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Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Reviewed by: Zorikh Lequidre
Genre: Comedy
Video: Original aspect ratio: Approximately 1:33:1, but varies slightly during film
Audio: Digitally mastered Dolby Mono
Language: English, French, Spanish Portuguese
Subtitle: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese Korean, Thai
Length: 1 hr, 33 min
Rating: not rated
Release Date: 6-12-01
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Commentary: none
Documentaries: The Art of Stanley Kibrick from Short Films to Strangelove
Featurettes: Inside the Making of DR. STRANGELOVE
Filmography/Biography: Stanley Kubrick filmography at the end of the featurette; Selected actor mini-bios and filmos in "Talent Files"
Interviews: Stanley Kubrick filmography at the end of the featurette; Selected actor mini-bios and filmos in "Talent Files"
Trailers/TV Spots: Yes
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: In the documentary and featurette there are stills and short pieces of footage of alternate and deleted scenes.
Music Video: none
Other: Original advertising gallery; Animated Menus; Production Notes; Scene selections
Cast and Crew: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Peter Bull, James Earl Jones, Tracy Reed
Screenplay by: Peter George (novel Red Alert, aka Two Hours to Doom); Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, Peter George
Produced by: Stanley Kubrick; Victor Lyndon (associate), Leon Minoff (executive)
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Music: Laurie Johnson
The Review: This movie is a hilarious dark satire if the Cold War phenomenon. An Air Force base commander gets it in his head that there is an international Communist conspiracy so terrible that it needs to be wiped out in a surprise nuclear attack, so he orders his bombers to strike. In the War Room of the Pentagon, the President tries to stop the attack despite the urgings of a hawkish Air Force General. With the help of the Russian ambassador, he contacts the Soviet Premier and learns that there is a Doomsday Bomb that will destroy all life on earth if a single nuclear explosion occurs. Meanwhile, a B-52 is heading for its target in Russia. Many nuclear war movies are serious, preachy, and/or depressing. Some are difficult to watch more than once, or at all because of this. This movie, by contrast, is so funny and so packed with little significant details that it encourages repeated viewing. I don't want to give too much detail because the surprise of the discovery of these details is part of the joy of watching this film. This movie was begun with the intention of creating a drama based on a novel by Peter George, Red Alert. As Stanley Kubrick worked with Terry Southern on the script late night after night, they eventually started making jokes about it, and found that their film could work as a comedy. The result really brings out the absurdity of the Cold War, arms races, brinkmanship, espionage, suspicion, and Mutual Assured Destruction. Despite the best efforts of those who may try to prevent it, there always exists the possibility that something could happen that will lead to doomsday. This movie makes us laugh, enabling us to watch the film and actually want to see what happens next even though it may end up with a horrible, hopeless situation. Yet even at the moments when the worst possible things that could happen occur, we have the biggest laughs of all, as contrasting, yet oddly appropriate things are put together in the same scene. When I first saw this movie, the strongest feeling I had (aside from laughing at the humor) was the torn emotions of rooting for the plucky, courageous, and determined American bomber crew to succeed against rapidly increasing odds while knowing that their success would lead to the end of the world. The music during the bomber scenes (a slowly building variation on "When Johnny Comes Marching Home") adds to this feeling. Mr. Kubrick found great performances from all his actors. Peter Sellers does one of his best turns in the roles of the President, a Royal Air Force officer, and the titular Dr. Strangelove, a German scientist in a wheelchair with an uncontrollable right hand. George C. Scott was caught as a manic, over-the-top performance as the General who really thinks this attack is a great chance to wipe out the "Russkies." Sterling Hayden was brought out of retirement to give the steady intensity of the deluded but determined Base Commander. Slim Pickens charms and amuses as the Texan B-52 pilot. The set design is inspired. The interior of the B-52, designed using publicly available material, is so realistic there were thoughts that a spy was at work. The Air Force base is filled with ironic detais, such as the gun collection on General Jack T. Ripper's wall and the sign "Peace is Our Profession." The War Room with its round table and "big board" is possibly one of the most famous images in motion pictures of the period.
