Stanley Kubrick, one of America's legendary filmmakers responsible for films such as "Paths of Glory" (1957), "Spartacus" (1960), "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964), "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), "A Clockwork Orange" (1971), "The Shining" (1980), "Full Metal Jacket" (1987), to name a few.
But all filmmakers have their beginnings and for Stanley Kubrick, his first feature film would be the 1953 film "Fear and Desire".
Having created two documentaries ("Day of the Fight", "Flying Padre: An RKO-Pathe Screenliner") in 1951 and employed at "LOOK" Magazine, Kubrick quite his job to create his first feature film.
Using funds that were raised by his family and friends, Kubrick and a classmate from his old high school, Howard Sackler, would go on to create "Fear and Desire".
While not a box office hit, the film captured the attention of film critics, who took notice of Kubrick's talent.
But among the Kubrick films available, "Fear and Desire" has only been screened at very few places since it's release. One of those screenings were at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. back in 1993. The film also has not been released commercially and even was downplayed by Kubrick, when he was alive, calling the film a "bumbling amateur film exercise".
But in 2010, Turner Classic Movies aired a restored print courtesy of the George Eastman House and now, Kino Lorber will be releasing the film on Blu-ray and DVD in October 2012. The version of "Fear and Desire" presented was mastered in HD from archival 35mm elements newly restored by the Library of Congress.
The Blu-ray and DVD release will also include "The Seafarers, a short film created in 1953, a film which Kubrick took on in behalf of the Seafarers International Union in order to raise money for his next film "Killer's Kiss" (1954).
"Fear and Desire" revolves around four soldiers who have crash landed in enemy territory.
Lt. Corby (portrayed by Kenneth Harp), Sgt. Mac (portrayed by Frank Silvera), Pvt. Fletcher (portrayed by Stephen Coit) and Pvt. Sidney (portrayed by Paul Mazursky) are six miles away from where they should be and know they must cross a river in order to survive.
So, the four led by Lt. Corby, must evade enemy forces and create a raft and during nighttime, try to escape.
But while building the raft, they are afraid they may have been spotted by a plane flying above them, so the four leave the raft and try to see what is out there in the surrounding area.
The group spots a cabin where two enemy soldiers are eating. Seeing their weapons and food, the four knows they must take the soldiers out and so, they devise a plan and are able to kill the two soldiers including one enemy soldier returning to the cabin.
But Pvt. Sidney begins to crack after he sees the dead mean staring at him.
As the four begin to work on their raft and see what is ahead of them near the river, a woman is seen catching fish with other women in the river. While going home, she hears a noise (made by the soldiers hiding behind a bush). The soldiers take her, bind her and try to interrogate her, but she does not speak any English. So, the three continue their reconnaissance and leave the unstable Pvt. Sidney to watch over her.
But with Pvt. Sidney's mind becoming more unstable, can the soldiers trust him to watch the woman?
"Fear and Desire" is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1, black and white) and features the rare George Eastman House print that is mastered in HD from archival 35 mm elements newly restored by the Library of Congress. For the most part, picture quality for this film is very good considering its age. I detected no film warping, excessive blurring or a lot of scratches. There are nicks and dust that can be seen but by no means, does it prevent you from enjoying the film. Whites and grays were well-contrast, black levels were inky and dark. Overall, picture quality of "Fear and Desire" on Blu-ray is not pristine but the film looks great!
As for "The Seafarers", the film is presented in color but definitely looks its age. While in HD, it does have that feeling of early '50s documentary shorts.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"Fear and Desire" is presented in monaural LPCM 2.0. I detected no major hissing or pops during my viewing of "Fear and Desire". Audio was clear and dialogue can be heard clearly with no problems whatsoever. It's important to remember that this low-budget film was shot without sound and dialogue and effects were added during post production.
There are no subtitles included on this Blu-ray release.
"Fear and Desire" comes with Kubrick's 1953 short "The Seafarers" which was preserved by the Museum of Modern Art. The Seafarers is a industrial documentary promoting the Seafarers International Union.
"Fear and Desire", the first film by Stanley Kubrick that he never wanted people to see.
Who can blame Kubrick? Having a remarkable list of films in his oeuvre, his first film was seen by him as amateurish and low-budget. And as a filmmaker, one can easily criticize their earliest work and would rather have people remember the popular films that he's known for, not his first film that he created at 24.
But for cinema fans, "Fear and Desire" is fascinating American cinema for the fact that it shows that Stanley Kubrick was a filmmaker and writer that was ahead of his time.
"Fear and Desire" is cleverly written to poke at America's continuing involvement in war. And while "Fear and Desire" is not about the United States but people of an unknown country, Kubrick tries to relate one's feeling towards war, the futility of the actions of government and like its title, our soldiers that are sent to fight in a war instead of live for their families, are in fear of their lives being taken and their desire to survive another day.
For Kubrick's first film, the use of cinematography and clever editing worked to the film's efficacy. From the facial expressions and the eyes of the soldiers, the sight of a dead person as he grasps the food to show signs of life until no movement can be seen. Also, closeups showcasing the sight of death or insanity for a character to wide angle shots showcasing the river and the wilderness. Kubrick's cinematography was amazing to see at his young age and once again, showing how he was ahead of his time.
Also, intriguing was the use of two characters playing the enemy. Actors Kenneth Harp who plays Lt. Corby also plays the enemy general and Stephen Coit plays Pvt. Fletcher and the enemy captain.
Kubrick utilizes each character effectively. From the young woman (portrayed by Virginia Leith) with fear on her face as the unstable Pvt. Sidney starts to go insane and rubs his face all over her. While a seen between Kenneth Harp's two characters who encounter each other is quite a memorable sight.
For the most part, Stanely Kubrick was able to craft an intelligent film that pokes on society during that era on war. Something he focuses a lot decades later in his film "Full Metal Jacket".
As for the Blu-ray release of "Fear and Desire", the fact that many people were exposed to bootlegs, because the film was never released should be happy that the 35 mm elements was restored and that Kubrick fans finally get their wish for an official video release. Not only is the film restored but the film looks great on Blu-ray!
As for the inclusion of "The Seafarers", it's more of an industrial documentary promoting the Seafarers International Union but for Kubrick fans, the short gives people a chance to see how a young Kubrick was able to pay the bill sand eventually finance his next film, and that was taking on these type of jobs to earn money.
So, you get the 1953 film and his short made that same year in this one Blu-ray release! Just to get this rare gem, restored and presented on Blu-ray is fantastic!
Overall, while Stanley Kubrick has many films in his oeuvre that will be forever known and loved by cinema fans, "Fear and Desire" is the legendary filmmaker's first feature film that provides an insightful look at a young Kubrick at work and how his work was ahead for its time. Highly recommended!