Kubrick Compliant: Eyes Wide Shut (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

It occurred to me that if DVDExotica were ever to be audited, I'd come up 0% Kubrick. And then, I don't know if they'd come take me away or what, but I'm getting out ahead of any such eventuality with an in-depth look at his final film, Eyes Wide Shut. One of the reasons I chose this one is because, for the longest time, it was only available censored in the US, and if you wanted to see it uncut, you had to import a foreign region release. Fortunately, Warner Bros has since corrected that, and reissued it on both DVD and blu. And now I've got both versions here, ready to be scrutinized.
I didn't just pick it because of the censorship thing. Eyes Wide Shut has an interesting appeal for me. In some ways, it's his most delicate, human story, thanks probably to the source material (it's an adaptation of a 1920's Austrian novel called Dream Story). It's also fantastic and unnatural, elusive in how it's meaning isn't made explicitly clear. You don't even really know whether Tom Cruise's journey through the bulk of this film actually happened or was a dream. Although as a psychological exploration, that doesn't really matter much. Just like Nicole Kidman's infidelity, it emotionally affected her partner just as though it had happened, even though there's no question her story was anything but a dream. The characters and the audience feel the effects of experience regardless. And because it's Kubrick, it's a vivid, stirring experience... even if it's a bit tawdry and ridiculous on the surface. I'd say this is Stanley Kubrick's most exotic film.
So this 1999 film was a new released when it debuted on DVD in 2000 by Warner Bros. It was quickly repackaged in 2001 as part of The Stanly Kubrick Collection. As I say, it was cut, and you had to order a disc from... well, pretty much any other country, to get a copy of the film uncut. So what's missing from the cut film? Well, in terms of screen time, technically nothing. No shots were removed or trimmed. Instead, they opted for a more dubious, sneaky method of adding CGI characters to shots to basically block the camera's POV from the sex, Here, I'll show you.
Warner Bros 2001 censored DVD on top; Warner Bros's unrated blu-ray bottom.
This is just one example, there are multiple shots where multiple couples are blocked by multiple CGI characters in robes. This one particular example I've chosen is funny because not only do they add another hooded figure, but another naked woman on the couch in front of him, making the unseen sex going on in front of him in the R-rated cut decidedly kinkier than what we see taking place in the unrated version. Anyway, movie-censorship.com actually does a great job breaking down every single shot that's been tinkered with. But in short, all the blocking takes place in this one brief section of the film. Nothing else was changed throughout the movie.
So, right. That's the 2000/ 2001 DVD. Eventually, Warner Bros re-released it on DVD and blu in 2007. The DVD is a 2-disc set, with new extras added to the second disc, whereas it's all fit onto the one double-layer blu. This also gets us into the open matte widescreen debate that's heatedly followed all of Kubrick's DVD releases around, although it isn't really any different than with most any other film. Kubrick shot for a widescreen theatrical framing in mind, but also kept the rest of the frame in mind for future television/ home video screenings. So both are valid in their way, but especially with the switch to widescreen TVs, I think fullscreen ultimately lost out. This is evidenced by how the 2000 and 2001 DVDs are fullscreen, and the 2007 discs went wide.
WB 2001 DVD on top; WB 2007 DVD mid; WB 2007 blu bottom.
So yes, I guess I follow the mainstream majority in preferring the widescreen 1.78:1 theatrical framing. But it's nice to know that the 1.33:1 fullscreen version is available on the older discs for those who want it. It's a question of open/closed mattes, so the fullscreen actually has additional vertical information, and both have the same amount on the sides.

Transfer-wise, there isn't a huge deal of difference across any of these discs. If you look at the earlier set of shots I showed of the censorship, you'll notice the lamps have a purple discoloration on the 2001 DVD which is nicely corrected on the 2007 blu. And the HD blu is naturally a bit cleaner and better compressed. But all three discs look like they're taken from the same old master to me, and there's probably some serious room for improvement if someone were to take a fresh scan of the OCN today. Ultimately, sure the blu looks best, but I'd put this very low on the priority list of DVDs to upgrade.
Audio-wise, things have improved a little better.  The original DVD does have a 5.1 audio track, but that's it. No subs or anything. The 2007 DVD has the same 5.1 track, but adds optional English subs, plus other language options, specifically a 5.1 mix of the French dub, plus French and Spanish subs. The blu-ray goes a good bit farther, though, including the English and French 5.1 mixes, plus additional 5.1 dubs in Spanish, Japanese, German and Italian. But of more interest is its additional uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix of the audio track, giving us two English options for the first time. Plus, it has a whole host of subtitles options: English, English HoH, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, German, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish.

It's here that I should point out, too, that the 2007 DVD packaging lies. It reads on the back, "Selectable in Both Rated and - and for the First Time Ever in North America - Unrated Versions." But this is simply not true. The 2007 DVD only features the unrated version.  If you had to leave off one version, at least they went the right way. But still, you should know, it ain't true. You are never given the option to watch the R-rated cut, and I ripped the whole disc just to check: the censored version isn't even on the disc. Not that I can imagine any fan wanting to go back to the censored cut, but it would've been neat if they included the shots with the extra CGI people as a deleted scene, just for the novelty value.
They didn't include any deleted scenes, but they do have some decent supplements. Even the old DVD featured some superficial but still worthwhile on-camera interviews with Cruise, Kidman and Steven Speilberg, plus some trailers and TV spots.

