Being that Stanley Kubrick's previous three films (Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange) made some serious dents in the history of cinema, his 1975 Barry Lyndon a sprawling, picaresque tale of a social-climbing Irishman, based on William Thackeray's novel met with both a disappointing box-office and critical scorn. But 2001 was also trashed by more than a few critics when it first arrived, and Kubrick fans over the years have had the opportunity to rediscover Barry Lyndon, which offers several Kubrickian delights. Ryan O'Neal stars as Kubrick's eponymous hero, an 18th-century Irish youth who flees his country after a fateful duel with an English officer and journeys throughout Europe in search of fortune and freedom, first with the English army, then the Prussians, finally making his way into the high-class drawing rooms of English society. Lyndon draws from Kubrick's particular interest in anti-heroes while there's not a great deal to like about the story's central character and his shallow lust for wealth and social standing, there's much to admire, particularly when those who serve as obstacles to his goals are just as superficial and reprehensible. O'Neal doesn't always have a firm grip on his genteel Irish brogue, but his enigmatic performance keeps the viewer watching and guessing. Kubrick's direction is similarly engrossing, if more understated than in his previous films, and his use of innovative Zeiss lenses that allowed him to shoot by candlelight creates some remarkable nighttime interior settings this is the first film that really got the pre-electric-light age. In fact, all of Barry Lyndon was shot in natural light night and day, indoor and out and often with limited depths-of-field, which makes much the film's baroque interiors and bucolic landscapes appear more like elaborate oil paintings than modern movie magic. And thanks to the June 2001 re-release of Barry Lyndon on DVD from Warner (which replaces the disastrous June 1999 disc), for the first time Kubrick's vision is fully captured for home viewing. The source print (taken from Warner's "2000 digital remaster") is vivid and colorful, and you might be tempted to pause a few detailed mise en scénes and hang them on the wall. The digital artifacts that wrecked the original disc have also been eliminated, leaving only the barest hint of shimmer in a spot or two for a film that, admittedly, must be a difficult DVD transfer under any circumstances. Audio has been remixed in Dolby Digital 5.1, and the presentation benefits enormously from it. Beyond the technical improvements, the transfer is a matted 1.66:1 widescreen (non-anamorphic), and the extras remain the theatrical trailer and "awards" notes. But the play's the thing, and if you were waiting to get your hands on a better Barry Lyndon than the 1999 disc, this is the one to get. Snap-case.
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