Plot: What’s it about?
There are things known and there are things unknown and in between are The Doors. –Jim Morrison
It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since “The Doors” first came out. As a Senior in high school at the time, Jim Morrison and company were a few years before my time, so all I really knew of The Doors was from their recordings. Apparantely, The Doors were much more than just a mucis band, they were popular at time when the entire country was at war and music was the revolution. And it’s apparent that there was much more to Jim Morrison than just being a lead singer of a rock and roll band. Oliver Stone has brought another masterpiece to life in a script in which he helped write (which is how he got his start in movies). If you can get past the uncanny characteristics of Val Kilmer and how he looks exactly like Jim Morrison, then you can appreciate the movie all the more. I do remember, though, all the hoopla of this movie and all the talk about Val Kilmer’s performance. Say what you will about Oliver Stone, he does have the tendancy to bring out the very best performances in the actors he works with. As is characteristic with Stone, he has assembled another all star cast that includes Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Michal Madsen, Frank Whaley, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Burkley, Crispin Glover (as Andy Warhol) and Kathleen Quinlan just to name a few. So let’s “break on through”…
As I mentioned before, I was not too familar with Jim Morrison the person, only as lead singer of The Doors. The movie starts in Jim’s childhood as he and his family witness a fatal automobile accident in the desert. Jim looks into the dying eyes of a Shaman that obviously has an effect on him for the rest of his life. We then see Jim in UCLA film school as his class is watching his images on screen. Poetry? Yes, moreso than a rock star, Jim was first and foremost, a poet.. It’s clear that Jim has higher aspirations than to make movies, though he hasn’t found the right way to communicate his ideas. A friend, and fellow student of his, Ray (Kyle MacLachlan) has started writing down some sond lyrics. Jim seems interested and right then and there on a beach in 1966…The Doors are born. Morrison is established as the lead singer. He has the looks and voice that has a mystical, yet hypnotic effect on the listeners. Playing in several LA clubs, The Doors are finally signed on to a deal to produce an actual record. They cut an album in almost record time and with their first hit “Light My Fire”, which is probably the band’s most popular song (I said ‘most popular’ which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s their best); The Doors are on the map and all of the sudden, the newest rage on the LA music scene. With fame comes the parties and in the late 60’s, the drugs. Morrison was already experimenting with payote and pot even before the band started, and alcohol was consumed like it was water. This promising new band has a lead singer who proclaims himself to be “The Lizard King” is the rock of the band, yet he’s the most unstable of the group as well. Morrison’s counterpart in all of this is Pam (Meg Ryan). Jim met Pam on Venice Beach and the two were an instant couple. Though she doesn’t approve of all of Jim’s ancits, there’s something about him that she is drawn to, and she manages to stay with him until the bitter end.
As the band’s popularity grows, so does the amount of drugs that they do. The others seem content with doing some mild drugs and then doing what they love, playing music. It’s Morrison who is always pushing the envelope with his lyrics, music and lifestyle; so while this gives the band it’s image, it’s also it’s downfall as well. One might argue that the film’s plot is as simple as “He (Morrison) gets drunk, he get’s high, he writes a song and then they sing it”. A cut-down version of that might work, but I’d like to think that there’s a lot more to the movie than that simple plotline, though it does ring somewhat true. We see The Doors become even more and more popular, bringing this LA band to a cult, international status as superstars. Hits like “Light My Fire”, “Alabama Song” and “Break on Through (to the other side)” are played on the radio and even sold out into commercials, the exact opposite of what Morrison had in mind for the band. For him, it was about expression and the lyrics were a form of poetry for him, the expolitation of his songs demoralized the songs all that much more and drove him to do even more drugs and alcohol. Add to this the fact that Pam wanted to marry Jim and live somewhat of a normal lifestyle, and you have the makings of an unhappy ending.
