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Stoned (vt): To be an intoxicated stupor through alcohol and/or narcotics. To be the subject of a wildly inaccurate and over-the-top biopic by a directorially-schizophrenic auteur.

The year was 1991 and interest in The Doors was starting to gather momentum ahead of the release of Oliver Stone's biopic of the band's charismatic and mysterious vocalist, Jim Morrison. The Doors went into creative hibernation after Morrison's untimely demise in Paris in the early 1970s, only to have interest in the group resurrected by Francis Ford Coppolla's use of their epic song, The End, during the memorable opening of Apocalypse Now. Momentum had gathered steadily and the group was now being embraced by people who weren't even alive when The Doors were at the peak of their success in the late sixties.

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By the time that The Doors feature film was finally unleashed, interest in Morrison was almost at fever-pitch, arguably at its highest point since the group were together. Fans that wanted to see recreations of the wild antics of Jim Morrison and hear their songs on the soundtrack weren't cheated with the resulting film, but those that were interested in seeing an insightful and accurate portrayal of the life and death of Morrison were left feeling decidedly short-changed.

The film opens with a fuller-figured Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) in a darkened recording studio, putting some of his poetry that would later be form the basis of the posthumous album, An American Prayer, on tape. From there, we see a flashback to a pivotal moment in the life of the young Morrison, where he is in the back of his family's car, driving past a group of Native Americans', who had been involved in a crash and were covered in blood. From there, we whiz forward to his college years, and then to meeting Ray Manzarek (Kyle McLachlan), and then to the first gigs, and through to their phenomenal success with Light My Fire.

Oliver Stone missed some of the most influential parts of the late sixties, as he was in Vietnam fighting for his country. The US military still wouldn't allow rock music to be played over the airwaves and the closest that they would allow was The Doors. Stone was taken by them and his love of Morrison and the group was sealed. It has been argued by some critics that because Stone wasn't in America at the time when much of the cultural revolution was going on, he somehow wasn't able to get a true handle on the events in The Doors and presents a somewhat idealised and unrealistic depiction of what supposedly went on—the surviving members of The Doors didn't seem to recall naked women frolicking in the audience during their gigs.

The casting of Val Kilmer as Morrison was regarded by many as being something of a masterstroke, as facially had a very similar bone structure to Morrison and he was more than capable of portraying the sense of drunken bravado that the press associated with Morrison. Whilst Kilmer was also able to a pretty good imitation of Morrison's singing voice, he flounders somewhat when it comes to his speaking voice, sounding more like a caricature spaced-out hippie, missing out the baritone timbre and the vaguely southern twang in Morrison's voice.  While he was well-cast and pushed him into the big leagues in Hollywood, he bore the stigma of it for years, with the public unwilling to accept him in other roles. Who doesn’t remember the scoffing at Kilmer getting the roles of Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego, with wags saying things like: “Hey, like… I’m Batman”?

What of the other members of the group? All three of the surviving Doors had to give their permission for Stone to use the music, but they were involved to varying degrees; John Densmore puts in a cameo appearance as a sound engineer in the bookend scenes of the film; Robbie Krieger finally lifted his objection to a biopic when Stone was on-board and participated; Ray Manzarek was involved to a degree, but his enthusiasm withered when he realised the direction that the film was taking during production, but he allowed Stone to use his original Moog keyboard, only for the intense heat of the lighting during one of the concert scene to melt it.

The portrayals of the other three are a mixed bag, with only Ray Manzarek coming off with any degree of depth and this was mainly to have him act as an intellectual counterpoint to the drunken "Jimbo" that so frequently seen in this film; Robbie Krieger (Frank Whaley) and John Densmore (Kevin Dillon) are almost ciphers to help convey certain aspects of Morrison's psyche, particularly the alleged relationship problems between Krieger and his father (which supposedly wasn't true). The three actors do what they can with the material, but seeing as The Doors is essentially The Jim Morrison Movie, they don't get much of a look-in.

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Despite the generous running time of The Doors, it still largely feels like a whistle-stop tour of principle events in the relatively short career of the titular band, as though there was a checklist of principle occurrences and the writers were ticking them off as they were working on the structure of the script—"Ed Sullivan show appearance: check"; "disastrous Miami gig: check".  Quotes from various books about The Doors are shoehorned to the script, resulting in eye-rolling from the fans and confusion from those not in the know, as said statements come across as non-sequiturs, almost following Tim Burton’s “throw the cards in the air” method of inclusion of writing Mars Attacks.

