An adaptation of Anthony Burgess' book of the same name, the 1971 film shows us a peek of a disconcerting dystopic future. It follows a young hoodlum named Alex (Malcolm McDowell) who leads a small group of tough kids he calls his droogs (AKA gang). Each night Alex, Dim (Warren Clarke), Pete (Michael Tarn) and Georgie (James Marcus) prowl the night raping, pillaging and stealing whatever and whomever they want. When one such night of "fun" goes too far, Alex is caught and sent to prison.
What results is two years where the ultra-violence junkie learns to put on a fake smile and act like he has learned his lesson, but when an opportunity arises to take part in an experiment that is supposed to "cure" him in two weeks and let him loose back on society, he enthusiastically volunteers.
The experiment itself is one that his been nodded to and spoofed more times than I could count. Alex is strapped down with his eyelids forced open and is made to watch movies of extreme violence all while receiving a drug that makes him sick. To reinforce the brainwashing, the scientists also pipe in classical music, more specifically, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. As a lover of Beethoven, Alex finds this to be the worst injustice yet, but the treatment seems to work. Anytime he gets an urge to hurt someone or do something bad, he feels horribly sick. As a side effect, the same thing happens when he hears the Ninth Symphony.
Released from the government's care, Alex finds that all the people who knew him have moved on with their lives. Even his parents, who were simply scared of him all the time, have rented his room out to someone else and refuse to let him move back in. The events come to a head when some of his old droogs, now police officers, find him and rough him up a bit. When Alex stumbles into the home of one of his former victims looking for help, things get really out of control.
I've merely glazed over the major plot points of the movie here. I couldn't hope to go into the kind of detail that would do this film justice. There is a reason why it is thought of as a classic, and if you can work through the stylized violence and mayhem, I'm pretty sure most movie-lovers will see why this film has had such a lasting effect.
Besides the film's striking visuals and scary future, a lot of the feel of the film comes from it's sound. Not only is music a big part of A Clockwork Orange, but the fact that Kubrick decided to go with an almost completely classical soundtrack puts even his earlier work, 2001: A Space Odyssey, to shame in this department. This, coupled with the strange dialogue taken straight from the novel, puts the viewer in an odd state where you are disconnected from what is happening on the screen, but also immersed in it. Of course, the surround sound and great image transfer do a lot to make the impact as forceful as possible.
If you are already a big fan of the film, then you probably already picked up the 2007 release, and if you had a Blu-ray player at the time, you most likely got that version of the film. Now, just a few years later, a new version is out and it is really hard to judge if the film deserves a re-purchase. Of course, that's dependent on how big a fan you really are.
A Clockwork Orange: 40th Anniversary Edition not only comes in Blu-ray "book" packaging containing 40 or so pages of information about the book, but the previously released special features, as well as a few new ones.
The older features include a commentary by McDowell and Historian Nick Redman, the making of featurette called "Great Bolshy Yarblockos!," the BBC Channel 4 special called "Still Tickin': The Return of A Clockwork Orange," and on the second disc, the 1.5 hour long documentary on McDowell's life in movies called "Lucky Malcolm!"
I found all of these to be really interesting and I learned a lot about the film, McDowell and Kubrick with these features. "Still Tickin'" focuses on the controversy the film generated in the UK and the violent crimes that came after its release that were blamed on the movie. It also touched on Kubrick's ultimate decision to remove the film from the UK with much regret. This special was created not long after Kubrick's death in 1999 and heralded the film's return to the country in almost 30 years.
The "Making Of..." featurette is pretty simple and what you would expect on most home movie releases. One of the interesting details I wasn't aware of is the fact that instead of writing a screenplay for the film and putting his own personal spin on the story, something Kubrick does with many of his other book-to-film adaptations, the cast and crew used the book itself as their screenplay. According to this featurette, Kubrick would show up in the morning and say "We are doing page 27 today. How do we do it?"
The new additions that really makes this release so powerful include a featurette called "Turning Like Clockwork" that interview many people in the film industry that either knew Kubrick or were inspired by him and talk about the impact the film had. In the 10-minute segment, "Malcolm McDowell Looks Back," in celebration of the film's 40th anniversary release, the studio invites the star actor to go through some old props and documents that were dug up pertaining to the movie.
The biggest draw though is the second disc. I mentioned earlier that it contained a lengthy documentary on McDowell, but that's not all. In a similar manner, a documentary called "Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures" can be found there and clocks in around 2.5 hours. This interesting documentary goes from Kubrick's early life to his decision to be a filmmaker and through each of the films that he created. This is a must-see for any Kubrick fan.
If you've been interested in A Clockwork Orange but have never seen it, then you need to see this version. Not only is the picture and sound crisp, but the supplements will help give you a better idea of what the film is about and what kind of impact it has made. For those existing fans out there, this is definitely the best version to be released so far, but only you can be the judge of how much these added special features make the purchase worthwhile.