Review: Barry Lyndon Blu-ray

Barry Lyndon Blu-ray boxSTUDIO: Warner | DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick | CAST: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Steven Berkoff, Guy Hamilton, Hardy Kruger
RELEASE DATE: 5/31/2011 | PRICE: Blu-ray $19.98
BONUSES: none
SPECS: PG | 184 min. | Period drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Barry Lyndon movie scene

The candles light up the world of Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon.

Like all Stanley Kubrick films, 1975’s Barry Lyndon is not for all tastes. But if you’re looking for pretty pictures wrapped in a unique narrative style and distinct tone (again, like all Kubrick films), then you’ve come to the right place. Unequivocally one of the most gorgeous motion pictures ever produced, Barry Lyndon, as viewed in its Blu-ray debut, is probably the closest you’ll ever come to walking into a Thomas Gainsborough painting.

Based on a lesser-known novel by William Thackeray (anything that isn’t Vanity Fair is lesser known), a 19th century Victorian novelist writing about 18th century England, the movie tells the epic tale of an Irish country man (Ryan O’Neal) and his life as a soldier, gambler, lover and calculating rogue as he marries into the higher ranks of society before receiving his comeuppance.

Clocking in at just over three hours, Kubrick’s film adaptation is a long, episodic and very deliberately paced tale. But the rhythm and pace is the point: Kubrick isn’t just serving up a well-adorned period costume drama — his re-creation sends us back in time to experience the day-to-day lifestyle and rhythms of the period. Those who groove on that kind of immersive cinema and haven’t taken the Barry Lyndon plunge are in for are a riveting experience.

Oh, and just so the uninitiated know, story points in the film are as raucous as anything you’re likely to see on reality TV (or any other PG film, for that matter). They include pistol duels, sword fights, infantry battles, orgies, child beating, wealth squandering, adultery, drunkenness, identity swapping and lots of candles.

It’s those candles and the landmark scenes they frequently illuminate (a technological breakthrough for Kubrick and cinematographer John Alcott) that elevate the Blu-ray edition of Barry Lyndon to beautifully luminous heights. And the rest of the film, much of it illuminated without electric lighting, is equally stunning.

The DTS-HD Master Audio mix doesn’t give the speakers much of a workout — they’re most called upon to pick up the battle cries and gunshots heard during the combat scenes. But the mix does provide a rich reading of the classical score, which features pieces by Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart and Handel, whose “Sarabande” stands out as the film’s main title music.

It’s too bad Warner didn’t include any special features on the Blu-ray, but the film is really all we need.

 

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.