and Dim. The man recognizes Alex as the boy who was put through the controversial Ludovico therapy and decides to use him as a political weapon against the current governmental regime. Unfortunately, he also recognizes Alex as the man who raped his wife and beat him with a cane. In the end, it is decided that Alex's conditioning was perhaps more cruel than Alex's original nature.
The moral argument provided by "A Clockwork Orange" is very nicely done. It discusses the notion of behavioral psychology and how the human spirit is robbed by these techniques and the forceful nature of the conditioning causes a person to change for the worse and against their own personal wishes. It robs them of individuality and personal freedom. "A Clockwork Orange" argues that the Ludovico Technique is wrongful and cruel and applies this argument to the actual behavioral psychology books that were popular during the Sixties. The film looks at the morality of politics and how Alex's ‘treatment' was viewed as good by some and evil by others. "A Clockwork Orange" looks at human nature and how one's ‘bad flaws' are perhaps best left alone and how one's perception of good is not necessarily correct.
Stanley Kubrick uses familiar classical music pieces and a true sense of fun to depict violent acts. Even during the film's harshest sequences, the droogs are depicted with a wide smile and a complete sense of enjoyment. Only the victims are shown in a sad state. The rest of the world is colorful and happy. Musical masterpieces play energetically over the cruel moments and bring a spunk and sense of life to every scene. During the violent rape sequence, Alex sings and dances and playfully removes the woman's clothing. It is a fun scene to watch and one questions their own morality when they realize they have enjoyed a brutal scene. When Alex cuts Dim, it seems like a fun event and not the strong betrayal it actually is. Kubrick's confusing of good and bad through music and events perfectly accentuates the moral argument created by the director.
There are supporting actors in "A Clockwork Orange" and only Patrick Magee as the victim Frank Alexander has an overly impactful role in the film in a supporting sense. Otherwise, this is almost a one man show for actor Malcolm McDowell. McDowell is a veteran actor who has made a great number of pictures, but "A Clockwork Orange" was his first important role. It was a controversial performance, but he easily outdid his role as Alex when he starred in the 1979 film "Caligula." McDowell shows an enigmatic character, but his charisma shines through during the length of the film. Alex is a likable young man during even the most despicable acts, and McDowell's acting chops help make Alex succeed as a character and help "A Clockwork Orange" succeed as a film. This was one of his first performances and today remains one of his most important and memorable roles.
"A Clockwork Orange" is a brilliant masterpiece. It grays good and bad and forces the viewer to enjoy watching violent acts. When Alex and his droogs are at their worst, the film is the most fun. Once Alex is released into the world as a good man, the tone changes and the film is more sorrowful than enjoyable. Kubrick plays with the emotions and feelings of his audience to deliver his moral and social arguments. He presents very violent situations, but never fails in entertaining his audience. "A Clockwork Orange" is a beautiful film that is energetic and fun. It contains a number of memorable sequences and has forever been engraved in the consciousness of pop culture. It is violent and mean-spirited, but never leaves the viewer feeling drained by watching these horrendous acts. This is a poetic picture that uses classical music with perfection and is a prime example of how familiar music can be used to set the tone of a film and add to the character of a film without ever being distracting.
"A Clockwork Orange" is a mixed bag in its 1.66:1 high definition debut on the Blu-ray format. The film was released concurrently on HD-DVD and DVD as well, and these three releases is the first time the film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio. The film had previously been available in the full-frame 1.33:1 ratio preferred by Kubrick, but for its high definition entrance, Warner Bros. has went back to the preferred 1.66:1 widescreen aspect. Other Kubrick films that have been released alongside "A Clockwork Orange" have also been reformatted to look better on widescreen televisions. Unfortunately for "A Clockwork Orange," the cinematography preferred by Stanley Kubrick and soft-focus lenses used emphatically by the director mar the high definition debut and "A Clockwork Orange" is barely better than standard definition DVDs played through upconvert players.
