on October 30, 2007
Kubrick's final effort is also his greatest masterpiece: a humane and expressionistic fable, endlessly complex and guardedly optimistic.
A few notes about the Blu-Ray disc of "Eyes Wide Shut:"
The Blu-Ray is the unrated version of the film, meaning it does not have those CGI figures added to the orgy scenes to obscure the simulated sex. (The CGI figures were added in order to secure a U.S. theatrical release rating of "R," without Kubrick's input; their only purpose was censorship. The version released on Blu-Ray, which was released theatrically in Europe but until now has not been available in the U.S., restores those shots to the way Kubrick filmed them.)
The Blu-Ray disc contains all of the special features from the standard-definition DVD in the boxed DVD set, and they are interesting enough. The aspect-ratio of the Blu-Ray is 16x9, which is a vast improvement over the old 3x4 DVD, as 16x9 is much closer to the theatrical aspect-ratio for which the film's shots were composed. The High-Definition film transfer is beautiful, pristine, the images luminous and rich. For a film as beautifully photographed as this, in which the texture of the image conveys essential, visceral meaning, the difference between High-Definition and Standard Def might make the difference between fully receiving the film and not.
If you've gone Hi Def and are thinking of buying this to replace your old standard-def 3x4 DVD, by all means do so. Short of a new 35mm print of the unrated version, this Blu-Ray disc -- displayed on a big 1080 set in a dark room, uninterrupted -- is how this challenging and ultimately thrilling film should be seen, and seen again.
on January 31, 2000
1999 was one of the greatest years in recent memory for film. Yet Eyes Wide Shut is all but absent from the end-of-the-year awards ceremonies and most critics lists.
The first thing to bear in mind are that this film was hyped way beyond necessity. As if the general public had any interest in the "Kubrick" listed below "Cruise" and "Kidman". To them this was just another Big Actor's next Big Movie. Passing it off like a "real Hollywood couple gets busy on the big screen" heightened expectations for something Kubrick wasn't trying to achieve. It suffered the same audience reaction as The Phantom Menace, and made only a fraction of the money.
Critics seemed to be lining up to take potshots at this film. Why? Recent history shows us that all of Kubrick's films from 2001 onward have been attacked critically, and subsequently hailed as classic years later. The same is true of most of Orson Welles' work. Few critics took the time to see this movie more than once before spewing their venom. A filmmaker like Kubrick is not going for direct emotional contact with the audience. He is aiming far deeper, asking the viewer to reflect on not only the images, but the themes, and the emotional investments of the characters. The subtlety is not something common in today's films, and something critics apparently can't process quick enough to meet a press deadline.
For all those complain that the film isn't sexy or erotic enough are missing the point completely. It's not about sex. It's about many other things, some of which linger in the background, some that aren't noticeable on the initial viewing. Kubrick raises questions about our institution of marriage, the nature of faith, commitment, temptation. That most in the audience weren't willing to meet Kubrick, Cruise, and Kidman halfway in this meditation isn't a comment on the quality on the filmmaking, it's a shortcoming of the sensory-deadened society. If Kubrick had been more in touch with today's film culture, would he have bothered to give us this complex of an experience? Let's thank him for his seclusion.
A NOTE on the DVD not being letterboxed: Kubrick (again, like Welles) preferred the aspect ratio of television, and left extra space in his frame for their widescreen theatrical showings (some are letterboxed on Home Video as well). The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut are meant to be seen in the full-screen standard format, and therefore aren't available in letterbox, so don't feel you're being cheated out of any compositional content. Unfortunately you are being cheated by Warner Bros' refusal to remove the digital figures blocking the orgy scenes, inserted for theatrical release to secure the "R" rating. Only in America...
Eyes Wide Shut is not the self-indulgent, opaque film that I had been led by some reviewers to expect. It is clear and focused with an important and worthy theme. Kubrick is exploring the nature of human sexuality in light of recent conclusions derived from evolutionary biology. The theme can be stated simply: "marriage is a fortress continually under siege." To be able to use Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as his married couple, who not so incidentally were actually married to one another at the time, was quite a coup since it lent accessibility and immediacy to his theme. We are able to catch glimpses of what their married life might have been like and to see that marriage played out against the temptations of a cosmopolitan lifestyle. Indeed with their subsequent separation, Kubrick's theme is ironically supported.
