Published in 1962, Anthony Burgess’s dark satire A Clockwork Orange hit the streets of England with a 21-chapter tale of a teenager’s prevalence for extreme violence and antisocial behavior. Written in a Russian-influenced language called “Nasdat,” most of what central character Alex DeLarge said made little sense at first, requiring the reader to focus and consider each word until an “ear” for it was developed, making it as natural a sounding language as any other. The novel would go on to earn mixed praise and several award nominations, but, at least in America, the novel would be overshadowed by the 1971 adaptation from writer/director Stanley Kubrick (The Shining), starring Malcolm McDowell (Caligula) in the lead role. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of its original theatrical release, the oft-celebrated adaptation is being given the 4K UHD treatment by Warner Bros. Home, enabling the film to continue on into a new generation of technology.
Alex DeLarge (McDowell) is a repeat youth delinquent who is one infraction away from getting into serious trouble. Despite this, DeLarge spends his time with his gang, prowling the streets of Britain looking for trouble to cause. All seems to be going his way, him getting his fill of violence and sex, until he’s captured in the act and sentenced to jail for 14 years. In prison, Alex is offered a type of aversion therapy which cures him of his violent tendencies. With those gone the question becomes: is the ethically good thing the same as the morally good thing? Or, can there be true rehabilitation without personal choice?
There’ve been many things written about this film, so I’ll keep my own thoughts brief.
For one, after seeing the film in high school, I attempted to read the novel and found the vocal delivery from McDowell much easier to follow than the written word. I’ve often wondered if that’s how many feel about Shakespeare’s plays, a playwright whose works I devoured on my own as a youth but many struggle to track his intent when performed. In the time since seeing it first, I’ve watch the film maybe three times. It’s not until now, some 20+ years since that first watch, that I better understand what the film is saying and, I’m quite shocked to admit, that I’ve only just discovered that Kubrick’s version purposefully leaves out Burgess’s final chapter. Kubrick is not exactly shy about adapting an original work to suit his needs, so that last bit shouldn’t be a shock, but I do find it interesting as to why he would remove a chapter in which Alex authentically opts to stop hurting others. If one is to take the film as the satire it’s intended, then the final chapter might undercut what Kubrick wants to say about how treatment, even if voluntary, which removes protective instincts, even if harmful to the greater populace, not only creates someone vulnerable to attack but also removes any sense of individuality. Especially as the treatment Alex undergoes is driven as much by politicians as it is by health professionals, there’s commentary to be considered about the way in which politically ideology impacts the general populace with no greater thought than the immediate. Burgess’s ending of Alex actively making the choice to stop committing violent acts lands very differently than Kubrick’s ending of Alex being “cured” of the aversion therapy and heading back to his old tricks. Kubrick’s ending asks the audience to consider everything they’ve witnessed and whether the journey was worth it. That’s certainly the intent, though it wouldn’t surprise me if most just left either humming Beethoven’s 9th or “Singing in the Rain,” which is in and of itself a special kind of messed up.
That said, let’s get into the home release proper.
Like with the recent WB first-time 4K release of The Shawshank Redemption, the only updates to the film are in the form of 4K remastering with HDR inclusion. There is no remixed sound and no new bonus features. This being the case, I watched the film on 4K UHD and followed it by selecting scenes from the included Blu-ray to compare. Though the audio mix maintains the overall aura of the period it was recorded, the accompanying frames are something else entirely thanks to the HDR. With greater range of color, contrast, and balance, the film itself feels strangely refreshed and new. It’s most notable in night sequences like Alex and his Droogs attacking the homeless man: the outfits are a more natural white, with the varying shades more distinguishable from each other, the skin possesses a healthy flesh tone, and the light beaming into the underpass is a more gentle blue. On the Blu-ray, there’s more of a soft aura (an aspect that reigns throughout that release) and the images are less refined, which, arguably, does give the barely lit scene far more menace. A few scenes later when Alex is driving with the Droogs, the projection of the speedily passing road appears more naturally nocturnal on the 4K release, whereas the trees look a more ghastly green. One of the more appreciated changes in the 4K versus the Blu-ray is the reduction of the aura that’s pervasive throughout the older release. The removal of the aura gives the film less of a fantasy element that makes Alex’s journey take on a more grounded quality. Whether this enhances or detracts from the overall satirical intent may be up to the audience.
If you love A Clockwork Orange and you prefer newer formats, then you made your choice of whether to pick this up on its announcement. Total foregone conclusion. Good for you. ::thumbs up:: However, if you already own this film on Blu-ray with all the accompanying features and are satisfied with the presentation, the option of picking it up becomes more questionable. In much the same way that Shawshank looked incredible, but also conveyed a change in tone due to obvious visual difference, the same does not wholly occur with Clockwork. I, for one, found that reaction to Shawshank was more dramatic in how I felt about a given scene, whereas Clockwork evoked less of a visceral response. It was clearer, for sure, the colors more vibrant and natural, the aura reduced, but the essence of the film remained. If this strikes you as enticing, then the purchase is one you should feel confident in making. If, however, you feel more attached or inclined toward what you have, you won’t miss out on a lot. This purchase, though, should not be missed by those who have enjoyed but do not yet own Kubrick’s adaptation.
A Clockwork Orange Previously Released Special Features
- Commentary by Malcolm McDowell and Nick Redman
- Still Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange [2000 Channel 4 Documentary]
- Great Bolshy Yarblockos! Making A Clockwork Orange
- Turning Like Clockwork
- Malcolm McDowell Looks Back
- O Lucky Malcolm!
Available on 4K UHD and digital September 21st, 2021.
For more information, head to the official Warner Bros. Pictures A Clockwork Orange website.