Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

June 10, 2016 12 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

There are many places the song Try A Little Tenderness can be heard. It can be on a random oldies station at a remote time of night. It can also be heard sung very soulfully and passionately by the group immortalized by a film known as The Commitments. Aside from the occasional karaoke night, there is one place that the song can be heard at it’s most unique and an “oh, how interesting” moment. It’s at the beginning of what would be one of many masterpieces by director Stanley Kubrick telling the tale of an accident that could lead a big bang with some laughs in between and one of the main characters fills out the title that speaks for itself, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Stopped Worrying and Love The Bomb.

Once upon a time, there was an air force base that professed that Peace is our profession. Commander Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) dares to think differently. One night he lets Group Captain Lionel Mandrake in on something. It seems that Ripper orders a flight of bombers to blast Russia and seals off his base to see that they never return. From this order given to the world, reactions differ from being told the confirmation switching a helmet for a cowboy hat as Major Kong (Slim Pickens) does to go ” nuclear combat toe to toe with the Russkies”. Buck Turgidsen (George C. Scott) a shaky general wants to be back to have fun with his lover but is given the breakdown from his superior, the President of the United States (Peter Sellers) amongst the Pentagon War Room where talks are being made to prevent the inevitable from happening as to where a scientist named Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers) seated amongst the War Room round table, has other suggestions as to how to look at this new course of action.

The course of action in Strangelove is taken with the best of news and has the good sense to mix humor and drama in the best possible way. From the motives that Jack D. Ripper goes through for his madness to the chances on how the country can survive from Buck Turgidsen’s mouth, there are laughs to be had especially any involving Peter Sellers.

Here he gives a landmark performance playing three characters all different and all with their own motives. As the President he plays him sniffling but serious not wanting to go down in history for giving such a sinister order on top of which telling the leader of Russia of someone going “funny in the head”, as Mandrake he plays along with the madness but does whatever he can to one up the madness of Jack D. Ripper, and as Dr. Strangelove Sellers plays into a German who makes a suggestion with a subconscious allegance to the 3rd Reich from his wheelchair. All are played with the comic timing and reaction as well as three accents that suit each character well.

The rest of the cast fares very well in Kubrick’s direction with George C. Scott as his wildest as Buck who even with crisis can find time for an incoming phone call from his lover. It between it all, he comes up with manic estimations and wild explanation how everything can be resolved. The ensemble gives solid support along with Sterling Hayden taking his time as Ripper, the voice of doom and Slim Pickens giving another unique characterization as Major Kong, ready for battle and will do anything to get in the middle no matter how their voice of communication is cut off.

The touch of black and white matches the effect of the material combining manic comic elements with the most subtle touches and also with the scary thought that it could actually be possible to take such a level of override that the chance that can be had can be see with some laughs at the same time. Only a director like Stanley Kubrick can get away with the combination and the thought that it actually could be funny in between what is essentially armageddon of the most miscalculated kind.

Dr. Strangelove has a lot of laughs to be had and is a helluva ride even if the audience stopped worrying and loved the bomb.

Video: How does it look?

Criterion has given this film a new 4K restoration. There’s the usual jargon about how it was supervised, etc. but we all know that Criterion’s transfers are synonymous with outstanding video quality. Suffice it to say, this is the best the film has ever looked. Ever. It finally has a cinematic look that isn’t mistaken for a black and white television show. By and large, black and white films really do have a unique look to them (and that’s discounting the obvious lack of color). Though a fine layer of grain does still exist (I’d find it difficult to watch if this wasn’t present, actually) it works with the movie. Some of the matte backdrops look a bit more lifelike, the War Room has a lot more contrast and detail has been improved. Honestly, there’s really nothing to improve upon here. Kudos once again to Criterion for a fine job done.

Audio: How does it sound?

Like the recent Fantastic Planet release, there are two audio options here. The first is a Linear PCM mono mix that, obviously, utilizes only one channel. There is also a DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 track that sounds surprisingly robust. I believe purists will want to go with the mono mix while some might feel a bit more bold and go for the DTS mix. Truthfully, there’s not a lot of directional effects with the DTS mix, but it does seem to have a little more “kick” than its mono counterpart. And, let’s face it, when you hear “Mein Führer…! I can walk!” you want it to be in the best sound possible, no?

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Stanley Kubrick – Kubrick was interviewed by Jeremy Bernstein on November 27, 1966 and in this 3 minute segment we get his comments (audio only) with some stills from other films and from around the world in the background. Kubrick tells of his inspiration for Dr. Strangelove and what prompted his interest in the project.
  • Mick Broderick – Created for this Blu-ray release, this features film scholar Mick Broderick (Reconstructing Strangelove) discussing Stanley Kubrick’s first efforts on Dr. Strangelove as a sole producer. Running nearly 20 minutes this is a very informative piece.
  • The Art of Stanley Kubrick – Featuring biographer John Baxter, critic Alexander Walker, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, and others, this piece chronicles Stanley Kubrick’s growth from still photographer to the film auteur responsible for Dr. Strangelove.
  • Joe Dunton and Kelvin Pike – New to this Blu-ray is an interview with cinematographer and camera innovator Joe Dunton and camera operator Kelvin Pike as the duo detail the techniques behind the visuals of the film.
  • Inside Dr. Strangelove – This documentary, which was made in 2000, about the making of the film features production interviews with filmmaker James B. Harris, production designer Ken Adam, actor James Earl Jones, title designer Pablo Ferro, and filmmaker and writer Nile Southern among others.
  • Richard Daniels – Also new to this Blu-ray is an interview, conducted by Criterion in 2016, with Richard Daniels, senior archivist at the Stanley Kubrick Archive and co-editor of the book Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives. He discusses the archive and the portrait of the filmmaker that emerges from its Dr. Strangelove collection.
  • David George – Another new addition, this piece features David George, the son of novelist Peter George, who wrote Red Alert, the book on which Dr. Strangelove is based. In it, David discusses Peter’s collaboration with director Stanley Kubrick, as well as his discovery of a short story by his father that introduces the character of Dr. Strangelove.
  • No Fighting in the War Room – A holdover from the previously-released Sony disc, this 2004 segment features former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and journalist Bob Woodward, among others, who look into the nuclear paranoia that fueled the satire of the film.
  • Best Sellers – Some rare and vintage footage with the eccentric actor Peter Sellers. We see some home movies and interviews with the late critic Roger Ebert as well as actress Shirley MacLaine and actor Michael Palin. This piece celebrates the performing prowess of Dr. Strangelove’s actor.
  • Rodney Hill – Another new addition to this Blu-ray features film scholar Rodney Hill (contributor, The Stanley Kubrick Archives) as he delves into the archetypes present in the film.
  • George C. Scott and Peter Sellers – These archived interviews were filmed on the set during the film’s production in 1963. They were produced by Columbia Pictures to help promote the film and it’s quite an interesting look to see these two try and be candid.
  • Today – This is an excerpt from the March 12, 1980 broadcast of NBC’s Today where film critic Gene Shalit interviews actor Peter Sellers. Sadly, Sellers would be dead four months later due to complications from Cancer.
  • Exhibitor’s Trailer – I have to admit; I really don’t know what this is. It’s a 16 minute long trailer with some scenes from the film and narrated as if the film is fact.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Illustrated Booklet – An essay by scholar David Bromwich and a 1994 article by screenwriter Terry Southern on the making of the film.

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