Cruise plays Dr. Bill Harford, an attractive, high status, confident male who has always deceived himself about his sexual nature and the nature of women and especially the nature of his wife, Alice. They go to a party and act out some "teasing themselves" roles, as they have undoubtedly done before. Nothing comes of it since they are circumspect people. But the next night Alice decides to strip away her husband's smug confidence about her nature and expose to him the truth about feminine sexuality, and so tells him a little story about how she was moved to abandonment by just a glance from a man in uniform. Her expression is so vivid and powerful that Bill, stunned and shocked, begins to imagine this event that never took place, an event Alice has assured him, might well have taken place. As he visualizes, he begins to explore himself as various expressions of human sexuality are thrown his way, the prostitute, the gay-bashing young men, the teenage girl entertaining older men...etc. What he sees behind his mask watching the enactment of a secret medieval pagan ceremony tempts and enlightens him.
This film did not work well for a general audience for several reasons. One, many people did NOT identify with the privileged and glamorous couple. Two, the resolution of the theme was without the usual violence and/or sexual indulgence common in contemporary American cinema, a disappointment for some. Three, many young couples viewing the film together, or at least in light of their own marriages, were made uncomfortable and threatened by being reminded of their own temptations and frustrations. To have the truth of our duplicitous natures rubbed in our faces, as it were, is not something everybody wants to sit still for. Most people lie to themselves about their sexual behavior and especially their hidden sexual desires most of the time. Kubrick wanted us to see how compromised we really are. Finally, some were disappointed by an ending in which we see that we are human, all too human, and we have to accept that and live with it. Bill, realizing what he has done, not so much in action, as in his heart, cries out to Alice, what shall we do now? And she wisely says (because she has already figured this out): Be grateful that one day does not make an entire lifetime.
What is wonderful about a film like this is that, instead of going to the movies, fat and comfortable with the steak and wine in our bellies, expecting to be diverted from the irritations of our lives and to be massaged by the story upon the screen (as in say, You've Got Mail (1998) or Titanic (1998)) instead we are confronted with some uncomfortable truths about our own lives, and made to squirm. Our eyes are indeed wide shut, and we kid ourselves and tell ourselves lies about who we are sexually and what we really feel and want. Marriage is a compromise with the world and with our nature. Something is gained and something is lost, but this is no perfect world; and just as it is better to be respectable and a member of the establishment than to sleep in the streets, it is better to marry and maintain that marriage against our animal nature than it is to toss it away.
Kidman is mesmerizing and reinforces her reputation as great talent. As always she becomes the character she is playing. Cruise is clever, cute and has great timing. The sets are crisp and absolutely right for the story, and the dialogue is first class. The sometimes annoying score is appropriate. But this is not a great movie. Some of the scenes could have been sped up, and Kubrick did play the suspense card a little too slowly at times. I would rank it just below the best of Kubrick's work, somewhere between Dr. Strangelove (1964) and The Shining (1980), superior to Spartacus (1960) but not quite on the level of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Certainly we see the mark of the mature artist here in both theme and treatment.
See this for Stanley Kubrick, one of cinema's most accomplished and respected artists. It was his last completed film before he died. Would that we had another like him.
on October 23, 2007
The Special Edition is a welcome release simply because it's the unrated, European, uncensored version of the film. I won't begin to review the film itself except to say that it's probably Kubrick's least appreciated and most underrated film--undeservedly so-- I personally think it's just as brilliant as his other works. See it more than once before you decide.
That said, the new Warner release has some flaws. The disk is supposed to contain BOTH versions of the film (unrated and rated), but it ONLY contains the unrated version (better that than just the rated one!). But the packaging says it contains both, so there's a big boo-boo. Also, it was originally advertised that the film would contain commentary by Sydney Pollack and someone else-- but there is no commentary on the film (and it doesn't say as such on the packaging... so it must have been decided not to include it for some reason). Nevertheless, it was originally touted in press releases that it would have commentary that I was looking forward to hearing.
After that, the extras a excellent and the movie looks great. But someone at Warner Home Video needs to have a reprimanding! :)
I saw Eyes Wide Shut for the first time when I was 13 and was aware, even then, that I had just seen a masterpiece. Stanley Kubrick's final film, which he completed editing just four days before his death, was met with lukewarm praise like all of his earlier films yet Eyes Wide Shut is arguably his most misunderstood masterpiece. Unlike his earlier films, this one hasn't been re-accessed much over the years, but it has been embraced by many because of the spell it casts and six years after seeing it the first time I still found myself in awe of its brilliance.
