Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: The Doors: Special Edition (1991)
Studio Line: Artisan - The Ultimate Story of Sex, Drugs & Rock 'N' Roll

Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer), one of the most sensual and exciting figures in the history of rock and roll, explodes on the screen in The Doors, the electrifying movie about a time called the sixties and a legendary outlaw who rocked America's consciousness -- forever. Meg Ryan, Kyle MacLachlan, Frank Whaley, Kevin Dillon and Billy Idol also star.

Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Kathleen Quilan, Val Kilmer, Michael Wincott, Michael Madsen, Josh Evans, Dennis Burkley, Billy Idol, Kyle MacLachlan, Meg Ryan
DVD: 2-Disc set; widescreen 2.35:1; audio English DD 5.1; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; rated R; 138 min.; $34.98; street date 2/20/01.
Supplements: Audio Commentary by Director Oliver Stone; "The Road Of Excess" Documentary; Behind-The-Scenes Footage; Original Concert Footage; Interviews with Cast & Crew; 43 Minutes Of Additional Scenes; Cinematographic Moments; Featurette; Theatrical Trailer and Teaser; Cast and Crew Information; Production Notes.
Purchase: DVD | The Oliver Stone Collection

Picture/Sound/Extras: B-/B/B

Although I’ve long loved the music of the Sixties, my emphasis has always remained on the British bands of the era. Examine the period’s big bands, and I adore them all: the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks and the Who remain cherished heroes of mine.

My affection never related to the era’s American acts, however. Actually, I like Motown to a small degree, but the West Coast rock bands always left me cold. I respect the talents Brian Wilson displayed in the Beach Boys, but I never took much interest in the music. Jimi Hendrix probably was the best of the rest of the bunch, but for all his incredible talent as a guitarist, he didn’t do much else of interest; his songs were nothing special. He maintains his place in rock history as perhaps the greatest guitar player of all-time, but I don’t think that he deserves nearly as much credit for other aspects of his music.

Although I’m not wild about Hendrix, he remains easily my favorite of the American acts that emerged in the latter half of the decade. The other prominent groups all have virtually no appeal for me. I’ve openly loathed the Grateful Dead for many years, and I never cared for others like the Jefferson Airplane either. The less said about the many short-lived psychedelic groups from the period, the better.

Into this category of “overrated bands” I definitely include the Doors. During my teen years, I briefly tried to like them - for the record, I’ve attempted to get into the music of all the acts I’ve discussed - but I could never find much of substance to their rambling, cheesy material.

Apparently Oliver Stone disagrees with me, since he decided to focus on the band during his 1991 rock biopic The Doors. The title is something of a misnomer since the movie isn’t really about the band; the emphasis is strongly on lead singer Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer). The story briefly touches upon his youth, when we witness an incident that allegedly greatly affected his psyche. After that, we skip forward to the mid-Sixties when UCLA film student Morrison befriends fellow cinephile Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan) and they soon are involved in a band that becomes named the Doors. Along with singer Morrison and keyboardist Manzarek are drummer John Densmore (Kevin Dillon) and guitarist Robbie Krieger (Frank Whaley).

The tale of the band’s rise intertwines with Jim’s romantic life. The latter largely involves his dealings with Pamela Courson (Meg Ryan), who Morrison eventually married. This affair doesn’t keep Jim from diddling every other chick he meets, with a main emphasis on spooky writer Patricia Kennealy (Kathleen Quinlan). Morrison bopped from woman to woman with little rhyme or reason, at least as depicted in this semi-incoherent film.

I appreciate that Stone confronted a daunting task as he adapted Morrison’s life story for film. (Despite the title, don’t for a second think this is an actual history of the band; the emphasis is very strongly on Morrison, with the other three coming off as little more than his supporting goons.) Rock biopics are usually very conventional and mostly follow the same path. We see how the band formed, watch them on their rise to fame, then view how they deal with their success and (usually) ultimate dissolution. This format probably works best with fictional subject matter, such as in That Thing You Do; real-life topics require some fidelity to the truth, which restricts options.

Stone clearly wanted to do something different with The Doors, and he indeed is able to create a somewhat unusual rock biography. However, Stone can’t successfully shed the conventions of the genre; he attempts to work outside the box but these stabs simply make the film rambling and nonsensical at times. Rather than add to the movie’s sense of freedom and verve, his experiments just lead to an incoherent narrative that leaves the viewer bored and disinterested.

