Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) suffers from Citizen Kane syndrome, in that, while everyone agrees it's a masterpiece, I can't ever seem to find anyone who's actually seen it. Seriously; try this the next time you're in a film discussion. Mention Dr. Strangelove, and watch as all involved nod their heads enthusiastically. Then ask them what they thought about the film. You'll inevitably see a blank expression wash over their faces as they each come to the realization that, while they're certain that the film is nothing short of a bonafide cinema classic, they can't quite explain why, as they've never watched the film. Odds are a few of them will remember the scene in which a hootin'-and-hollerin' Slim Pickens rides a falling nuke as though it were a bucking bronco, but that's just as the "Rosebud effect. Ask them if they remember the wheelchair-bound, former Nazi scientist Strangelove's penchant for addressing the president as "mein fuhrer", or Gen. Jack D. Ripper's diatribe about essential fluids, and you're likely to get a blank stare as they come to the realization that, despite their proclamations of the film's brilliance, they've never actually sat down and watched it.
And that's a shame, as Dr. Strangelove is not only deserved of its reputation, but is as relevant a piece of sociopolitical satire today as it was upon its release 45 years ago.
Flying high above the outskirts of Soviet territories, a group of B52 bombers receive orders to engage their assigned targets within the USSR. The orders come from Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), who, in the throes of a psychotic break, has cordoned off his base, blocked communications to and from the planes, and, essentially, doomed the world to a full scale nuclear war. Locked in his office with his second in command - the affable British exchange officer, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) - Ripper's mental condition deteriorates, as do the world's chances of avoiding this conflict.
Meanwhile, in the war room, President Merkin Muffley (Sellers) attempts to defuse the situation, bringing in Russian Ambassador Sadesky (Peter Bull) to help prep the Russian president for the "bad news". General "Buck" Turgidson (George C. Scott), however, feels that the President should take advantage of the situation to launch a full nuclear strike, in the hope that they would sufficiently weaken the Russian's retaliatory abilities and limit U.S. casualties to an "acceptable" 20 million or so. Of course, if all else fails, the German scientist, Dr. Stranglove (Sellers...again) has his own plans for the future of mankind.
Dr. Stranglove is a laugh out loud funny, enormously entertaining, and boldly satirical look at Cold War hysteria. Kubrick's skewering of the American military's hawkish stance, as well as the casual manner in which the politicos handle the potential end of civilization as we know it, is even more audacious given the level of public paranoia and political climate of the period in which the film was originally released. One can only imagine the reaction to the film during the height of the Cold War, especially seeing as how, nearly five decades later, Dr. Strangelove's sublime sense of humor and staunch anti-war message resonates as soundly and loudly as ever.
Dr. Strangelove comes to Blu-ray in an impressive 1.66:1 1080p transfer that's a joy to behold. The image quality is simply magnificent, with an expertly contrasted picture buoyed by rich, lush blacks, defined grays, and vivid whites. Detail is strong, albeit occasionally masked by a fine cinematic grain present throughout the film. There's a sense of depth to the image I've never seen before, and it's quite exhilarating. I can't imagine this film's ever looked better.
The 5.1 TrueHD audio track is also quite a revelation, as, for the first time, I found myself as immersed in Strangelove's soundtrack as I was engaged by Kubrick's masterful visuals. The film's admittedly aged sound effects aren't going to wow Michael Bay enthusiasts, but, for fans of the film (or films of this era), the experience is quite the treat. Radio chatter works the rear speakers, while footfalls clatter in the surrounds; gunfire rattles the entire spectrum, while explosions rumble in the subwoofer; The hum of the plane's engine jumps around the soundfield, lending a sense of dimension and directionality never afforded by the mono source (which is also available here). It's not reference quality, but show this version of the film to
Extras are mostly carryovers from the previous special edition DVD set, but that's a good thing, as these extras are superb! The one exclusive Blu-ray extra, however, is a doozy!
The Cold War: This PiP track offers up factoids about the Cold War, and is incredibly comprehensive and informative. The text, photo, and video snippets really help to paint a picture as to what it was like during the period in which Dr. Stranglove was set, making the viewing experience that much more effective.
No Fighting in the War Room Or: Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat; A thirty minute dissection of the film by critics, filmmakers, and historians, in which they discuss Dr. Strangelove's impact and legacy.
Inside: Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; A quasi-behind-the-scenes documentary that offers a detailed look at the production, a glimpse in Kubrick's state of mind whilst making the picture, and a breakdown of the film's cast and their contributions.
Best Sellers Or: Peter Sellers and Dr. Strangelove; A short look at the actor and his performance in the film. His career is covered in a rather concise manner, but the main focus here is his work in Dr. Strangelove - arguably amongst his finest performance(s).
The Art of Stanley Kubrick: from short films to Strangelove; Those looking for an in-depth look into the career of Stanley Kubrick will need look elsewhere, however, those looking for a short and somewhat enlightening look at Kubrick's methods and madness as related to all things Strangelove should look no further.
An interview with Robert McNamara; I've been a big fan of the very opinionated (some may even say crotchety) McNamara since watching Errol Morris' 2003 documentary, The Fog of War, so the inclusion of this piece thrilled me. McNamara is insightful, provocative, and concise about the subject of the Cold War, and this interview stands as my favorite supplement in the set.
Rounding out the extras are a pair of brief split-screen interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott.
The film alone is reason enough to shell out the money for this excellent Blu-ray presentation of Dr. Strangelove, but when one factors in the quality of the sound and image, and the abundance of truly meaningful extras (not to mention the smart Digi-Book packaging that sports a full color booklet!), this is truly a no brainer. If you're at all serious about film, you need this one in your Blu-ray collection. Period.