Starring then-couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, the film opens brilliantly with a brief, elegant shot of Nicole Kidman disrobing. Kidman plays Alice Harford, Cruise plays Bill Harford. Bill is a doctor; Alice is a stay-at-home-mom to their seven-year-old daughter Helena. The film opens with them attending a lavish Christmas party held by one of Bill's wealthier patients Victor Ziegler (the late Sydney Pollack). This scene doesn't set the tone, so much as the theme of the film. Alice is hit on by a Hungarian man, while Bill is hit on by two beautiful women. Bill's rendezvous is interrupted when Ziegler needs his assistance with a girl who has OD'd. Later, after Bill and Alice have smoked a bit of weed, Alice reveals to Bill a sexual fantasy she once had about a naval officer. Bill leaves home, consumed by jealousy and embarks on a psychosexual odyssey that leads him to a grief-stricken woman expressing her love for him, an encounter with a hooker, and a mysterious costume party. In typical Kubrickian fashion, there is a cold detachment from the events. This is every frame a Kubrick film.
At 2 hours and 39 minutes, with long passages of little dialogue, Eyes Wide Shut may be slow-moving to some but I find it quietly hypnotic, endlessly fascinating, and never dull. Maintaining a dream-like feel, it gracefully draws you in and keeps a strong grasp throughout. There's a lot of mystery at the heart of Eyes Wide Shut and the fact that it's so impenetrable makes it difficult for some viewers to digest, yet even at an age when I was too young to understand the themes running through it I was engulfed in it's elegant spell. Kubrick was a master of atmosphere and, like most of his films; the atmosphere that hangs over this film exists only because of his unique style. There's not a film I can think of that engulfs me into the world it creates the same way.
Kubrick was an American who lived in London for the last several decades of his life and preferred to shoot his films there, substituting whatever setting his film required with London. Eyes Wide Shut takes place in New York, but his London setting never really looks or feels like the New York we're accustomed to seeing in movies. Some have pointed out Kubrick's "New York" as one of the film's major flaws. I think this is one of the film's greatest accomplishments. As a filmgoer, the dream-like atmosphere is reinforced and more effective by my unwillingness to accept the setting as New York. 30+ Woody Allen films and I've never seen New York have a more dreamy quality to it. There are six people credited for production design, art direction, and set decoration and they all did a flawless job here. Also flawless is the score by Jocelyn Pook, which incorporates previously composed music as well as original music and is an ominous, haunting, beautiful, and just marvelous score that stays with you long after the movie ends and is essential to the mood created throughout the film.
There is striking imagery and austere camerawork throughout the film, and I don't just mean the nudity that's frequently on display. Originally billed as an "erotic thriller" (which it's definitely not), there is much nudity but little eroticism. Even the controversial scenes that Warner Brothers chose to block with computer-generated figures in order to secure an `R' rating aren't pornographic or arousing in any way. Kubrick was not a director who filmed anything for gratuitous reasons. Warner Brothers rightfully restored these scenes to Kubrick's original vision in the unrated release (which claims to have both versions, but actually has only one...Which is fine, just odd). When discussing striking imagery, it's impossible to ignore the entire costume party sequence; a haunting, mysterious, and extraordinarily well-executed sequence as elegant as it is terrifying. This scene may perplex viewers, but it's a scene I haven't forgotten over the years and a scene only Kubrick could have filmed so gracefully. Had another director shot this scene it would have seemed too long, exploitive, gratuitous, and silly. Kubrick made it a work of art. Another favorite scene of mine is the scene at the costume shop, which is weirdly hilarious and memorable. Featuring a very young Leelee Sobieski and Mr. Milich (Rade Sherbedgia), one of Kubrick's most memorable minor characters, it's a scene that really puts Kubrick's dark sense of humor on display.
Tom Cruise gives one of his strongest, most quietly powerful performances with his then-marriage to Kidman adding an additional dimension to their dynamic. Bill Harford may not be a fully fleshed-out character that gives Cruise a lot to do, but he tackles this role with quiet menace. He plays much of the role with his facial expressions and his eyes, much as Kidman plays much of her role with her body. It is Kidman whose presence, seductive prowess, and body are responsible for some of the film's most well-known and identifiable shots. Sydney Pollack does some great work too as the malevolent Ziegler, as does Todd Field (an accomplished director) as Nick Nightingale, whose actions bring Bill into the dark underworld he ends up in.
