A Clockwork Orange Blu-ray review

It’s now 40 years old, but the power of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange remains undimmed. Here’s Matt’s review of its Blu-ray…

As I write this review, I have an application running on my computer that shows me posts from the social networking website Twitter. News is coming through that film, The Human Centipede 2, has been refused certification by the BBFC. It’s a strange coincidence. I suspect that the ‘banning’ of The Human Centipede 2 will not result in such a long a wait for viewers to finally get to see the offending film, unlike A Clockwork Orange which, while not banned, was away from British screens for many, many years. That being said, it’s hard to imagine that, with The Human Centipede 2, we’re missing a movie of such quality.

If you’ve seen A Clockwork Orange, you know the story. If you haven’t, you’ve surely read the book. If you haven’t seen the film or read the book, then, for goodness sake, don’t read the story in a review.  I’ll do a very brief recap here for the sake of a complete review, but feel free to skip past the next two paragraphs.

Set in the dismal gray future, A Clockwork Orange tells the story of Alex, a teenage gang leader with a taste for rape, ultraviolence and Beethoven. Such hobbies eventually lead Alex to a lengthy custodial sentence.

Finding life in prison distasteful, Alex volunteers for a controversial, experimental behavioural modification treatment that, at its completion, will see him immediately released. The treatment is horrific, and when Alex is released, he’s unable to function in the real world, a world that still holds his previous crimes against him.

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A Clockwork Orange hardly needs another gushing review, but here this is anyway. I’ve seen the film many times now, yet I’m still awed every time I see it. There’s no one element of the film that isn’t great. 

From the second it starts, A Clockwork Orange establishes itself as a visually striking film. The opening scene in the Korova Milk Bar is spectacular, the slow camera crawl allowing you to take in the outrageous set as the music sets you on edge. The look and sound of the film continue to engage throughout the film in perfect unison. Another example is the use of the hyperactive take on the William Tell Overture, combined with the stationary camera and sped up scene of Alex’s rendezvous with the young ladies he’s met at the record store.

Malcolm McDowell’s performance in A Clockwork Orange is magnificent. Alex needed to be capable of awful actions, and yet still be someone we want to spend time with as an audience. Had the character been too nice, his actions would have been unbelievable. Without McDowell’s charisma, it would have been difficult to care what happened to him. For such a young actor to swagger through the film is staggering.

There’s so much going on at all times. It’s like it was made entirely so film students would have a subject to write their dissertation on. Whether considering the humorously in-your-face sexual imagery or the themes explored by the story, A Clockwork Orange is a rich film.

It’s dark, it’s funny, and it’s shockingly violent. Even now, as film fans regularly see a barrage of graphic violence from films like the Saw franchise, A Clockwork Orange retains its impact and its importance. This is because, while those films are all about moody posturing and elaborate, unrealistic gore, the violence in A Clockwork Orange is carried out with exuberant glee, with no interest in the consequences.

As I said earlier, the film hardly needs another gushing review. I’ll finish this unnecessary gushing review by adding another voice to the near definite chorus singing its praises. A Clockwork Orange is, for me, one of the best films ever made.

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The Disc

This new Blu-ray release of A Clockwork Orange – available as part of the Stanley Kubrick Collection – boasts good sound and a decent enough picture transfer. For the most part, colour and detail in the image are sharp, although the quality isn’t consistent, with a few scenes looking quite disappointing. This isn’t the first Blu-ray release of the film, and it looks to me like they’ve used the same transfer as the previous version, which is a shame, as there’s room for improvement.

As far as bonus content goes, a wealth of extras have been included. The second disc in the two disc set features two documentaries. O’ Lucky Malcolm is a feature-length interview piece with Malcolm McDowell. The in-depth documentary covers his early life, and leads us through his start in acting and up to some of his more recent successes, and includes input from those who know him personally and professionally. Candid, cheeky and incredibly charismatic, McDowell relishes the chance to tell us his stories. He tells them so well that you’ll relish hearing them.

If you’re a Kubrick enthusiast, you’ve likely seen Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures. Covering Kubrick’s whole life, this superb documentary features involvement from Kubrick’s family, colleagues and admirers, including Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen. It takes time to cover each of the director’s films, with clips and anecdotes from each. It’s essential viewing for Kubrick fans.

Disc one contains a commentary track featuring Malcolm McDowell and Nick Redman. It’s a measured, plodding track, and one that features numerous long gaps as the two seem to run out of things to say. While it’s informative, it might have been an idea to have a third person present, one who could get Malcolm McDowell going. (He seems, particularly by his standards, fairly reserved here.)

After that, I was brought close to my Malcolm McDowell tipping point with Malcolm McDowell Looks Back. No time spent with McDowell is time wasted, but the extra ten minutes doesn’t really add anything, and with the commentary, O’ Lucky Malcolm, and his appearances in nearly every other bonus feature, I think we were probably covered.

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Still Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange is a firty-five minute look back at the book and the film. While it’s a reasonable inclusion, it’s unable to match the quality of the two documentaries on the bonus disc. It’s much too long, considering what’s included. Still, it’s worth a look, at least for the interesting contribution of American Psycho director, Mary Harron, and the interview with the enthusiastic Mark Kermode.

Very similar is Great Bolshy Yarblockos: Making A Clockwork Orange. It’s fine, but not as polished as the better bonus features and a bit too long. It’s not much more than a fairly standard ‘making-of’doc.

Finally, taking a look at the reception of the film, in regard to the moral outrage and its being pulled from UK release, is Turning Like Clockwork. A really worthwhile inclusion, it covers not just A Clockwork Orange, but the effect of violent films in general, and features input from Natural Born Killers director, Oliver Stone.

A Clockwork Orange is certainly a film to have in your collection and this release is well worth upgrading from your DVD. However, there’s little to encourage those with the existing Blu-ray release to double dip. The only new bonus content is the Life In Pictures documentary (which most are likely to have seen anyway), Malcolm McDowell Looks Back and Turning Like Clockwork. Still, as part of the new Kubrick boxset, it’s a comprehensive release with an impressive set of extra features.


5 stars

The Stanley Kubrick: Visionary Filmmaker Collection is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.

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5 out of 5