Fear and Desire (Special Edition) Blu-ray Review: A Collection of Kubrick’s Early Works

After making three documentary shorts, included in the disc’s Bonus Features, Fear and Desire is Stanley Kubrick’s feature-film directorial debut, which he also photographed and edited. It is a low-budget war film that strives to be about the men who fight them. Unfortunately, it is only notable for Kubrick completists rather than being a film worth watching on its own accord because it comes up short due to the limitations of the budget and the skills of those involved, including high school classmate/screenwriter Howard Sackler, who would later win the Pulitzer Prize for his 1968 play The Great White Hope.

Buy Fear and Desire (Special Edition) Blu-ray

According to Kino Lorber website, “Recently, the Library of Congress came into possession of 35mm elements of the original 70 minute cut, which was the version shown at the Venice Film Festival on August 18, 1952, under the title Shape of Fear, and which has not been seen since its interrupted theatrical run in 1953….For decades, the 62 minute version was all that existed of Fear and Desire, which a still dissatisfied Kubrick withheld from release throughout his lifetime, and which Kino Lorber released in 2012. Restored in 4K by Kino Lorber in collaboration with the Library of Congress, from the 35mm original cut negative and the 35mm fine grain master.”

Four soldiers survive a plane crash a few miles behind enemy lines. Lt. Corby (Kenneth Harp) plans to head to a nearby river and follow it back to safety. On their way, they come upon a house with enemy soldiers and overtake them. Kubrick cuts between the soldiers and the spilled food to good effect. The men then encounter a young local woman and capture her. They leave her tied to a tree under the watch of Pvt. Sidney (Paul Mazursky), who is the most concerned for her. But they are unaware how fragile Sidney’s mind is, which proves fatal. He becomes unstable, forced by the screenwriter to fall apart and go on about Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The scenes between them go on too long.

An airplane is found near a house where soldiers, including a general, are stationed. Rather than ride a raft home, Sgt. Mac (Frank Silvera) wants to take it to distract them, and hopefully kill the general, which will finally allow him to do something meaningful. This will allow Corby and Pvt. Fletcher (Stephen Colt) to steal the plane. Not sure if there’s a thematic purpose or a production necessity, but Harp and Colt also play the general and his underling, whom they kill.

The highlights of Fear and Desire are the images Kubrick, who comes from a photography background, composes. The story struggles to be about something and is bogged down by characters that spend way too much time pontificating to others and themselves within internal monologues.

The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Kubrick makes use of chiaroscuro in many of his images, which the inky blacks support. The contrast is strong but some of the white light is too bright and blooms. Textures are apparent and focus is usually sharp, but is soft in some scenes. There is film grain and the image is mostly clean, but blemishes are noticeable as is occasional light flicker.

The audio is available DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The dialogue is dubbed so sounds a bit flat as do the guns during the climatic gun battle. Composer Gerald Fried’s score complements the scenes with good fidelity, but the louder the volume in the mix, the more the music distorts.

The Bonus Features are:

  • Audio Commentary on Premiere Cut by Eddy Von Mueller
  • Audio Commentary on Theatrical Cut by Gary Gerani
  • Flying Padre (1951) (9 min) – A 4K Restoration from the Original 35mm Print. Kubrick’s second short covers two days in the life of Reverend Fred Stadtmueller, the titular priest who pilots a Piper Cub, named the Spirit of St. Joseph, to perform Catholic services throughout New Mexico.
  • Day of the Fight (1951) (16 min) – A 4K Restoration from the Original 35mm Print. Kubrick’s first short focuses on middleweight boxer Walter Cartier on April 17, 1950, the day he fought fellow middleweight Bobby James.
  • The Seafarers (1953) (28 min) – A 4K Restoration from the 16mm A/B Camera Negatives and a 16mm Print. A promotional piece made for the Seafarers International Union
  • Trailers for Kubrick films available from Kino Lorber: Fear and Desire, Killer’s Kiss, The Killing, Paths of Glory

Fear and Desire definitely feels like it is made by a first-time filmmaker, and if it wasn’t Kubrick’s debut, it likely would have been forgotten. I can’t recommend the film itself, but the disc delivers a satisfying high-def presentation for the curious and the completist and it serves as a good archive with the inclusion of Kubrick’s short films.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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