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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.66:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • New documentary featuring cast and crew interviews as well as excerpts from a 1976 audio interview with director Stanley Kubrick
  • New program about the film’s groundbreaking visuals, featuring focus puller Douglas Milsome and gaffer Lou Bogue, as well as excerpts from a 1980 interview with cinematographer John Alcott
  • New program about Academy Award–winning production designer Ken Adam with historian Sir Christopher Frayling
  • New interview with editor Anthony Lawson
  • French television interview from 1976 with Oscar-winning costume designer Ulla-Britt Söderlund
  • New interview with critic Michel Ciment
  • New interview with actor Leon Vitali about the 5.1 surround soundtrack, which he cosupervised
  • New piece analyzing the fine-art-inspired aesthetics of the film with art curator Adam Eaker
  • An essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien and two pieces about the film from the March 1976 issue of American Cinematographer

Barry Lyndon

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
1975 | 184 Minutes | Licensor: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #897
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: October 17, 2017
Review Date: October 15, 2017

Purchase From:
amazon.com  amazon.ca

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SYNOPSIS

Stanley Kubrick bent the conventions of the historical drama to his own will in this dazzling vision of brutal aristocracy, adapted from a novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. In picaresque detail, Barry Lyndon chronicles the adventures of an incorrigible trickster (Ryan O’Neal) whose opportunism takes him from an Irish farm to the battlefields of the Seven Years’ War and the parlors of high society. For the most sumptuously crafted film of his career, Kubrick recreated the decadent surfaces and intricate social codes of the period, evoking the light and texture of eighteenth-century painting with the help of pioneering cinematographic techniques and lavish costume and production design, all of which earned Academy Awards. The result is a masterpiece—a sardonic, devastating portrait of a vanishing world whose opulence conceals the moral vacancy at its heart.


PICTURE

In a very welcome surprise the Criterion Collection presents a new Blu-ray edition for Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.

Though the original disc from Warner Bros. received a staggering amount of criticism, specifically against the incorrect framing (it had a ratio of 1.78:1, cutting off the top and bottom) and its use of a new Warner Bros. logo to open the film (I can usually get past this kind of stuff but the black-and-white thing most definitely was ugly), to be fair, the presentation, which used the same master created for the remastered DVD set released in 2000, didn’t look that bad on a technical level. It could probably be better but the film had never looked so good on video.

Still, Criterion’s new one does offer an improvement over that edition and I think it’s noticeable enough. Admittedly at first glance the two don’t look significantly different and that probably has to do with the colours, which do look very similar and just as good: nice reds, natural skin tones, excellent saturation, and so on. The included notes on the transfer mention that the old restoration was used for the reference in colour timing this one, so it’s no shock they look so similar in this regard. But the Criterion improves upon handling the film’s grain, which is very finely rendered but noticeable, and it looks very clean. I think details in the landscapes also come through a bit better in this one, cleaner and sharper, though close-ups, still great themselves, are probably comparable between the two since most of these tend to have an intentional softer look anyways (at least I always assumed this be the case). The candle-lit scenes also look wonderful, but again the Warner disc didn’t mess these up either. Black levels are superb, nice and rich without crushing out details in the shadows, especially important during these low-lit scenes.

The restoration has cleared out blemishes and I don’t recall anything ever popping up. The other noticeable difference (other than the Saul Bass Warner Bros. logo opening the film again) is the aspect ratio. Arguably the difference between 1.78:1 and 1.66:1 is negligible but I would say that there are several moments that do look better composed here, though would probably limit them to the larger landscape shots, which do benefit quite a bit being opened up in the top and/or bottom. Even if other shots and scenes don’t benefit as obviously, getting the director’s preferred ratio on Blu-ray finally is still a good enough reason for this disc to exist, and I know many will be happy about that point on its own.

Admittedly this isn’t an upgrade on the scale of Criterion’s Blu-ray of Being There over Warner’s processed disc: Warner’s Blu-ray of Barry Lyndon, outside of the justifiable criticisms against its incorrect aspect ratio, isn’t all that bad. But I still feel Criterion’s is a better, more filmic image in the end, a thing of beauty.

10/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Warner’s previous Blu-ray only featured the remastered 5.1 surround track created for the remastered DVD release, which was an annoyance to some. Criterion’s disc retains that surround track, presented in DTS-HD MA, but also offers the option of the film’s original monaural presentation, delivered in lossless PCM 1.0 mono.

