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‘Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection’ Captures Kubrick at His Most Kubrick

By  · Published on December 5th, 2014

Warner Bros.

Stanley Kubrick has never really been one of my favorite directors, and that’s probably no where more evident than in my preference of Eyes Wide Shut as the best of his films. In my defense I’d only seen five of Kubrick’s movies up until recently, but I also just really love the atmosphere, relationship commentary and black humor of the film.

Warner Bros. has just released a new Blu-ray collection called Stanley Kubrick: The Masterpiece Collection, and it features eight of his films along with a handful of documentaries on his work and life including a brand new one, Kubrick Remembered. The eight films featured are his final eight (so his first five, Fear and Desire through Spartacus, are not included), but it serves well as a fantastic introduction to his acclaimed and eclectic career. The set also includes a hardcover book filled with thoughts and photos, but as with any collection it’s the movies that must speak for themselves.

Lolita (1962)

Prof. Humbert Humbert (James Mason) is a British scholar visiting the United States who finds himself emotionally and viscerally taken by his landlady’s (Shelly Winters) precocious teenage daughter, Lolita (Sue Lyon). His misguided affection leads to tragedy thanks to his mental fragility, her calculated indifference and the meddling of a mysterious man named Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers).

Prior to this viewing I had only seen (and very much enjoyed) Adrian Lyne’s 1997 adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s acclaimed novel, but it’s clear Kubrick’s film is equally great. His is the more impressive feat in some ways as it works despite an inability to be anything but the slightest bit suggestive in regards to the relationship between Humbert and Lolita. The allure remains, and when paired with a strong performance by Mason as the pathetic man who loses himself over the young woman the result is an affecting and sad experience.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

A rogue American Air Force general sets events in motion that threaten to bring humanity passed the brink of nuclear war, and three of the men who stand a chance at stopping it are played by Peter Sellers.

You’d think one of you could have told me how brilliant this black comedy is, but no, I had to discover it for myself some half a century after its release. Fine fine, I’ve always heard nothing but praise for the film but had avoided it due to a lack of interest in Kubrick, and it turns out I was a fool. This is satirical genius.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Millenia after a mysterious monolith lends a helping hand to humanity’s evolution it reappears beneath the surface of the moon. Its discovery leads to a mission to the outer reaches of the solar system in search of the beings who built the object, but as the manned ship nears its destination the artificially intelligent onboard computer takes some profoundly drastic actions.

While the two previous films were first-time watches for me 2001 is a film I had seen previously and felt ultimately unmoved by, and my re-watch hasn’t changed much. I know, it’s sacrilegious to say such things, but what are you gonna do. On the bright side I do have an increased respect for the film’s ambition, influence and production design, so there’s that.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

It’s the future, and the nation’s youth are out of control and roaming the cities looting, raping and killing with impunity. Alex (Malcolm McDowell) leads one of the gangs, but when he’s captured by the authorities and subjected to a radical new form of rehabilitation therapy he discovers what it’s like on the other side of the ultra-violence.

This was another re-watch, but it fared a bit better than 2001 thanks most likely to its more engaging narrative and still-relative commentary on our violent species. There’s an energy about it, in its visuals, style and most especially in McDowell’s performance, that keeps things moving and electric. It definitely feels far less jarring than when I first watched it in my younger years, and while I don’t expect to watch it again anytime soon it’s an interesting look at the fears of the eternal generations behind the current ones.

Barry Lyndon (1975)

Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal) is a naive and brash young man in 18th century Ireland whose desires and ambitions outweigh his reality. He refuses to accept (or even see) those limitations though and manages to move through life on an upward and very odd trajectory.

I expected to dislike this one based solely on what appeared to be a bland synopsis and a three hour running time that didn’t seem suited to its plot, but the film is actually a visually engrossing period piece anchored by a memorable turn from O’Neal. It’s something of a precursor to Catch Me If You Can as he maneuvers his way through life on the backs of lies, and while it occasionally settles into a slow-moving series of scenes ‐ the third act consists solely of a single duel (that’s an exaggeration) ‐ the film is never dull. Of all of Kubrick’s films this is the one that seems most intended for older viewers, not just for its pacing but also for its theme of life’s consequences.

Warner Bros.

The Shining (1980)

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is hired on as caretaker for the Overlook Hotel and settles in with his wife and son for the cold, isolated winter. The trio isn’t quite alone though as the old building features spirits and memories of a tragic past that soon begin pulling at the threads of Jack’s sanity.

This is the Kubrick films I’ve seen more than any other, and it’s also the one that’s grown the most in my appreciation. It remains a terrible adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, and Nicholson is entirely the wrong choice for the role, but on its own merits the film works beautifully as a frightening and highly atmospheric tale of horror, madness and alcoholism. It’s also Kubrick’s most attractive film in many ways from the opening helicopter shot to the Steadicam sequences in the hotel’s hallways to the nightmarish visions imparted upon the Torrance family.

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Young men are turned into monsters for the purpose of war as we follow them from the brutality of basic training to the brutal reality of Vietnam. Joker (Matthew Modine) is the voice of reason and humanity in an otherwise inhumane situation, but as the ravages of war beat down around him he finds himself heading towards the breaking point.

My favorite Vietnam war film is Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War due in large part to its clash of innocence and culpability in the face of true horror, and while this one touches on similar ideas it does so only in minor ways. Instead the focus is more on the before and after ‐ the men are victims in boot camp and aggressors in war ‐ with only Joker remaining as an eyewitness (and ultimate participant) in the carnage. The film feels like it’s deserving of Kubrick’s usual epic touch, but it’s surprisingly one of only a handful of his films that clocks in under two hours.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Bill Hartford (Tom Cruise) is a content NYC doctor with a wife (Nicole Kidman) and a young daughter, but after a drug-induced revelation from his wife regarding thoughts of infidelity he finds himself on an overnight adventure into perversions both low rent and high class.

Kubrick’s final film had been my favorite since first seeing it back in ’99 due to its take on relationships, trust and the desires we keep hidden within. I’m still very much a fan, and the early scene with Cruise and Kidman getting high and arguing reminds me a bit of my favorite Valentine’s Day film, Mike Nichols’ Closer for its raw, brutal honesty. Bill’s night out and the days that follow see him reacting to Alice’s own thoughts on cheating, and there’s a painful understanding watching him try to comprehend and react to it all. The movie also has one of my favorite final lines ever. Unrelated, but it took me until this film to notice Kubrick’s utter disinterest in women and their stories ‐ they exist only as triggers or distractions. That’s not a criticism as it’s his prerogative and nothing resembling misogyny, but it’s a curious facet of his own narrative and character-based obsessions.

The set also includes additional discs featuring documentaries old and new.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.