The drinking and the drugs get progressively worse, the band is still highly regarded, but as their newer albums come out, they are bashed critically and commercially. Concerts are part trance and part performance, and even a few incidents where the members of the band are arrested for lewd and unbecoming behavior. It’s clear that this can’t go on and spells “the end” (no pun intented) for The Doors. Most anyonone who is reading this review has heard of The Doors (the band and the movie) and knows what happened to Jim Morrison, and later Pam. Stone has assemebled a great cast here and the performances are unforgettable. The one weak point is the fact that Artisan has not, I repeat not, given this film a new transfer. These are the same supplements from the Special Edition box set released a few years ago on laserdisc, and they make a fine addition to any DVD collection. Howerver, the most unnerving thing is the lack of a new transfer. Still, this blows away the older DVD that was first released by Live (Aritisan) some four years ago and if you have to have a version to own, then this is the version that you’ll want to have. A great cast and one of Oliver Stone’s best movies to date make this a “must see” though you’ll have to get used to how the video presentation looks. If you can get past that, it’s smooth sailing.
Video: How does it look?
One of th two unquestioned “duds” of the Oliver Stone box set. Why? No new anamorphic transfer. DVD has been around for nearly four years now and all of the studios know what the consumer wants…extra features and an anamorphic transfer. We have no such luck with The Doors. The transfer appears to be the same used for the previous DVD release (over three years old) and even that was the same transfer that was used for the Laserdisc. So while the DVD is worth it in terms of extra features, the transfer lacks the 16:9 enhancement. But…I guess all things considered, it is the best available transfer out there. The 2.35:1 image is extremely grainy at times, even though Stones’ type of camera work call for graininess, but it’s no fault of Stone’s, it’s the fault of a ten year old movie and we’re being shown a ten year old transfer. Black levels are way off, in a lot of darker scenes, shades of blue seem to coat the entire screen, which is odd. Colors seem a bit muted and off as well, and some scenes almost have a “blurry” effect to them. Is this unwatchable? No. I personally think that we’ve become spoiled when it comes to DVD trasnfers. If we would have seen this five years ago, we probably would have gone…WOW! But it’s five years later and we’re mad that Artisan, a well-known studio for the most part, is still peddling the same old crap. Hopefully this film will get a new transfer sometime soon, this new box set would seem the most opportune time for it, but I guess not. Until that time comes, if ever, you’ll have to enjoy a much different “city of light”.
Audio: How does it sound?
Aside from the video is the audio. Unlike the image, the soundtrack has been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1, but unlike the previous DVD, this one is not THX certified. Not that it means much, but it’s more of a specification standard than anything. This is a very soundtrack-driven movie, and a new option in this DVD allows you to jump to a particular song in the movie (exactly the same as “Boogie Nights”), which is a neat feature if you just want to listen to the songs. The dialogue is clean and clear though it does have tendancy to get drowned out by some of the vocals. Most concert scenes sound very good, and amid the drug trips, there are some rather interesting sounds emiting out of the rear surrounds. Overall, a good mix that really brings The Doors to life.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This is the area in which The Doors benefits the most out of probably all the discs in the Oliver Stone Collection. The supplements are taken from the Pioneer Special Edition Laserdisc that was released a few years ago, but that reatailed for over $100, whereas this will be availabe for about one third of that cost. There is a feature-length commentary by Director Oliver Stone, and he continues to impress once again with his vast knowledge of the band and all things surrounding it. Stone helped write the movie, so it’s clear that he had a vision (again…no pun intended) when making it, and it’s conveyed in his commentary. The rest of the extras are found on the second disc, though the way that the packaging is done by Warner, it’s in a paper case that is tucked in the gatefold cover. Some of the other goodies that you’ll find are a documentary “The Road to Excess”, obviously a large influence that The Doors had, interviews with Oliver Stone (who even revelas what happened to him the first time he tried acid) and interviews with the remaining members of The Doors. There are 14 deleted scenes which total just over 40 minutes, also included is an introduction to these deletions by Oliver Stone and he gives some brief explanations on why they were taken out of the movie. Another feature, Cinetographic Moments, focuses on Stone’s favorite cinematographer, Robert Richardson, it tells of the various styles that Stone uses for his movies, and in particular The Doors and a brief description of the job. A teaser trailer and the original theatrical trailer are included, as are some cast bios and production notes. Lastly, a featurette is included that has short bios on the main members of the cast. Stone tells why he chose each one of them and how they were right for the part, and in the end it all seemed to really make sense. If you can stomach the transfer, this is one disc to pick up.