The picture works best when it focuses on the band, but even those moments are erratic. A lot of the problem stems from Stone’s overemphasis on the character of Morrison. We’re usually led to see him as a visionary and the other members of the Doors as reactionary squares who just want to make a buck. Jim wants to “break on through to the other side” but they’d prefer to cash in on their fame through jingles.

This tone isn’t fair to the other Doors and would appear misguided even if it were accurate. Frankly, Morrison just wasn’t terribly talented. His lyrics were laughably pretentious and overblown, and his stage presence seemed obnoxious and self-absorbed. The band’s songs tended to be overindulgent and long-winded and lacked much substance. I can’t deny some of Morrison’s magnetism, and there’s no question that he was the lead force in the band - at least publicly - but he wasn’t the entire show.

Probably the strongest aspect of The Doors is its performances. For the most part, it’s a well-acted film, with only a few exceptions. Kilmer got shafted when he didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for his work as Morrison. Kilmer provided a thoroughly convincing and believable performance as the Lizard King and made him a living person despite Stone’s emphasis on the more sordid aspects of his personality. Kilmer looks and sounds eerily like Morrison in the film, but his excellent portrayal goes beyond simple impersonation to strongly encompass the character.

Most of the remaining actors do the best with what they get, which isn’t much. As I alluded, the other Doors are little more than cardboard chumps in the movie, and the portrait of Kennealy just shows her as a horny witch (literally - she believes that whole Wiccan deal, and the real Kennealy cameos in the movie as a priestess). Ryan was the film’s only seriously miscast participant. She seems radically out of place in the era’s permissive culture and Ryan appears unable to adapt her usual chirpy personality to all of the sordid activity around her. She felt self-conscious and false in the role, and it becomes extremely hard to understand why Jim put up with her for so long.

Ultimately, The Doors isn’t a bad film, but it seemed excessively long and unfocused. Since those phrases also apply to most of the band’s music, perhaps these tendencies are appropriate, but they left me cold nonetheless. I appreciate Oliver Stone’s attempts to create something different in this rock biopic, but the end result is fairly unsatisfying.

The DVD:

The Doors appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Apparently this transfer duplicates the one found on the original “movie-only” release of the film; many people - myself included - are disappointed that the new edition doesn’t feature a new, anamorphically-enhanced picture. As it stands, the image looked acceptable for the most part but never rose above the level of “fairly decent”.

Sharpness usually seemed adequately crisp and detailed, at least during most close-up shots. When the camera moved out to wider angles, however, the picture became somewhat soft and fuzzy; these scenes lacked the definition they should have displayed. Moiré effects caused no concern, but the lesser resolution offered from the non-anamorphic transfer meant that I saw occasional examples of jagged edges; these appeared in objects like microphone stands and eyeglasses.

Print flaws popped up with some regularity but they never seemed especially intense. Light grain occurred through much of the film, and I also saw periodic instances of grit and speckles. Some other minor debris could be seen on a few occasions, but the film lacked any more significant defects like scratches, hairs, blotches or tears. The movie seemed a little dirtier than it should have, but the flaws were essentially modest.

Colors displayed a slightly orange tendency and looked a little heavier than I expected. I think some of this resulted from production decisions, especially since the “golden” look mainly permeated the first half of the film when the happier events make this tone more appropriate. Otherwise hues seemed largely solid and acceptably clear, though they could appear a bit too heavy, especially in regard to reds, which were somewhat oversaturated and fuzzy.

Black levels seemed generally decent though they lacked great depth, and shadow detail appeared similarly acceptable but unspectacular. A fair number of low-light sequences came across as a little muddled and thick, but these weren’t significant problems. Ultimately, The Doors seemed watchable but it definitely could have used a new visual transfer.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundfield favored the forward channels, which provided engaging stereo separation for the music. Not surprisingly, the songs of the Doors were the stars of the show, and these tunes came across as accurate and well-defined. Some fine ambiance also can be heard in the front speakers, as the track presented a nicely natural and well-placed mix.

The surrounds kicked in some support of the songs and also added a lot of atmospheric effects as well. These aspects significantly aided the impact of the movie’s “trippier” scenes and gave the film a solid presence. I found the soundfield to be both appropriate throughout the movie.

Audio quality was fine. Speech appeared natural and concise, without obvious edginess or other issues. Music offered good clarity but could’ve boasted better low-end; bass response seemed a bit lacking. Effects were accurate and full. This was a satisfactory mix.