Detail is decent and color is strong, but the film does look dated. Only a few moments during "A Clockwork Orange" truly look deserving of the Blu-ray format. There are a number of scenes that appear out of focus. There are plenty of scenes that look nearly identical to the DVD releases. Colors are improved as well, but still lack much of the pop that we've come to expect from the high definition formats. Black levels and shadow detail are good, but not spectacular. Some of the film's darker moments do show some black crush. Source materials were clean with only a little film grain present. However, some minor color banding is visible on gradients and bright lighting is harsh. This new Blu-ray release is certainly an upgrade, but only a mild one.
"A Clockwork Orange" delivers the beloved Ludwig von with a nice Uncompressed PCM 5.1 channel soundtrack that is a warm upgrade over the previous home video releases. The Blu-ray disc also contains a Dolby Digital English 5.1 mix and matching technology for French, Spanish, German and Italian. Subtitles are provided for English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese and even Swedish. That is an impressive list of subtitle support. The PCM track is a marginal improvement over the Dolby Digital mix, but the dated source materials does not allow "A Clockwork Orange" to excel in any of its supplied sound formats. It sounds good and is markedly better than older releases, but still doesn't push the technology.
Kubrick recorded much of the music from taped sources and the limited nature of their sound recording beginnings is apparent on the PCM track. You can hear minor clipping at higher frequencies and the bass is not as deep as one would hope. The music still sounds quite good and is a bit livelier than my two older DVDs. Dialogue is very clear and I found this to be another solid improvement. There were a few lines of dialogue I always had a small problem hearing in previous mixes, but never once did I find this problem with the PCM mix. The low frequency effects channel and rear surrounds are not used heavily by "A Clockwork Orange." They have some usage, but are limited in scope. After the music and the dialogue, there is not a lot of sound information for "A Clockwork Orange." This is the cleanest and sharpest the title has ever sounded, but it still is not a very good sounding film due to age and limited sound design.
A handful of nice supplements accompany "A Clockwork Orange" on Blu-ray. This is a welcome change from the rather limited previous offerings. The Commentary by Actor Malcolm McDowell and Film Historian Nick Redman is the highlight of this new round of releases for the film. McDowell dominates the conversation and thankfully so. He is an engaging and interesting orator that talks about many different aspects of his experiences. I learned a great deal about this film and McDowell held my interest for the entire commentary. Redman offers up tidbits about the production, but McDowell is the true reason to listen to this commentary track.
Three features and the Theatrical Trailer are also included. The Still Tickin': The Return of A Clockwork Orange (43:40) is a wonderful documentary that looks at the controversy surrounding the film and the iconic status of the film. The documentary is essentially a talking heads production, but everybody has something interesting to say. It features directors from other films and how they were influenced by Kubrick and "A Clockwork Orange." It talks about the music, Kubrick and the film. This is a solid forty five minutes of information. Great Bolshy Yarblockos!: Making A Clockwork Orange (28:17) is a glossy making-of documentary that provides a lot of good information on the making of the film and features better sound than the film itself. Sidney Pollack and others lend their thoughts in this good documentary. The career profile O Lucky Malcolm! (1:26:10) is presented in high definition and is a film within itself. This is a complete look at the film's star and his career up until this point. I found this incredibly entertaining and gained more respect for an actor that I've already respected tremendously.
"A Clockwork Orange" is an amazing film and my favorite picture from director Stanley Kubrick. After nearly a dozen credits of college psychology, I've always had a slightly different perspective towards the film than a casual viewer, but have always enjoyed it tremendously. It has embedded images and associations into my consciousness that are twisted, yet refreshing. The films combination of music, witty storytelling and the old ultra-violent made for a controversial, but timeless classic. This is a unique picture that is unlike any other experience you will see. It is fun, but provocative. It will change how you remember the song "Singing in the Rain." The Blu-ray release has a marginally better looking picture, but the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The sound is strong, but limited by the film's source materials. Where this release really shines is the bonus materials. It is nearly five hours of information that showcases the talent that is Malcolm McDowell. I would have paid the price of the Blu-ray for the bonus materials alone. They are that good. Great film. Great extras. Slightly better than DVD sound and video.