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A Clockwork Orange (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

For the past 4 years, Warner Bros has been gifting us one pristine restoration of a Stanley Kubrick film in the September/October frame. Staring with 2001: A Space Odyssey and movie through The Shining and Full Metal Jacket, we now arrive on 1971’s A Clockwork Orange. A film notable for making quite a statement, finding itself to be a controversial piece of cinema in response to its release, later becoming a staple of college dorm room posters and angsty teen imagery. With the pattern set of the 3 previous releases on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray, it was a foregone conclusion that A Clockwork Orange would be this year’s. That makes it look very much like Eyes Wide Shut will be for 2022. A Clockwork Orange is out now, having released on September 21st. You can order yourself a copy from the paid Amazon Associates link that follows the review.

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Film

In an England of the future, Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his “Droogs” spend their nights getting high at the Korova Milkbar before embarking on “a little of the old ultraviolence,” while jauntily warbling “Singin’ in the Rain.” After he’s jailed for bludgeoning the Cat Lady to death, Alex submits to behavior modification technique to earn his freedom; he’s conditioned to abhor violence. Returned to the world defenseless, Alex becomes the victim of his prior victims.

A Clockwork Orange has had a reputation of being divisive, repulsive or having a way for very bluntly delivering its message. Even watching the film in 2021, it still manages to hold up to that standard 50 years later. Kubrick doesn’t take delight in any of this, apparent from how the film plays out, but he is curious and will stop at no bounds to explore the character of Alex DeLarge and the way a society could handle someone who is such a notorious “shit” (He’d do the same with this next picture, though going back in time instead of forward). That’s pretty much the best way to describe this scum bucket of a person. No real other way around it.

Said person comes in the form of a remarkable performance from Malcolm McDowell. Its one of here’s career defining performances and his most iconic. McDowell dives fully into Alex DeLarge, making him so real, so grounded and believable to a point that you almost want to forever associate the actor as this guy. Its a surprise McDowell has had the outstanding and lengthy career he continues to enjoy as a role like this back in this era could have damned him and made people not want to see him as anything else due to how good he is at this part. From the voice overs to just the simple asshole looks on his face (The end where he is being fed in the hospital bed is incredible). Kubrick never takes his side, in fact, it feels he’s always against him. He wants us to know all the bad and see how dimwitted or ignorant the high ranking officials of society can be when it comes to him. We are just stuck like he is when strapped to the chair, forced to watch his life, with no ability to look away or even blink.

As with any film in the catalog from Stanley Kubrick, this one is no different visually. No matter how ugly the subject matter, no matter how ruthless, no matter how big or small; the film is absolutely a marvel to look at. A Clockwork Orange is one of the most British looking productions from an American director I’ve ever seen. The way its lensed, framed and edited would leave you thinking this was a complete UK production. The film is also a science fiction story and its very minimal, more attention to ambiguous architecture, furniture and set design makes it feel both abstract and relatable. The record store featured in this film probably never existed and likely doesn’t now, but its a site to behold and make you wish you could go visit and spend time in it. Thus are many of the places explored in this film.

For this reviewer, A Clockwork Orange had kind of slid down its way of my Kubrick favorites (He’s an absolute top tier director for me). But perhaps I’d distanced myself from the film for a little too long. Returning to it for this review, I grew a little more fonder, noticed some more things I never had before, and found a restored appreciation for the film. I don’t know that it moved up or down in my film nerd required rankings and scorings of Kubrick films, but the whole thing of it didn’t feel stale or played out for me as it had been feeling in my cranium for a few years. I was once again taken with it, and in a different way than I had before. Perhaps its of my belief that there a certain films (and directors) that you should revisit a different stages or ages in your life and continue to see how you respond to it over time and how your relation to it evolves.

Video

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are not taken from the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail:  To the surprise of no one, A Clockwork Orange’s debut on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray is nothing short of being absolutely marvelous. It takes on a whole new feel and looks stunning, adding so much more to its visuals and photography on display. It has a great filmic look with a nice layer of grain. Depth and black levels are wonderfully improved as well as having much more color saturation and pop than ever before. Texture and details shine much stronger. It’ll be hard to find someone disappointed with this look.

Depth:  The way this movie is shot lends itself to such deep and pushed back images and backgrounds. Camera movements are nifty and confident. Characters move around free and smoothly with no issues regarding any jitter or blurring.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and natural. No issues resolve around missing information from dark surfaces, fabrics or darkly lit scenes. Shadow work is gorgeous. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors have a wonderful appeal and great contrast. Whites are impressive. There is a good pop with more vivid and extravagant greens, purples, oranges and more on lighting and fabrics. HDR comes in handy with great contrast, lights and more. The record store, milk bar and Alex’s parents’ home are wonderful little colorful moments in the transfer.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Facial texture and features are rampantly clear and discernible from any given camera distance.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Mono Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Dutch 5.1 Dolby Digital, Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish (Castilian) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish (Latin American) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, German SDH, Italian SDH, Spanish (Castilian), Dutch, Japanese, Mandarin, Korean, Spanish (Latin American), Czech, Danish, Finnish, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Swedish

Dynamics: Reports have been that this is not the same 5.1 mix as seen on the previous Blu-ray release. Some even saying its a step down. A Clockwork Orange sounds rather fine here in this 5.1 mix on the 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray, but it does leave some room for improvement. Its not quite even keeled in its balanced and some things bring more clarity than others. It lacks a bit more punch, but overall its a pretty fine viewing experience and considering the age of the film, its a more than adequate surround presentation. The only gripe, really, is that the mono track provided is a lossy Dolby Digital track and should have been presented lossless.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Most of the subwoofer’s usage in this adds a little to some of the musical moments and the more natural sounds of doors closing, stomping, crashing and punches/kicks landing.

Surround Sound Presentation: This mix hangs around the front a lot and relies on the rear channels to provide ambiance, though at times it does track off screen activity when the shot changes.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp with a bit of a jump and difference in the voice over vocals and in scene ones.

Extras

A Clockwork Orange comes with the standard Blu-ray edition and a redeemable digital code. Aside from the commentary, all bonus features are found on the standard Blu-ray disc.

Audio Commentary

  • By Malcolm McDowell and Nick Redman

Still Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange (SD, 43:42)

Great Bolshi Yarblockos! Making A Clockwork Orange (SD, 28:19)

Turning Like Clockwork (HD, 26:19)

Malcolm McDowell Looks Back (HD, 10:30)

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:03)

Summary

A Clockwork Orange is one of Stanley Kubrick’s seminal works. I’m honestly surprised this wasn’t last year’s addition to the set and Full Metal Jacket this year’s. No matter, Warner Bros has done another marvelous job in restoring the film. The new mix isn’t flat out great like the image, but its a little more than fine. Extras are all ones seen previous. For me, any Kubrick on any format is an instant pick up. And the upgrade definitely merits replacing your old copy.

This is a paid Amazon Associates link

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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