I never hated the 5.1 track and found it fine on the DVD and previous Blu-ray, and again I find it just fine on here as well. As Leon Vitali points out in one of the included interviews found on this release, the surround track ultimately just spreads out the mono presentation to immerse the viewer a bit more, and it was something Kubrick was fully behind; the only reason he didn’t do surround mixes for his films previously was because he didn’t like the idea that all theaters wouldn’t have the set-up for it, settling on monaural to ensure the experience was the same in all theaters. It was with the new DVD releases at the time he decided to go about with remixes.

Both tracks, in the end, are great and which one you go with will simply come down to personal preference. They’re both very clear, deliver a fair bit of range, and show no signs of damage or distortion. The surround track isn’t overly aggressive, not coming off showy for the sake of being showy and volume levels typically stay the same (Vitali explains that Kubrick wanted it like this), but it certainly offers a more dynamic experience. It simply spreads out a lot of the action between the speakers, remains front heavy, and allows for panning and movement between the speakers. I also think certain effects do sound a bit sharper here but again aren’t mixed all that much louder in comparison to the mono track. Where the track seems to be most obviously different (outside of the audio being spread to the other speakers of course) is the music, which sounds significantly more dynamic and rich here, maybe even a bit louder, and I’m guessing it’s possible the pieces of music used throughout the film come from new remasters themselves. The mono’s presentation of the music does sound more of the time when the film was made.

For myself I’ll probably stick with the surround track as I’ve been perfectly fine with it, but for those that prefer the monaural presentation they can rest assured that it also sounds excellent itself.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Though Warner Bros. has really gone all out in with features on most of Kubrick’s films, for whatever reason Barry Lyndon (and Lolita) have only received barebone editions from them on DVD and Blu-ray, an odd choice since the film seems so ripe for, at the very least, some notable features on the technical merits of the film. Criterion thankfully fixes this with their new special edition, devoting a whole second disc (though only single-layer) to supplementary material that covers just about every area on the making of the film. No special features (sadly, not even a commentary) are found on the first disc, giving the film all the breathing room it needs.

Starting things off is an extensive 38-minute making-of featuring interviews with executive producer Jan Harlan, assistant directors Brian Cook and Michael Stevenson, actors Dominic Savage and Leon Vitali, location scout Katharina Kubrick, Richard Daniels (senior archivist at the Stanley Kubrick Archive), and director Stanley Kubrick through an archival radio interview. On top of the research Kubrick put in (various paintings and artworks), the script (which existed in some form but was never really completed), using candle light (covered more extensively in other features on the disc), etiquette and posture (Kubrick even spoke to the Queen), and the costumes—all of which is fascinating—the best moments to the documentary are the various little stories about the production. I most enjoyed actor Vitali’s recollection about the duel scene, where it was decided that his character would throw up and the steps Kubrick had him do to get to that point, with the climax of that moment being, as Vitali recalls, the only single take he ever did during shooting. There are also fond recollections of working with O’Neal and there are plenty of stories about Kubrick’s demands and how one adapted to said demands. I hadn’t come across much about the film’s production so this documentary proves most invaluable while also being entertaining and unexpectedly funny.

Expanding on details from that documentary about filming using only candlelight as the light source, the documentary Achieving Perfection—featuring focus puller Douglas Milsume, gaffer Lou Bogue, and archival audio of cinematographer John Alcott—goes into more detail about the procurement of the NASA lens needed to shoot in such lowlight conditions and then the process in rigging a camera to use it. Other issues came up with it but the biggest was the lack of depth-of-field and this called for a complicated set-up making use of CCTV cameras and monitors to measure the distance of the performers and allow Milsume to pull the focus appropriately. There were also a number of other issues that revolved around the candles: having to protect the ceilings from the heat since actual locations were used, dealing with the wax drippings, having to replace the candles between takes (for continuity), and then dealing with the fact the candle flames were sucking all of the oxygen out of the room. The participants also cover daylight sequences and the compositions of the scenes where a zoom-out would be employed, all of which proves fascinating but it’s the details on the candlelit scenes that I most enjoyed.