There is something new I discover and question each time I watch Eyes Wide Shut, a film that only deepens my opinion that Kubrick never had a "peak" as a director. Even right before his death he was making a challenging, mesmerizing film that continues to be debated over just how good (or bad) it is. I personally can't comprehend the indifference that many have met this film with. It's such a marvelously textured film that I find more fascinating and more awe-inspiring with each viewing. Kubrick was a director of infinite skill and talent, who ended his brilliant career on one of his greatest and most misunderstood films and whose death is still a crushing loss to film-lovers even twelve years later. While time hasn't been much kinder to this film's reception, I hope in the years to come it will be acknowledged as the terrific film it is. Even the title Eyes Wide Shut is so perfect, as your eyes must be wide shut to not appreciate this film for the tremendous work of art it is.
on September 5, 2000
Like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut clearly evinces Stanley Kubrick's obsession with the visual presentation of his films. Unlike other filmmakers of his time, Kubrick was not afraid to exploit all of the elements of cinema that make it distinct from other forms of artistic expression. In a rare, early interview, Kubrick even admitted to placing plot and characterization below cinematography and musical score in terms of importance. He was far more interested in creating a mood than in telling a story, and it is precisely for this reason that most audiences often find his films confusing and even surreal. Eyes Wide Shut is certainly no exception. Stylistically, the film contains many of Kubrick's trademark techniques: the roving steadicam, perfectly composed frames, long takes, and slow, methodical tracking shots. But what is particularly striking is the ghostly haze through which we see all of the action. Most of the main set pieces are bathed in warm and expansive light, and the colors appear supersaturated and effusive. Kubrick takes full advantage of the film's December setting to adorn his sets with the almost menacing glow of Christmas lights. Notably, the most prominent color in the film is red -- a long-time Kubrick favorite, but particularly pertinent here in that it signifies adultery.
Thematically, Eyes Wide Shut goes far beyond telling a simple tale of sexual revenge and jealousy. In the midst of the drama surrounding the Harford marriage, Kubrick skillfully interweaves an almost Hitchcockian suspense yarn involving the death of a mysterious woman who may or may not have lost her life trying to save Bill's. At the same time, Kubrick actively blurs the line that separates reality from fantasy and toys with the intriguing notion that sometimes it is possible for a fantasy to be more "real" in its ramifications than reality itself. In a key dialogue near the end of the film at the home of Victor Ziegler (played convincingly by film director Sydney Pollack), Bill even begins to question the legitimacy of the bizarre sights that he witnessed the night before. In this sense, the visual haze through which the film is presented aptly reflects the dreamlike quality of Bill's late night escapades.
For a filmmaker notorious for populating his movies with cold, dehumanized characters (some argue that H.A.L. -- the supercomputer that goes berserk in 2001 -- had more personality than any of the human characters in that film), Kubrick manages to pull some strikingly intimate performances from his two leads. Cruise's subtle intensity invites us to look beyond his natural charm and boyish good looks and down into his eyes at the dark, reckless nature that lurks beneath his controlled facade. Kidman's portrayal of the gloomily unsatisfied and aloof Alice Harford comes close to brilliance. The monologue in which she relates to Bill her deepest and darkest sexual fantasy is devastating in its unsettling potency. Kidman's stroke of genius is that she is able to convince the viewer that her fantasies pose just as much of a threat to her marriage as any tangible act of infidelity. The film is also peppered with fine supporting performances, most notably from Pollack as Victor Ziegler, but also from Alan Cumming, who is hysterically funny as the hotel desk clerk enamoured with the dashing "Dr. Bill," and LeeLee Sobieski, as a precocious nymphet whose eyes radiate adult sexual ferocity.
So, what is Eyes Wide Shut really about? It is about the masks that people don to conceal their reckless, carnal impulses, and the bewilderment that follows when those masks are suddenly removed. It is about the blurred line that divides reality from fantasy, and the foolishness of assuming that one is inherently any more or less "real" than the other. It is about the questionable moral fabric that binds the institution of marriage together, and how sometimes it is essential to tug at the fibers of that fabric to see what gives way and why. It is a film that ultimately poses more questions than answers, yet provides all of the raw materials necessary for a viewer to fashion together some relevant meaning, however illusory.
YES, the Blu-Ray version IS the unrated version with silhouettes removed from the party/orgy scene.
YES, it is in widescreen 1.85 format, HOWEVER... you should note that Kubrick did indeed intend a full frame viewing experience. As I understand, he framed it for 4:3 but protected the 1.85 frame for theatrical viewing. You should note that in the widescreen version, you are actually losing some image on the top and bottom of the frame. The 4:3 full frame version is the actual full negative. But to my disappointment...