Those are carried over to the 2007 discs, plus a bunch more. The main feature is a 3-part British television documentary called The Last Movie: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut. Really only one of the three parts focuses on Eyes Wide Shut, but it's all interesting for fans of Kubrick as it delves into the rest of his life and career. Then there's Lost Kubrick: The Unfinished Films of Stanley Kubrick, which is a 20+ minute featurette on some of his work that never got made, including a Napoleon biopic. And finally, there's a short clip of Kubrick's speech accepting a DGA award.
Warner Bros blu-ray is unarguably the best available edition of Eyes Wide Shut. And Eyes Wide Shut, in turn, is a compelling film that deserves a spot in your collection. It's just not a particularly impressive blu. It's almost tempting to suggest holding out for a better release down the road, but I don't imagine we'll see one anytime soon unless UHD discs wind up becoming popular. So this is the best we've got, and really, it's good. It sells for very cheap, too, so you really can't make a case against it. It could be better, but you wouldn't want to be caught without it, would you?


  1. Nice article of a masterful film. Unlike you though I definitely prefer EWS in its 1.33:1 iteration, and won't be upgrading to any Blu unless it contains this (I guess the ideal disc would contain the unmasked and theatrical iterations so that viewers can make their own choice, alongside being 4K scanned from the OCN naturally!). I'm in the UK and its worth noting that the DVD I bought at the time was not censored in the way that it was in the US, but the music track was dicked around with slightly in order to avoid offending minority religious groups (ridiculous, yes!). I live in hope for the ideal edition that does EWS justice it deserves.

    1. Yeah, I haven't actually watched the fullscreen version all the way through since back in 2001-02. But scrubbing through it for this comparison, I saw a lot of head room and relatively vacant space. Once I got the widescreen disc, I preferred it and never looked back. But I've never done a full taste test, watching them both all the way through back-to-back.
      But I'm always for studios giving us the option. And since this blu could use an upgrade anyway, certainly an ideal release would have include both ARs, even if they just made one a limited edition collector's set for the serious fans, and then a cheaper sell-through single disc release with just the widescreen.

  2. Hi John,

    I have watched the fullscreen PAL DVD from Europe as well as the 1.78:1 US Blu-Ray (there is also a Blu-Ray from France that shows it in the 1.85:1 ratio it was screened in theaters in, but I haven't seen that one.)

    After framing some of his earlier movies for the standard 1.85 theatrical aspect ratio, Kubrick had been appalled at the butchered cropping to 1.33:1 for VHS releases, and then the fullscreen DVD releases that were prevalent in the nineties.

    For Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick resolved to do his own framing for 1.33:1, 1.78:1 and 1.85:1, and specified the matting for all scenes. This is probably one of only a few films that have been blocked this way.

    Kubrick filmed with an Arriflex in Academy ratio (1.37:1) but Kubrick's framing was still matted for 1.33:1, and he often shot wide so that some screens wouldn't be chopped too much in widescreen.

    I would suggest taking in the film in fullscreen again. The reason is that Kubrick was filming in Academy though the viewfinder, and he composed some breathtaking scenes in the fullscreen ratio. For example, the scene where Harford is going into the first room in the orgy sequence is just him going though an entrance in widescreen, but in fullscreen it looks spectacular with the details beautifully arranged over the top of the balcony and floorpace visible so you get an idea of just how much space there is in this ballroom. It's much more like you're there in the room experiencing its space.

    In fact, in the widescreen as he passes through the rooms, door lintels are cut off,figures have their feet cut off and everything feels cramped.

    In fullscreen doors are complete, you can see details overhead, and as before, you have more of a sense of actually experiencing the room. You also realize that Kubrick had arranged many of his lounging nude figures in artful patterns that are gone with their lower limbs cropped in the widescreen view.

    Also in some street scenes the fullscreen version includes interesting symbolic details on the buildings that are cropped in the widescreen edition.

    Watching the fullscreen edition gives you a much better feeling for what a great compositionist Kubrick was.

    It also gives you a better sense of what Kubrick would have seen in the viewfinder as he was filming (this was back in the days when all viewfinders were optical, of course.)

    Oh, and one last thing. The PAL DVD with its higher resolution does look noticeably better than the NTSC North American DVD.

    Just my 2 cents worth. Hope you enjoy.

    1. "After framing some of his earlier movies for the standard 1.85 theatrical aspect ratio, Kubrick had been appalled at the butchered cropping to 1.33:1 for VHS releases, and then the fullscreen DVD releases that were prevalent in the nineties."

      This is just incorrect.

      Kubrick was appalled by the cropping of "Spartacus" and "2001" for TV, which is why he stopped shooting the wider aspect ratio and started shooting 1.66 or 1.85 images which could be opened up to fullscreen instead of cropping them. He considered that fullscreen to be less compromised than cropping, but it was still a compromise. You can't frame a picture for more than one aspect ratio, you can just frame it for the intended aspect ratio and then protect it from the unmatted version.

      Regarding the fullscreen DVDs, they were all based on the final masters that Kubrick personally prepared and approved, which were actually done before the DVD era. Kubrick had intended to create new masters for DVDs after completing "Eyes Wide Shut", which would've been in widescreen because of the new technology, but died before he was able to, and WB rushed out the only approved masters that they had because they wanted to take advantage of the publicity around Eyes Wide Shut to sell more DVDs.

  3. I own both the original UK DVD and Blu-ray. I also prefer the DVD screen ratio, as there is more to see. I hope some day for the Blu-ray to be re released containing both ratio's :)

  4. The compromise aspect ratio of all which is gaining wide favour in many circles is 2.0.0 and is seen in streamed TV shows and a lot of films. However I still think 1.33 or 1.37 frames a person's full face the best!