With the almost random selection of material used in the screenplay, there needed to be a strong thread running through it to keep the audience’s attention, otherwise the patchwork nature will show. The use of shots showing Morrison’s body in the bathtub are deployed at strategic points to remind those watching that while Jim’s future was far from uncertain, the end was always near. Such a linking device in a musical bio-pic wasn’t particularly innovative, as only two years earlier, The Karen Carpenter Story used something similar to titillate an audience who just wanted to jump to the inevitable ending: the death of a star.

We had a real problem with The Doors at the time of the film's initial release, and it’s such a pertinent issue that it only grew larger with repeated viewings. Stone dedicated his subsequent film, JFK, to those who seek out the truth, but Stone and his writers clearly weren't too bothered about the truth when it came to a number of facts and events that are depicted in The Doors; the one that bugs us the most is the group's infamous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, where they were asked to avoid using the word "higher" in the lyrics and the film depicts Morrison defiantly roaring the word right into the camera, but the reality was that he just sang the line that contained the offending word normally and the only sign of anything awry was a slight smirk on guitarist Robbie Krieger's lips.

The infamous Miami gig—which marked the beginning of the downfall of not only The Doors as a group, but of Morrison as a person—was far less interesting and controversial than what Oliver Stone depicted in the film, as audio recordings of the gig imply that Morrison was so intoxicated that he could barely remain upright throughout the gig, and Stone once again alters the truth of documented recordings of Morrison's drunken outrage; in the film version, Morrison lets rip by shouting at the audience "you're all a bunch of fucking slaves!", whereas in reality, Morrison roared "you're all a bunch of fuckin' idiots!". Perhaps Stone was so in love with Morrison whilst he was out in Vietnam that he didn't want to face up the fact that Morrison seemingly thought that way about fans of The Doors.

The fact that Stone was out in Vietnam whilst America was in the midst of great change, with The Doors as a lightning rod for such social upheaval, counts for a lot as to why The Doors comes across as the rose-tinted wish-fulfilment rather than an insightful look at its subject. It was the America he missed out on, so when in a position of power later in life, he seeks to experience what he didn’t get the chance to at the time, hanging numerous references onto loose framework. The result is less a movie and more a mediocre theme restaurant. The same happened to John Waters on the one occasion he tried to depict a time he didn’t properly live through, this being the era of the 50s juvenile delinquency, which he was a few years too young to be one, and so tried to live it though his film Cry-Baby, the result being the director's most synthetic work to date.

Another example of Stone's unique brand of cinematic truthfulness comes early on in the film, when Morrison is seen sensationally walking out of UCLA film school after a poor reaction to his student film—the truth is that Morrison completed his undergraduate degree at UCLA and also at their College of Fine Arts in 1965. We were just getting into The Doors a few months before the film was released (which just happened to be a coincidence, by the way...), but even just being into the band for a short time, our Bullshit-O-Meter kept spiking constantly through the film. Stone himself defended these blatant acts of dramatic licence by saying that he wanted the audience to see things that gave more of a flavour of Jim Morrison's personality. Make of that what you will...

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It’s particularly sad when something which is an almost cartoonish depiction of real persons and events are hijacked for parody, leading a mainstream audience to equate both with the real thing.  This happened with Wayne’s World 2, an early instance of Mike Myers raiding the pop-culture archive, even though it came a few years too late to be entirely topical. In the movie, Myers is visited by a “weird naked Indian” who tells to put on a music festival. The frequent use of a Shaman is one the most contentious elements in The Doors, one at the expense of real events, and it’s this which is perpetuated through parody, and as with many parodies, audiences with no sense of cinematic history (ie low-browed dimwits), look at the original source material and laugh purely because they are reminded of the parody (the touching Blind Man sequence in Bride of Frankenstein was ruined in this manner). With his gift for striking while the iron is hot, Mike Myers is probably planning a cracking zinger to spoof Titanic right about now. Well, The Love Guru pretty much achieved the same thing as Titanic, and we don’t mean being a hit at the box-office.