NO, there is no option to choose one or the other. 1.85 is the only version on this BD.
This movie took a lot of growing on me. I watched the film theatrically when it was released and did not like it at all. Since then, in subsequent viewings, I have come to appreciate the movie more and the tremendous amount of thought that went into it.
For a moment, put aside the stories you hear about hundreds of takes on one scene and all the months it took to shoot this film. What Kubrick put into it was probably an OD of conceptualism for most of us. Sometimes that can come across as pretentious and unnecessary, but with every viewing something new arises. If you overanalyze and look for the seemingly most miniscule details, you will be surprised at how much you find and how much of it is 100% relevant.
Many have condemned this film as total garbage. I can't stand Tom Cruise at all and quite honestly he sucks in this film just about as much as he does in any other... but Kubrick makes up for Cruise's shortcomings in many different ways. Perhaps Cruise's lack of talent even adds to the film in some way. In any case, I think it's a great film... not quite a masterpiece like some film geeks might attest to, but definitely worth a few looks.
on March 19, 2000
Though most who saw this movie didn't like it, I believe it is one of the most amazing movies ever made. Many say it was too slow which makes me sad, I think the pacing and rhythm of the film were perfectly appropriate, essential to the essence of this movie. It was a masterpiece of film making. After leaving the theater I felt incredibly lucky to have been able to experience such a phenomenal film. I feel for those who didn't have enough patience and imagination to let this movie reach them, it is their loss. For those who enjoyed it as I did, share your opinion with others so they may indulge their curiousity and see it for themselves rather than be turned off to the possibility by those who don't like it and seam to speak the loudest.
on March 13, 2000
The log line used for AMERICAN BEAUTY ("look closer") is even more appropriate for Kubrick's last movie. EWS really rewards repeated viewings. While some might prefer eye surgery to sitting through it twice, other are sure to be surprised at how many things escape first glance.
An example - Cruise tears out a story from the New York Post and later shows it to Pollack. The headline reads "EX-BEAUTY QEEN IN HOTEL DRUGS OVERDOSE". Hmmm. That's a rather odd way to word it, even for the Post. Kind of like the frustrating non-logic of a dream. But Cruise is supposed to be awake, right?
When I first saw this scene, I remember being impatient at how long the camera stayed on the headline, twice. Turns out Kubrick was giving us extra time to notice a less than subtle visual clue, yet most viewers, myself included, completely airballed it.
Other curious touches:
* Cruise and Thomas Gibson, real and imagined lovers to the dead man's deranged daughter, are shot in exact reverse/mirror-image angles as they enter her apartment.
* At the orgy, the master of ceremonies wears a red cloak and is flanked by two men in blue cloaks, a inverted image of the couple's bedroom, where red curtains frame both sides of a blue window.
* As others have noted, red repeatedly signals an invitation down another blind alley: the door of the hooker's apartment, the jeep that drives Cruise up to the house, the arrow lines painted on the hospital's revolving doors, etc.
I didn't notice any of these things the first time I saw the movie. I don't think I was alone, either. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the title might be a pretty accurate description of how most people look at EWS on the first go-round.
There's no question the critics took a bath on this one. They were practically shoving each other aside to take potshots, most of which tried to emphasize how unsophisticated Kubrick's attitudes on sex are compared to their own. I heard someone gripe, "Kubrick filmed an orgy where no one's allowed to have fun." OK, you noticed. Now what do you think about it? Think maybe he did it on purpose, and if so, what do you think it means? This kind of inquiry, which pretty much all of Kubrick's best films invite, was never explored by the majority of the "experts".
The good news is that the film will last longer than the critics. It's a safe bet EWS will be discussed and reappraised for as long as people are talking, writing and, knock on wood, thinking about movies.
on July 12, 2009
Please note this review is not about the movie itself, but rather the picture quality of the Blu-Ray version.
I am a big fan of this movie and some of the wonderful qualities of the film are the use of color and the set up of many of the wonderful shots. Unfortunately, the Blu-Ray does not upgrade/enhance the picture quality significantly over the DVD version. Using a Panasonic Blu-Ray player with a 50-inch Panasonic plasma screen TV, the quality of the picture was mediocre if not poor. There was visible pixelation and the colors did not 'pop'. This stands in contrast with the other Blu-Ray movies I have purchased and my OTA HD TV signal. Overall, disappointed.