Image and Sound The picture is crystal-clear, razor sharp as only digital can be in the indoor scenes. It's almost frightening in its sharpness, especially in the scenes in the Air Force base offices. There is a battle sequence outdoors where a hand-held camera shakes and is occasionally out of focus like real combat footage, and in the bomber the image shakes a bit as the plane moves, but that was all the intention of the director and cinematographer. The sound is not in stereo, but it is as clear as a digital re-mastering can make an analog mono recording from 1963. All of the dialogue can he heard, and on those occasions when sounds overlap, the dominant dialogue is never lost. The voices and sound effects are realistic, the sound of every voice is affected by its environment (cavernous echoes in the war room, radio modulation between the bomber crew, etc.). The background noises fit every scene and the silences are perfect; there is no sound on the disc that doesn't belong there. There is one word of dialogue that is dubbed, but the reason for this is explained in the "Making of." feature. The movie itself was released with a changing aspect ratio. Some scenes matched the TV screen's 1:33/1, some were wider. I do not remember noticing this from when I saw it in the theater, or whether the screen got wider left-to-right or shorter top-to-bottom. In the disc, the scenes with a wider aspect ratio appear letterboxed, but the difference is so slight you hardly ever notice. The time it stands out the most is in the famous shot of Slim Pickens riding the bomb. This is essentially the "money shot" of the movie (and the "Making of." feature explains why that works as a pun), and though the background is letterboxed, the object in the foreground goes all the way to the bottom or the screen. Some of the effect of the movie is lost by the nature of watching it on a TV rather than in a theater. In the theater, elements on the bottom of the screen in the foreground dominate the picture, so the nameplate of the Air Force base commander and the title of a report in front of the Air Force General in the war room have a big impact. On the small screen, instead of looking up at a larger-than-life picture, you are usually looking straight at a smaller-than-life picture. Therefore, elements at the bottom of the screen can easily be ignored. But this is a small complaint, and now that you know about it, you know what to look for.
The Extras This disk provides a good amount of worthwhile extra material. There may be enough to even demand more than one sitting to get through it all. Some of it is certainly worth seeing more than once. There are two documentary features, one on Stanley Kubrick's life and career up to and including Dr. Strangelove, the other a lengthy program on the making of this film. Both programs give lots of good information, and include rare stills and film clips. They both offer insight into Mr. Kubrick's creative process and interviews with people who have known him and worked with him. Some of the information is duplicated between the two programs, but there is one apparent contradiction involving how Peter Sellers wound up in the movie. There is a lot of information that adds to your enjoyment and understanding of the movie. Some of this includes information about the role played by Tracy Reed, the effect of the death of JFK on the movie, the studio's reaction to Fail Safe, which was being made at the same time, the original ending, how Peter Sellers developed his role, and so on. I'm not going to give away any of these secrets, but there are many of them. So many, in fact, that the "Making of." feature almost seems too long and full of info. The animated menu is very entertaining. When the disk is played, the cartoon drawing from the original advertisement pops up, with the airplanes flying off the top of the screen and the sound from the movie ot the President calling the Soviet Premier. The only downside to it is that it takes a while to come up. If you are at the end of a feature and you want to go back to the menu, you have to wait for the whole cartoon to come up, which takes a full minute or so. The "split screen interviews" are fascinating. These were telephone interviews of George C. Scott and Peter Sellers that were provided to the media as promotional material. The actor appeared on one half of the screen, while the other half was kept blank for the receivers of the film to place the image of their own interviewer reading the questions the studio would provide them. Seeing these actors answer questions you cant hear is amusing enough, but some of the responses are quite entertaining. Of particular note is Sellers, in his President make-up and costume, giving an example of the English Accent in various parts of England. There are also trailers, advertising art, talent files, production notes, and a scene selector. Of these, the trailers are of greatest interest because of the groundbreaking creativity within them. Among other things, one-word clips from the movie are strung together to form questions that the movie purports to answer.
Commentary None
Final Words: The movie itself is worth the price of the disc. The extras add to the entertainment value and truly enrich the experience of viewing the movie. This disc would be a valuable addition to any quality film collection.

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July 4, 2001