The Movie (5/5)
What can be said about Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove that has not already been said by thousands of film scholars and critics. The film remains one of American cinema’s finest works, and the satire it provided during an extremely scary time in world history means it ranks high on a list of influential films, on par with The Great Dictator, Taxi Driver, Pan’s Labyrinth, and The Battle of Algiers.
The themes remain relevant today, especially with recent events in American and World politics, and Peter Sellers’ masterful turn stands as one of the finest pieces of acting ever. Dr. Strangelove is funny, thrilling, nail-biting, and thought provoking. It is one of the more accessible films in the Criterion Collection, and it should resonate with even the most mainstream of tastes. I highly recommend checking out Dr. Strangelove, and there is no better way to experience a film at home than on a Criterion-produced Blu-ray.
The Video (5/5)
The Criterion Collection has outdone themselves with the work put into this new 4K restoration of Dr. Strangelove. Coming from a label that is consistently pumping out the highest quality Blu-ray transfers, I can say with confidence that this is one of their best few releases in terms of picture quality. The new 4K scan was sourced from various film elements, as the original negatives were destroyed in the labs over 50 years ago, due to overprinting and extensive damage. Cineric, a New York-based video production company, was tasked with creating a digital 4K scan using various elements, and through a complex process using all sorts of film restoration software, the final transfer was created under the supervision of Sony, who owned the rights to the film. Remarkably, thousands of flaws, like dirt, scratches, debris, and splices were removed manually by the folks at Cineric.
I previously owned the 2009 Blu-ray transfer of Dr. Strangelove, and I had my first viewing experience with that version. When I heard about the Criterion release, I immediately sold my steelbook on eBay, and jumped at the chance to own an improved version of this classic, and boy, am I happy. The new 4K scan is tremendous, with very little at all in terms of damage to the film; a remarkable achievement for a movie of this age. The improvement over the previous transfer is well worth a double dip if you have the older version, and if you have yet to make the leap and pickup Dr. Strangelove on Blu-ray, this is the only version you should own. The black and white image is so crisp and black and gray levels are excellent, creating a rich color scheme, even with the monochromatic palette. I am very much a fan of classic black and white films in HD, as many times I am more wowed by their picture quality than new releases, and Criterion’s work on Dr. Strangelove has amazed me. This is easily one of my favorite Blu-ray releases of all-time from a visual standpoint.
The Audio (4.5/5)
Dr. Strangelove received another restoration in the form of a couple new audio tracks. The mono track was remastered from various original elements, and is the original audio that Kubrick intended for upon release. In my eyes, the mono track is the essential audio for Dr. Strangelove, as I am strongly in the camp that supports the director’s original vision and wants to view films in that way. However, if you have a nice home theater system, Criterion did create a newly remastered DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track, which is a nice addition for those who want to push their systems and get a more immersive experience, but I strongly prefer the mono track.
The 5.1 track does provide some nice moments, but the mono track is so well done that I do not believe the additional channels add much to the experience. Again, I subscribe to the feeling that Kubrick created the original elements with a mono track in mind, and therefore, the mono track is the definitive audio for this film. George Lucas has taught me not to mess with what works, and so I suggest using the mono track if you are a first-time viewer, and maybe playing with the admittedly solid surround sound track a little bit if you have already seen the film.
Special Features/Packaging (4/5)
The Criterion release of Dr. Strangelove comes in a slim digipack, made of heavy stock cardboard with a folding insert. On the inside, there is a single Blu-ray disc in the cardboard foldout, with an awesome “Top Secret” envelope full of an essay, a tiny “Holy Bible and Russian Phrases” book and an informational booklet. The booklet is in the form of an old Playboy-esque magazine, and it is full of humorous images and messaging, and some great details on the film. The miniature “Holy Bible” features the information about the transfer, which is tiny and hard to read, but a very funny addition to the packaging.
My only complaint is the cardboard packaging, which is apparently easy to damage. I received my first copy direct from Criterion during a flash sale, and it came to me in a bubble-wrapped package, but had some serious bends and wear and tear. I requested a replacement, which came in great condition, but the cardboard digipacks definitely experience some more shelf wear than the plastic hard cases.
As is the case with most Criterion releases, the special features for Dr. Strangelove are excellent. There are new interviews with quite a few people, including Kubrick scholars, archivists, cinematographers, and even David George, the son of Peter George, author of Red Alert, the book upon which Dr. Strangelove was based. There is also an excerpt from an audio interview with Kubrick and video interviews with Peter Sellers and George C. Scott. Also, you can find four short documentaries, covering the making of the film, the sociopolitical climate of the time period, the work of Peter Sellers, and the artistry of Kubrick. Trailers and an additional 1980 Today Show interview with with Sellers round out the list of features. All in all, it is a great set of features and hardcore and casual fans alike will enjoy every minute.
Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Runtime: 95 minutes
With a new 4K remaster, newly remastered audio tracks, a ton of special features, and above average packaging, the Criterion release of Dr. Strangelove comes highly recommended. If you can grab it during one of the 50% off sales for roughly $20, there is no better way to spend your money. Stanley Kubrick is one of American cinema’s finest directors, and with the tremendous effort that Criterion and Cineric put forward on this release makes it the finest standalone Criterion Blu-ray release of 2016. You can find Dr. Strangelove on Amazon, or at retailers like Barnes and Noble or direct from Criterion.