One of the fundamental issue that plagues The Doors is that in order for Stone to have access to Morrison's poetry, the parents of Pamela Courson had to give approval to the script, along with heavy input into how their late daughter was depicted in the film. The end results are so ridiculously sanitised that most people who knew her were probably wondering who the hell that woman seen hanging around with Morrison was supposed to be. Meg Ryan portrays Pam as a ditzy, well-meaning girl who dabbled in drugs and had a few drinks now and again. Because Stone found the usage of Morrison's poetry to be so integral to the plot, he was forced to bow to the demands of the Coursons and depict Pam as a misguided but well-meaning girl who was not into hard drugs in any way, shape or form and certainly did not allegedly coerce Morrison into taking heroin whilst living in Paris. The films’ story ends as Morrison is about to jet off to France, conveniently sidestepping all incidents leading up to his death. It doesn’t take much to work out that this is because of the widely accepted theory that Pamela Courson kept chipping away at Morrison (who was very much anti-heroin) to try the stuff. Stone could not even say that drugs killed Morrison, instead just having a caption appear onscreen stating "It is said that Jim died of heart failure—Pamela joined him three years later". Stone wasn't even allowed to mention that Courson subsequently overdosed, even though her drugs-related death was established officially.  

Oliver Stone's The Doors is certainly not without merit. Stone presents the viewer with some arresting, dreamlike images, particularly the sequence in the desert, where Morrison and co drive out into the middle of nowhere and take peyote, with Morrison wandering off and being guided by a Native American into a cave where he sees a vision of his own demise; all of this never happened, of course, but it makes for a fascinating sequence.

The highly-stylised modern look of the movie means that there are few chances of anything looking as though it was documentary footage from the time.  Sure, it’s beautiful to look at, but with the world in the grip of free love, things were always grimier than they are here. The only really authentic shot which nails absolutely everything of the time is also one of the most understated, that of Kilmer walking along the streets of LA at dusk, embodying Jim Morrison as a figure perfectly at home among the neon lights and seedy bars, invoked by the lyrics of LA Woman.

The actors charged with playing The Doors actually learned to play their instruments for the sake of authenticity, and you see them play live to great effect. Hell, we still have a clip on tape from the time of the movies’ release where Kyle McLachlan played keyboards on a live performance of Light My Fire. This is particularly the case when combined with Val Kilmer's imitation of Morrison's singing voice, the end result is almost convincing to the point that the band you are seeing on-screen could well be The Doors.

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That the movie was commissioned at all is testament to the fact that with each generation come new prominent figures in the media, who set about pushing the popular culture of the time, which is always around twenty years before. They seek to relive their youth by making more of in in the shape of films, TV and “retro” style music. The Doors came out at the start of the 90s, a couple of decades after the events of the time. Remember the embrace of “the decade that taste forgot” in the 90s? Now that it’s twenty years after the fact, let’s hope that someone tells Seth McFarlane that the 80s were crap, they’re gone and no amount of worshiping at them will ever bring them back.

It is worth pointing out that Ozzy Osbourne walked out of a screening of The Doors, profoundly disgusted that the film was almost depicting Jim Morrison as a deity. Was it his religious beliefs that made Ozzy feel this way? Was it envy? It would only be about a decade before reality television made demi-gods of him and the rest of his bloody awful family. Given that this caught him at possibly the peak of his addiction cycle it comes across as rather hypocritical.

Video


Optimum bring Oliver Stone's The Doors to Blu-Ray in a very nice 2.35:1 1080p transfer that appears to be sourced from a European transfer (which will be available in both France and Germany within the next couple of months or so). For a film that is getting celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year, the results are pretty damn good; there is a very pleasing amount of detail - you can easily pick out individual faces in the heaving throngs in the crowd scenes.

It’s worth noting that to marry a visual style with the mythic nature of the material, a lot of optical effects were used, with most coming in the form of dissolves, and before computer technology was used for such things, it always meant a drop in resolution when the pieces of film were mixed together. Many younger reviewers might perceive this as a lack of care when transferring it to HD, but this just isn’t the case.  Short of going back to the out-of camera negatives and digitally compositing them, you’ll have to live with the very minor niggle.

Aside from that, tones are spot-on, black levels are very pleasing and you realise that you are watching The Doors at the best it might well ever look. We put it up against the US Lionsgate edition, and even though it’s a very close run thing, we have to give the nod to the remastered Optimum disc, with richer colours and a little more detail to our jaundiced eyes.

This is quite possibly the best presentation that this most contentious of biopics has ever received; we have seen it on many formats over the years, including the rather obscure widescreen VHS version which was an exclusive to Our Price, and this one trumps any previous domestic release. Many editions have had a rather annoying orange tint, but while this is characteristic of the cinematography as a whole, it was usually overdone to the point of draining all other hues. Here we get the correct balance, along with more detail and resolution that ever before. Excellent work.

