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Warner Bros. Home Video presents
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Bill: Victor... the woman lying dead in the morgue... was the woman at the party.
Victor: Yes.
Bill: Well, Victor, maybe I'm missing something here. You called it a fake, a charade. Do you mind telling me what kind of...charade ends with somebody turning up dead?

- Tom Cruise, Sydney Pollack

Review By: Daniel Hirshleifer  
Published: June 28, 2001

Stars: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman
Other Stars: Sydney Pollack
Director: Stanley Kubrick

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug-related material
Run Time: 02h:38m:54s
Release Date: June 12, 2001
UPC: 085392115228
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ AA-B+ B

DVD Review

I have to ask all of you readers a very important question: Is there actually something new to say about Eyes Wide Shut? I've heard every gushing review, every damning review, and everything in between. What is left? I really won't try to convince you that this is a good movie; everyone has a different opinion. So I will just tell you mine:Eyes Wide Shut was the best movie of 1999, a masterpiece that will stand the test of time, and a fine way to end the career of the greatest filmmaker of the 20th century.

With that out of the way, let me tell you why I feel this way. It's true that I'm an avid Kubrick fan, but even I know that not every film he made was a work of genius. Lolita, Spartacus and Full Metal Jacket, among others, had their share of problems. So I am capable of objectively viewing Kubrick's work. And objectively speaking, I think Eyes Wide Shut is a masterpiece. Of course, many people think that masterpieces have to be perfect. This isn't true. Look at Von Stroheim's Greed. It was supposed to be 10 hours long. The current cut is about 2, and the studio cut it. It's considered a masterpiece. Same with Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons. So we really need to stop equating perfection with masterpieces. They can be flawed. And while I have very little to complain about in Eyes Wide Shut, I can think of many people who would have changed one aspect or another, but that doesn't lessen the ability of the film to be a masterwork.

Bill Hartford (Tom Cruise), a doctor, and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) go to a party held by Victor Zeigler (Sydney Pollack), one of Bill's patients. There, a Hungarian man hits on Alice, while two models offer Bill sex, but he is soon pulled away to help a woman who is overdosing upstairs. The next night, Bill and Alice get high, and Alice reveals to Bill that on a vacation she saw a naval officer who captivated her so much that she would have given up everything she had, including her marriage and child, just to have sex with him. Bill is heavily put off by this revelation, but before he can respond, he's called away by the family of a patient who has just died. While there, the daughter of Bill's patient proclaims she loves him. Bill escapes and begins a sexual odyssey that haunts him and affects the people he cares about.

Eyes Wide Shut is based on a novella by Arthur Schnitzler entitled Traumnovelle (Dream Story). While, as in the original story, the film deals with themes of marriage, infidelity, loyalty, and sexuality, its main theme is dreams, and their power. Some people have theorized that the majority of the film is a dream that Bill is having. While there are many details that point to the film being a dream (the mask appearing on the pillow, the backwards vocals in the ceremony before the orgy, Alice's reactions at the end, and more), it actually does not matter if any of the movie is a dream, because for Bill, dreams contain enough reality to be taken as seriously as waking actions.

Another reason people might think the movie is a dream is the atmosphere. Lights shine with an unearthly glow, and since the film takes place during the Christmas season, reds appear again and again, culminating in the red robes of the magistrate in the orgy scene (the character is actually called Red Cloak). In other scenes, most noticeably when Alice is telling her dream to Bill, blues predominate, almost looking like something out of a Dario Argento film. Kubrick gives the film a high contrast look, which makes certain objects and colors stand out in ways they do not normally; this way he can emphasize certain things without using distracting zooms on a particular object. These items become emphasized in our subconsciousness (which is where dreams originate). This technique works marvelously for placing symbols within the frame for the viewer notice, without appointing a big signpost to each symbol. Therefore, although the symbolism is subtle, the audience does register it. In fact, I'd say that Eyes Wide Shut is Kubrick's most subtle film. Every time I see the movie I always find something new. For example, the last time I saw it I noticed a slight camera zoom in the scene where Bill confronts Zeigler: Bill is sitting on the couch, and he hands Zeigler a newspaper article. The camera zooms in ever so slightly, almost as if Kubrick himself was waiting for Zeigler's response. Once he responds and moves away, the camera zooms back out to its original position. It's a tiny movement, and something that had escaped my notice.

