The Doors (US - BD RA)
Gabe Powers only calls one man the Lizard King... and that man is Godzilla...
I used to love the Doors. I'd listened to their albums (dad had them on vinyl), learned as many of their songs on my guitar as I could (which as it turned out, wasn’t very many), and even drew pictures of Jim Morrison on notebook paper. Then I graduated from high school and for some reason the Doors and Jim Morrison would never be as important as they were when I was a kid again. I realize now that at best their songs are very good pop/rock, and at their worst their songs are rambling, self-important poetic diatribes. The magic really disappeared for me I suppose, and I still don't know why.
Oliver Stone was also an early happiness that I saw in a new, less loving light as I aged. This Blu-ray revisit of The Doors is not so surprisingly less favourable than my original reaction to it way back in 1991. The younglings reading this may not even remember the days when Stone was considered a maverick filmmaker (they might only be familiar with Any Given Sunday, World Trade Center or Alexander). After a couple crappy horror releases my would-be step father’s former neighbour (he wasn’t very pleasant apparently) tore onto the scene with twin 1986 triumphs Platoon and Salvador, films I still consider his finest hour. These films run on a raw vitality and have aged very well.
After three more standard features, Stone released The Doors and JFK, both in 1991. These films represented a sizable stylistic turn for the director. Both films were flashy exercises, featuring mixed film stock, lighting techniques and music video editing. Stone would (arguably) over-do it three years later with Natural Born Killers. JFK was the more successful of the two 1991 films, but both features, while displaying a deft control of storytelling, lack effective use of story editing. The Doors shouldn’t feel as long as it does, as Stone manages to stick a lot of data into a reasonable 138 minutes.
The problem critics have had with the film from the beginning, and one I happen to agree with, is that it should’ve been called ‘The Jim Morrison Story’. Jim Morrison, as apparently very well represented by Stone here, was a pretty insufferable person, so spending all this time with his story is exhausting. Stone’s pacing is pretty quick, but there’s a whole lot of unnecessary information in the film. Telling the story of your day in five minutes is impressive, but the story is more effective if you leave out the bathroom breaks. Personally I like the parts about the band, even if the whole thing plays a bit like an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music. So long as Stone focuses on the song writing, the problems with censorship, the group dynamic, and the emptiness of popularity I’m satisfied, but when he starts experimenting with metaphoric imagery and delving into Morrison’s more pretentious art I find myself struggling to keep paying attention.
The film stands up very well technically (cinematography, editing, special effects) considering its ripening age, but the heavy handed visuals look pretty ridiculous, and date themselves as very early ‘90s. On the other hand, Bergman and Antonioni were very relevant at the time, and Morrison was into stuff like Fellini, so creating a look, however awkward, that recalls these filmmakers makes a point and has its place. And if I find Morrison’s art corny and unrelatable, shouldn’t I also find the art of a film about him corny and unrelatable? But does it need to be so obvious, so over simplified?
As seems to be the case with so many biographical films Stone’s thespians often act more as impersonators then actors, something that would very much not plague Oliver Stone’s later production, Nixon. Val Kilmer does throw himself into the role with relish, and his resemblance to Morrison is uncanny, but like Stone’s appropriation of Bergman and Felini it feels synthetic. I actually prefer Kyle MacLachlan’s oddly robotic Ray Manzerek.
If this were a DVD release I’d be impressed with this transfer, which is sharp and colourful for something that’s over seventeen years old. But this is a Blu-ray Disc, and as such is pretty disappointing. Details are reasonable, stuff like sweat, hair and raindrops look pretty crisp, but they’re also inconsistent beyond even Stone’s strange sense of focus, and the edges appear over-modulated. Stone bakes some of the scenes with almost Dario Argentoesque abstract colours. These Colours are bright, but sometimes blend into each other, and the blacks absorb the warmer colours. Flesh tones and other warm neutral tones are often inflamed with noise, especially in darkness.