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Audio


There was a hell of a stink at the time The Doors was announced in the UK, as the blurb listed the audio as being “DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0“. There were many who washed their hands of the release there and then, but we are very happy to reassure you that this track is strictly secondary to a very pleasing 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The music is the most important element, nicely taken care of with this lossless presentation, where he clarity and depth to the original recordings of The Doors used in the film is quite astounding. In fact, the songs are brought to life in a manner probably never thought possible outside of listening to the original master-tapes. Dialogue is strong, and the use of the surround channels really kicks in during the numerous concert scenes, with the crowds filling out the rears, making you feel as though you are right in the middle of a Doors gig. What about bass? Well, the streets outside the legendary Whisky A Go-Go come alive through the use of low frequencies, with passing traffic given genuine weight and mass as they really thump over the uneven concrete on their way through LA.

The one pity is that the French DTS-Master Audio track is even more impressive, and switching to it yields a mind-blowing experience, with low frequencies which will shake the foundations and gives even greater spatial depth. Naturally, it’s en Francais, so of little use. Those who have suffered through the many version of The Doors over the years will be bowled over by such a deeply cool English language edition that they will scarcely give the other track a glance.

Extras


Jim Morrison, A Poet in Paris: This fifty minute documentary was produced in 2006 and serves to fill the huge blanks left by the film because of the demands of Pamela Courson's family. This documentary charts the final part of Morrison's life as he moves to Paris, partially to avoid deportation to the US on the obscenity charge appeal, but mainly to try and recharge his artistic batteries and pursue a full-time career as a poet. Morrison was an intellectual and initially soaked up the rich artistic atmosphere of Paris, but eventually, he began to feel isolated and trapped by the city and began drinking heavily.

This documentary takes the viewer on a scenic tour of many of the places that Morrison visited or frequented, and has interviews with numerous people who knew him, along with intellectuals who take a more scholarly look at Morrison's life and work; there is also a depressingly young guy who is the head of a French Doors fan club, who offers some interesting information about the Parisian phase of Morrison's life. It's an interesting way to spend the best part of an hour, but still offers nothing concrete about the exact circumstances surrounding Morrison's death, but furnishes the viewer with enough of the circumstantial evidence and testimonies from those who were there at the time to establish a general feeling as to what happened.

This documentary is in presented in standard definition and also in French, but fortunately it comes with English subtitles for those who aren't Francophiles.

The Doors: Back to the Roots: This documentary runs for just less than an hour and is essentially a series of talking heads, all reflecting upon Jim Morrison and The Doors, including the influence they had on them personally and also they talk about their music and Jim Morrison as a person. There is an interesting mixture of people who knew Morrison, people who didn't know Morrison and several people who worked on the film about Jim Morrison (director Oliver Stone and actor Kyle McLachlan). This isn't as interesting as the other documentary on this disc, but it is not without some diverting anecdotes about Morrison and The Doors; the best interviewee is Frank Lisciandro, who was a close friend of Jim Morrison and it is fascinating to hear him talk about the man, relating aspects of Morrison that weren't covered in Stone's film. Speaking of Oliver Stone, the march of time has made him look and sound like exploitation legend Russ Meyer, as he has a moustache, receding hairline and is now fairly sibilant. There is also the obligatory veteran French rocker—Patrick Eudeline—who waxes pretentiously in an animated-yet-laid-back fashion on the subject of The Doors' music. There is an interesting clash near the end of this documentary when Liscandrano's views on Stone's feature film are partially addressed by the filmmaker himself, who spouts some pretentious bollocks about "the greater truth". Make of that what you will...

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Overall


To say that The Doors is a flawed film is like saying that the bombing of Dresden was possibly slightly heavy-handed. Stone tried to throw in everything to make the cinematic depiction of Jim Morrison seem as wild and as grand as possible and succeeded in terms of sheer spectacle, but as a drama it doesn't ring true, even when taken at face value and ignoring the script demands from various parties.

Optimum has delivered a copy of The Doors that has a knockout audio-video presentation, along with a couple of interesting extras. There will be some who aren't happy that many of the additional features that were included on the US Blu-Ray copy are absent here (particularly the copious number of deleted scenes), but if all you are really after is just a wonderful looking and sounding copy of the film, then you really can't go wrong with what is on offer here.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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