This new release of The Doors may feature the old DVD’s transfer, but it improves on that edition through a ton of supplemental content. Most of these materials appear on the second disc, but we do find an audio commentary from Oliver Stone on the first DVD. Although this was a fairly good track, I must admit I found it moderately disappointing because it didn’t live up to the high quality of many of his other commentaries. All in all, Stone either focuses on discussions of the facts of Morrison’s life - and also adds a lot of instances in which he used creative license - or he talks about technical aspects of making the film. Stone briefly touches on the ways that the music moved him and other cultural issues, but these are in the minority.

It’s a drier commentary than others like his impassioned discussions of Heaven and Earth and JFK, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad track. Because of the high quality of the other Stone spiels, my expectations have been raised, so while his talk about The Doors is as good or better than most other commentaries, it doesn’t match up with Stone’s more compelling efforts. For fans of the film, the track definitely merits a listen, but it’s not a great piece.

On the second DVD, we find a slew of video programs. First up is an excellent documentary about the film called “The Road to Excess”. This 38-minute and 40-second piece combines shots from the film, some footage from the set, real images of Morrison and the other Doors, plus modern (circa 1997, I believe) interviews with Stone, Kilmer, Whaley, Richard Rutowski, and real-life Patricia Kennealy and Robbie Krieger. It’s a gloriously honest and up-front work that seemed consistently entertaining and compelling. The participants shed a lot of light on the production and also just how realistic its depictions were; apparently Kennealy is still cheesed about the way she was portrayed, and justifiably since Stone made her character a composite of a bunch of women. The program flew by due to the excess of fascinating information; it’s a genuinely terrific piece.

The next big draw on the second DVD is a group of 14 “Deleted Scenes”. Here we find 43 minutes and 25 seconds of excised footage; note that the running time includes an introduction from Stone that briefly discusses each piece and indicates why he made his choices. Many of the snippets are actually extended versions of existing scenes. A few seemed interesting and might have merited inclusion - especially a scene in which Morrison cries after sex with a couple of teenage girls - but for the most part, Stone made the right choice; the movie ran too long as it was, and these pieces would have added to the slowness. Nonetheless, it’s fun to see them here.

The remainder of the extras are less compelling. We find a six minute and 15 second “Featurette” that appears to have aired around the time of the film’s 1991 theatrical release. Essentially it’s a glorified trailer that mainly promotes the movie, though it adds some mildly interesting sound bites and some good shots from the set. These elements are good enough to merit a watch, but don’t expect anything terrific from the program.

In addition, we get two trailers. There’s the movie’s teaser plus its full theatrical clip. The remainder of the extras are text-based. “Production Notes” details a lot of the information already found in the documentary. Despite the repetition, it’s a nice summary of many of the film’s issues and facts. “Cinematographic Moments” briefly looks at the camera techniques used by Stone and cinematographer Robert Richardson; we learn a little about why they shot the film as they did. Finally, “Cast and Crew” contributes filmographies and brief biographies of Stone and actors Kilmer, MacLachlan, Dillon, Whaley, and Ryan; it also features a film listing for cinematographer Richardson.

While The Doors is a fairly weak movie as a whole, at least it tried to be something different and gave us an unusual experience. Granted, it fails to achieve most of its goals, but the film offered some moments of interest, largely due to a strong performance by Val Kilmer. The DVD provides a decent but somewhat drab picture plus very good sound and some excellent supplements. In the end, the latter elements make this package worth your time; the movie is only mediocre, but the extras could be quite interesting and they make this package much more valuable.

As I write this on January 24, 2001, the new 2-DVD Special Edition of The Doors can be found only through the Oliver Stone Collection boxed sets; it appears in both the 6-movie and 10-movie varieties. However, it will be available for purchase separately on February 20, 2001, with a retail price of $34.98.

One final note about the 2-DVD edition of The Doors that comes in the Oliver Stone Collection sets: it utilizes unusual packaging. It comes in a cardboard “snapper” case. This one resembles the snappers of the past but the left side folds out and creates two additional panels. In one of these - the far left one - we find the second DVD. It’s placed in a paper holder and inserted into a slot built in to the panel. This is the first time I’ve seen this kind of packaging, and while it seems a little cheesy, it’s no worse than the average snapper. Please note that the individual version of The Doors from Artisan will use a different kind of case; the “double-snapper” is exclusive to the Oliver Stone Collection boxes.

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