DVD Essentials: A new, irregular feature -- Eyes Wide Shut

"Eyes Wide Shut" was one of the movies that demanded a new version even before it was released theatrically. Director Stanley Kubrick died before the movie was completed, leading to all sorts of hullabaloo about whether he wanted it to be rated R or NC-17. Warner Bros. decided he wanted it to be R, and in order to get the MPAA to step away from giving the movie an NC-17 tag Warners placed black digital blobs, er, people wearing black cloaks into the infamous orgy scene to obstruct the view of some of the more graphic sexual activity. Because, you know, Kubrick wanted it that way -- never mind that "Eyes Wide Shut" was released internationally without the black blobs.

That position was, and still is, ludicrous. The reasoning behind the insertion of the digital creations was to place the movie in multiplexes with an R rating, as opposed to the adults-only, some-say box office poison NC-17. If only one person had the ability of rational thought, they would've realized that no one under the age of 17 would be interested in seeing a plodding, slow, meticulous movie about relationships, no matter how much sex is in it (there isn't much, by the way). The orgy scene that the members of the MPAA's chastity belts ruffled didn't last all that long, and in fact is the only section of the movie with sexual content. How a movie made for adults would be threatened with an NC-17 for adult sexual situations while "The Matrix," aimed squarley at teenagerdom (and also released by Warner Bros., mind), with all of its violence and killing garnered simply an R is mind-boggling. Sex is somehow more dangerous to the minds of America than bullets, guns, bombs, whatever. Is it because of the Second Amendment? If so, I'd like to go on record as saying we should have a new amendment, one that provides Americans the right to know that sex is a biological fact, that women have the right to bear children through sex, and, gosh darn it, men and women like to have sex even if they aren't making a baby.

Back to "Eyes Wide Shut." When it left theaters a relative box office failure, there was hope that the emerging DVD technology would afford Warners the opportunity to release an uncut version of the movie to the public. Unfortunately, not only did the studio not do that, they mucked it up even more. Once again, citing Kubrick's wishes, Warner Bros. released the theatrical cut of "Eyes Wide Shut" in a full-frame aspect ratio despite the movie screening in theaters in 1.85:1 widescreen. Warners explained on the DVD packaging: "This feature is presented in the full aspect ratio of the original camera negative, as Stanley Kubrick intended." Interesting. If that were the case, then why are the chapter stops on the DVD listed in 1.85:1 widescreen? The contempt Warner Bros. showed for fans of "Eyes Wide Shut" by claiming that the movie was shot in a full-frame aspect ratio without bothering to adjust the chapter stops accordingly was infuriating. Combined with the kowtowing the studio did to the demands of the MPAA, "Eyes Wide Shut" has only been available in the United States in a butchered, brutalized form.

But that's all about to change. On Oct. 23, Warner Bros. is re-releasing -- again -- a few of Kubrick's movies in two-disc special editions: "A Clockwork Orange," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "The Shining" and, amazingly, "Eyes Wide Shut." A new edition of "Full Metal Jacket" will also be released. All of these updated DVDs will be worth purchasing for Kubrick fans, but "Eyes Wide Shut" is the real gem here. Via seemless branching, both the R-rated an unrated versions of the movie will be on the set, along with a few new bonus features: a three-part documentary made for Channel Four, "The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut;" "The Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films of Stanley Kubrick" featurette; and Kubrick's 1998 Directors Guild of America D.W. Griffith Award acceptance speech. Bonus features from the original release -- a set of interviews from Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and Steven Spielberg, and trailers and TV spots -- will also be included. And as if the unrated version wasn't enough, the movie will be in its original theatrical aspect ratio.

Warners is making up for a lot of bad moves with this release. Talk of an unrated DVD of "Eyes Wide Shut" has persisted since the initial release of the movie, and the studio is finally making it a reality. It's about time. The set's specs sound good, and the packaging looks better than previous releases, too. The sleek, black background and original poster image of Cruise and Kidman in the mirror create an appropriately haunting design. (All of the updated Kubrick DVDs have excellent packaging art.) For comparison sake, here is how the "Eyes Wide Shut" DVD was packaged previously:

"Eyes Wide Shut" has its fair share of detractors. But it also has a passionate fan base. And for those who have embraced this movie and slogged through the dreadful treatment it has endured, this DVD re-release is validation for all the dedication. That is, unless Warners finds a way to mess this up, too. Given this movie's troubled history, nothing is outside the realm of possibility.