Empire Blu-ray Special: Drama

EmpireThrillerSquareA Clockwork Orange
‘How did they make a film of Lolita?’ teased the posters for Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 adaptation of Nabovov’s most famous novel. A more pertinent question might have been how Kubrick managed to bring Anthony Burgess’ picaresque satire to the screen – and certainly few films can boast, or bemoan, a more troubled history. Disowned by its author, pulled from release at the behest of its director, pilloried by the press, misunderstood by many, and lazily blamed whenever “a couple of nuns get raped in Berwick-upon-Tweed” (Burgess), A Clockwork Orange is now generally viewed as a bravura masterpiece of wild, daring audacity. (Luis Bunuel, no stranger to satirical intent, described as “the only movie about what the modern world really means.”) Having withdrawn the film from British circulation (it was only re-released after his death) following alleged death threats made against his family, even the notoriously pernickerty Kubrick would have been impressed by the extraordinary quality of the hi-def transfer which followed its eventual re-release, in March 2000. It’s astonishing to think that a film can still deliver shock and awe after almost 40 years, but A Clockwork Orange, once cinema’s most tantalising forbidden fruit, continues to pack a considerable, albeit satirical, punch. The fact that the issue at its core – the moral and social repugnance of state-sanctioned criminal rehibilitation by removing free will – is hardly ripped from today’s headlines does nothing to diminish its power, and Malcolm McDowell’s virtuoso performance remains one of the startling tours de force in screen history. McDowell is on similarly playful form in the audio commentary and many other supplemental features, most in HD, provided.

Raging Bull
Martin Scorsese’s brutal drama about a boxer, real-life champ Rocky Marciano (Robert De Niro) battling his own demons, is a (mostly) monochromatic masterpiece in high definition, with shockingly crisp picture and sound to match. Equally impressive is the roster of extras, including commentaries from Scorsese, editor Thelma Schoonmaker – and Marciano himself.

Hidden (Caché)
Ridley Scott once said that high definition should be like looking through a clear window, and for all the murkiness of the cryptic narrative about guilt and accountability, Blu-ray gives Michael Haneke’s naturalistic photography a clarity rarely seen in Hollywood films. Extras-wise, a director’s Q&A, while detailed, gives nothing away.

Guilt and accountability are also at the heart of Korean director Park Chan-woo’s adaptation of the popular manga, arguably the greatest revenge (melo)dramas ever filmed. Anchored by an astonishing performance by Choi Min-sik and accompanied by a charming, incongruous score, Oldboy’s considerable visual style is superbly presented on an extras-loaded Blu-ray.

There Will Be Blood
A commanding performance by Daniel Day Lewis, as a black-hearted self-made oil man, towers over this timely, turn-of-the-century tale of an amoral capitalist who sacrifices everything – family, morality, humanity – for success. In Blu-ray however, cinematographer Roger Elswit burns equally brightly, and the score, by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood, is sublime.

The Shawshank Redemption
The period setting helped give Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s prison-set novella a timeless feel, but it has grown in stature over the past fifteen years to achieve the status of a true classic, in every popular vote. Roger Deakins’ work is typically exquisite, his light and colour superbly realized in hi-def.

The best of the two gratuitously violent films, each in a dead language, made by maverick Mel Gibson, Apocalypto is a breathless, exhilarating chase movie set among the ancient Mayans, with jungle scenes so rich you’d think the living room had come alive. The fascinating behind-the-scenes extras show the mad genius at work, while his considered commentary is a testament to his passion and artistry.

A testament to Blu-ray’s power to improve even the most intimate drama, the hi-def transfer of Isobel Coixet’s well-judged adaptation of Philip Roth’s novella brings even greater nuance and depth to the affair between an ageing lothario (Sir Ben Kingsley) and his strikingly beautiful lover (Penelope Cruz).

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Famously the first film to win Oscars in all five categories, Milos Forman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s counterculture classic has dated little in 35 years, which is a testament either to Blu-ray’s power to refresh, or a lack of progress in the field of mental health care. Commentaries, deleted scenes and ‘making of’ materials are plentiful.


About David Hughes: Published Work

Empire and Time Out film critic, screenwriter of award-winning drama "Where the Road Runs Out", and MD of movie marketing agency Synchronicity, and author of books about Kubrick, Lynch and films that were never made.

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