Lionsgate may still be a B-studio, but their DTS-HD Master Audio tracks never fail to impress, more than even some of the best big studio releases. Oliver Stone experiments with audio just as much as he experiments with imagery. The whole track is a little too centred, and that centre is a little too loud, but the surrounds aren’t by any means silent. Some scenes are quiet and natural, while others are swirling with wacky noises. Not too surprisingly the track sounds the best during the concert scenes when the sound designers can let loose with warm guitars, poppy drums, deep bass (though, of course, the Doors didn’t have a bass player), and natural vocals without a lick of distortion.
Just like just about every other Blu-ray catalogue release from Lionsgate, this disc houses no new or exclusive extras. Things start with Oliver Stone’s slightly arrogant commentary track. Stone embraces the parts of the film and its subject I’m not very fond of philosophically, and explains himself well through very personal means. It’s interesting to note that he views the moments of Morrison’s embracement of celebrity and his separation from the rest of the band as ‘good’ moments. Watching the film I got the impression that these were suppose to be sad moments, meaning that the film can be read more then one way, which says something positive about Stone’s filmmaking prowess, even when he is acting selfishly.
‘The Doors in LA’ is a twenty-minute look at L.A. during the Doors’ reign and the height of the Vietnam War. I could’ve done with more politics in the film frankly, but I understand why Stone would want to avoid Vietnam for at least one movie. This supplement is a nice addition in the absence of tangible politics in the film. The story behind the making of the band and their uprising in the L.A. club scene, is also covered, and in greater detail then the politics. Ray Manzerek is nowhere to be found, not surprisingly considering his hatred for the film, but a few folks from other important ‘60s groups show up as well.
‘Jim Morrison: An American Poet in Paris’ is the set’s most substantial extra in length, at about fifty two minutes, but this French made documentary concerning the final days of Morrison’s life is a heavy handed mess. The film is made up of interview with various Morrison familiars living in Paris (speaking in French with burned English subtitles), and appears to have been cut using every plug-in available to iMovie, or some such similar computer program, including wipes, fades, split-screens, etc. The additional, recreated 8mm ‘footage’ of ‘Morrison’ doesn’t help. The overall structure is actually pretty impressive, considering that the filmmakers were likely dealing with a mountain of footage, but the amateur presentation is cumbersome, and more importantly, the content boils down to fans and seemingly casual acquaintances rambling about a surprisingly uneventful moment in the artist’s career.
‘The Road to Excess’ is basically an after the fact behind the scenes featurette. It’s pretty fast paced mini-doc, covering the usual bases of pre-production, casting, filming, and so on and so forth, but there’s also a focus on Morrison’s life. The interviews were all filmed for the older DVD release, so everyone’s looking back on the project (which is usually the way to go), and their talking heads are mixed with photos of Stone in ‘Nam and plenty of original Doors footage. If you’re only mildly curious watch this thirty-eight minute featurette instead of listening to Stone’s commentary, as they cover most of the same information,
The disc is finished out with the original EPK, no less then thirteen deleted scenes (complete with an introductory interview with Stone) and trailers and TV spots. The scene deletions are all good choices on Stone’s part, though some of the early stuff adds depth to the band’s political side.
Oliver Stone’s technical skill will never be in question, but looking back on The Doors I’ve noticed that sometimes his taste may be. The whole film has a sense of un-ironic silliness that simply doesn’t work for me anymore. I respect the production, but I’m kind of embarrassed by the goofy dancing Indians. Fans of the band and film should be happy with this disc, though the video quality isn’t particularly impressive, and the extras are exactly the same as those that came with the old DVD release.
Thanks so much to fellow CHUD.com message boarder Daniel Tieman for these DVD edition screen caps, which are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 12th August 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: English, French
Extras: Director's Commentary, Jim Morrison: An American Poet in Paris, The Road to Excess, The Doors in L.A., Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Trailers, TV Spots
Easter Egg: No
Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Val Kilmer, Kyle MacLachlan, Meg Ryan, Frank Whaley, Kevin Dillon
Genre: Drama and Musical
Length: 138 minutes
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