Joshua Reviews Stanley Kubrick’s Fear And Desire [Blu-ray Review]

Each year, a new wave of filmmakers comes onto the scene like a bull in a china shop, giving their best attempt to not only find their voice, but hopefully find an audience out there that can somehow relate. A film like Rebecca Thomas’ Elecktrick Children (which played SXSW earlier this year) is a perfect example of a fresh faced filmmaker with an assured hand at what he or she is doing, and ultimately a brilliant debut from a hungry filmmaker. However, very few debuts have been as talked about since its debut than that of the iconic director Stanley Kubrick.

After crafting a series of documentaries, the director took to narrative features for his debut film Fear And Desire. Considered lost due to Kubrick’s disdain for it (he simply didn’t allow the picture to see the light of day), the film is now finally making its way to Blu-ray via the team at Kino, and while the film is an interesting topic to discuss, there is one thing that unquestionable; this is one of the most interesting home video releases of 2012.

The film, often compared to Kubrick’s two other classic war films, Full Metal Jacket and possibly the director’s greatest achievement, Paths Of Glory, Fear follows the story of a group of soldiers stranded in enemy territory. Two unknown nations are at war, and their airplane crash landed six long miles behind enemy borders. When a woman is spotted, the quartet bind her to a tree, only to leave one man on watch. However, as we watch the man slowly go insane, he shoots the woman, while his fellow soldiers plot to kill an enemy general. Featuring a script from Pulitzer Prize winner Howard Sackler and starring Paul Mazursky, the film has a grandiose pedigree that is both fitting, and far too kind.

When speaking about Kubrick’s overall filmography, this is technically his first narrative feature film, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Save for a handful of close-ups that seem ripped right out of any Kubrick picture that would follow and a brilliantly shot montage of a man’s decent into pure madness, the film doesn’t share much of a bloodline to any of his later pictures. Come the film’s conclusion, you feel as though the director has hammered out some thoughts on themes that he would return to later (even in the equally existential picture that would come The Killing), but stylistically the film is far too muted and subdued.

There are definite flashes of brilliance. Mazursky is revelatory here, as a mentally unstable soldier charged with keeping watch of the crew’s recently discovered guest. His performance plays as an early relative to the type of crazed performances he’d get out of someone like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Also, the film’s conclusion is yet another hint of things to come, as the use of lighting within the black and white photography is absolutely breathtaking, and played on Kubrick’s love for the starkness between black and white, something that’s often been attributed to his intellectual leanings within his pictures as well.

However, the film is definitively flawed. The majority of performances (saved for Mazursky) here are stilted and come off as talking heads giving line readings. Lacking the lively performances that fill out films like Paths or even Kubrick’s final film, his brilliant masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut, the film’s 70 minute runtime feels at least double that. It’s a cold and distant picture that lacks Kubrick’s bleak humor and the performances that make his films feel inviting despite their icy and distant nature.

The new Blu-ray however, is an absolute must-own. Only seen in the occasional repertory screening, the film was recently restored, and following the restoration’s debut on TCM, Kino announced their Blu-ray of the picture. The restoration is absolutely breathtaking, giving the film a new vitality visually, and especially in its score which sounds absolutely breathtaking here. Sadly, the release only comes with a short documentary shot by Kubrick, the union-focused documentary The Seafarers, but overall, the release is a breathtaking revival of one of the most talked about feature film debuts in the history of cinema.

Overall, despite the inherent issues within this feature, Kino has not only revived one of the most interesting debuts in film,   but has also given us a worthwhile release rivaling anything Criterion or WB has done with Kubrick’s subsequent films. Yes, the release is lacking in features (a commentary track would have been a thrilling addition to the release), but for a film that was only seen once in a blue moon, this is a must own update. Kubrick fans will likely get the most out of this picture, but those this will make any cinephile happy if it happens to show up this holiday season.

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