Tony Lawson next talks about editing Barrry Lyndon in the 14-minute Timing and Tension, which offers some of the most captivating insight into Kubrick’s techniques in editing together his films, explaining a process Kubrick used to put together the appropriate takes to build a scene, explaining it as a more rudimentary system similar to modern digital editing. Criterion also provides visual aids to support Lawson’s explanations on how Kubrick would construct a simple sequence from all of the footage he had collected through his numerous takes for every shot. His process made it easier to deal with the footage but it still took a lengthy amount of time on certain sequences: the final duel took about six weeks to edit. Like the previous feature it’s very technical but, thanks to Lawson’s concise explanations and Criterion visual references it should be very clear to even the most novice film buff.

In Drama in Detail Sir Christopher Frayling talks about production designer Ken Adams’ work on this film and the tumultuous relationship he had with Kubrick on this film and Dr. Strangelove. Adams had said working on the previous film with Kubrick was a nightmare and he had decided to not work with him again. Kubrick was able to appeal to him with this historical epic and Adams, though reluctant, did sign on, though it would lead to him having a nervous breakdown. He was annoyed by how Kubrick questioned him on everything with this film (on Strangelove he also questioned him constantly on little things, like why would the War Room have all these angles) and his refusal to use sets since Adams and crew had no control (or at least limited control) on actual locations. Though some sets were created, Adams was mostly in charge of properly dressing the locations while also protecting them from damage. Frayling is very thorough on Adams’ contributions with the film and the relationship between him and Kubrick, and it ends up being another engaging feature, running a brisk 13-minutes.

Actor and assistant to Kubrick, Len Vitali, next talks about the film’s sound design and 5.1 remix Balancing Every Sound. Vitali, acknowledging he’s heard criticisms about the remixes, explains Kubrick’s desire to make more elaborate sound mixes but felt limited by the technology common in theaters at the time, which is why he resorted to monaural. When Warner showed interest in remastering the films for DVD (after that god-awful previous box set release) Kubrick was all for it, approving of sound mixer Chris Jenkins who had the same ideas as Kubrick. Kubrick would unfortunately pass away before everything was complete but Jenkins carried on the work. It’s only 10-minutes but a good feature, presented in 5.1 (Dolby Digital) to allow for comparisons between the two tracks and the mixes (of course, you can also do comparisons between tracks while watching the full film). Criterion includes both tracks with the film so it may be a moot issue, but Vitali is here to simply explain the history behind the remixes and what Kubrick and Jenkins were aiming to do with them.

There is then an archival interview featuring costume designer Ulla-Britt Söderlund from a 5-minute excerpt in a 1976 episode of Le rendez-vous du Dimanche, the designer explaining how she came aboard, how she created the looks (some actual outfits were also used) and what the future holds for her. This is then followed by a couple of academic features: an 18-minute interview with Michel Ciment and a 15-minute one with MOMA Assistant Curator Adam Eaker. Ciment pays a bit more attention to Barry Lyndon but looks at Kubrick’s career as a whole, talking about the themes that drew him, how he sided with the victims in his stories, satirizes those in power, and so forth. Eaker provides context on the artwork that influenced the look of the film, going over works by William Hogarth (whose work was cinematic in itself), Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds, George Stubbs, and Johan Zoffany, with the feature also offering visual comparisons between shots from the film and a selection of works by the artists, the influences being quite obvious.

The disc the closes with two theatrical trailers. Criterion also includes one of their best booklets in a long while. There’s a good essay on the film and Kubrick’s attention to detail by Geoffrey O’Brien, but the gems in the booklet are the two more technical articles on the look or the film, first a reprint of a lengthy 1976 interview with director of photography John Alcott for American Cinematographer magazine, and then a newer article about the new equipment used for the film, written by Ed DiGiulio, president of Cinema Products Corporation. They can both get very technical (Alcott’s especially) but they are must reads.

It’s still a wonder why Warner never bothered giving the film a special edition previously (though I guess they figured it wouldn’t be a big seller) but Criterion has corrected that and then some. They extensively cover the technical areas of the film to a significant degree, sure to satisfy admirers of the film.

10/10

CLOSING

Criterion does a splendid job with their new Blu-ray of Barry Lyndon. Kubrick’s film has never looked so incredible on home video and Criterion’s supplements feel complete and satisfying. I very highly recommend this edition.


View packaging for this Blu-ray

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