But even if someone does not notice the subtleties in camera work and symbolism, the story itself should be interesting enough to keep the viewer's attention. The film bristles with emotional power, from Alice's revelations in the bedroom to a perplexing and humorous scene in a costumer's shop, to the thrilling intensity of the orgy and the subsequent mystery that grows up around it. Taken on the most basic level, Eyes Wide Shut is still a very entertaining movie. Some people may speak harshly of the slow pace of the film, but Kubrick is known for this, so it shouldn't surprise anyone. In today's world of a thousand cuts a second, no one really takes the time to savor a movie anymore; they just want big action and they want it NOW. Seeing Eyes Wide Shut is like a breath of fresh air. So what if the average moviegoer has cinematic ADD? Part of the beauty of this film is its deliberate pacing.

Of course, people didn't just complain about the pacing. One particularly popular criticism was that Cruise and Kidman were flat. I couldn't disagree more. I felt that Cruise did a great job of carrying the film. He creates a character that may not be perfect, but is certainly interesting enough that we feel comfortable with sharing his journey. This is his best performance since Born On The Fourth Of July. And the first time I saw the scene where Alice tells Bill about the naval officer and her desires, I was blown away by the power of Kidman's performance. The expression on her face after Bill tells her of his escapades does more than twenty pages of dialogue could have. These performances are not flat, at most they're subdued, but I have trouble accepting even that. Certainly the performances aren't conventional, but that's what makes them so interesting to watch.

I'll admit, the ad campaign went a long way in damaging the film and the rumors that it contained some of the most salacious sex scenes put on screen didn't help either. I think what threw most people is that Eyes Wide Shut is not a sex movie, it's not even a sexy movie. It's a movie about sex and sexuality, within the framework of how it affects a marriage, rubbing up against the aforementioned theme of dreams . People expected a sexy romp with Cruise and Kidman, Hollywood's then-premiere couple, and what they got was a complex, European, psychological look at life and marriage that turned people off, big time.

Boo hoo.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: In accordance with Kubrick's wishes, Eyes Wide Shut is presented full frame. People complain that removing the mattes on a film destroys the composition of the shots, but since Kubrick felt that matting was simply a necessary evil in the movie business, this is not the case here. The film looks just as good as it did theatrically, and if removing the mattes was good enough for Kubrick, then it's good enough for me. Luckily, we also have a top-notch transfer on this disc. The original look is completely preserved here, without transfer artifacts or really any nicks or scratches that I could see. Sure, it's not widescreen, it's not anamorphic, but it is one of the best transfers I've seen.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Like all the Kubrick discs, most of the sound is located in the front speakers, with the rears confined to the music. This is fine, considering how great the music is (it is NOT someone just tinkling away at a piano!), but since we do have a 5.1 mix, we could have had some great surround effects. For example, when Bill confronts Zeigler, there were many times where it would have made sense to have Zeigler's voice coming from the rear speakers, considering the geography of the room.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 38 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 TV Spots/Teasers
Production Notes
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: Unknown

Extra Extras:
  1. Video interviews with Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and Steven Spielberg
Extras Review: Unlike most of the discs in the Kubrick collection, Eyes Wide Shut actually has some extras, video interviews with Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and Steven Spielberg, which are heartfelt and very touching. They tell funny anecdotes about Stanley, memorable days on the set, and the things that they remember best about him. It's a nice eulogy to a man who was so often misunderstood.

We also get the theatrical trailer, along with TV spots (essentially the trailer cut in half). Despite the fact that the case lists the inclusion of production notes, I couldn't find them anywhere on the disc; however, there are some standard cast and crew bios with selected filmographies, not mentioned on the case.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Eyes Wide Shut is destined to be the most controversial of Kubrick's already controversial canon of films. The fact is that most of the controversy has nothing to do with the film's cinematic merits, but rather with people's perceptions and expectations of the film. Wait a few years, and it will be accepted as the stroke of genius I already know it is.

 


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