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Fear and Desire (4K UHD Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film
The Video (Overall)
HDR Effect
The Audio
The Supplements
Overall

SUMMARY

Four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines battle their inner demons in this feature debut from auteur Stanley Kubrick.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Auteur screenwriter and director Stanley Kubrick’s debut feature Fear and Desire (1953) may not reach the heights of his later works, but as a first attempt, the film is a remarkable achievement given the budget constraints and historical factors. Working with a tight knit group of friends, Kubrick crafted Fear and Desire in a way that would be very reminiscent of the burgeoning independent and world cinema/new wave scene of the day. Even more boldly, during post-World War II boom era of the United States, the Cold War and the very real, visceral Korean War; and as the blacklist era was beginning, Kubrick’s film was a cold, solemn look at the realities of war’s effect on the men who had to fight them. He shied away from glorifying or boiling it down to simple platitudes like ‘good versus evil’ or elevating soldiers to the level of supermen. Instead, in Fear and Desire, with a screenplay from his high school friend Howard Sackler – who would later win a Pulitzer Prize for his play The Great White Hope (1970) – the story involves itself with, as the title suggests, the inner turmoil of flawed men, the class distinctions within society itself that work their way onto the battlefield, and sexual frustration. With this being Kubrick’s first feature, it is inevitable that we would parse the visual and prosaic language to find the stylistic connections between the early filmmaker and the later master. No one film would come as close thematically in Kubrick’s catalogue to exploring these same themes as Full Metal Jacket (1987), albeit much more elegantly than its predecessor.

At the heart of Fear and Desire is the story about a lost regiment in an unnamed war on an unnamed island, one gun between them, trying to make their way back to their base. The four men, all from different levels of society, find more difficulties amongst themselves and collaborating as a cohesive unit, it seems, than they do with fighting the mostly invisible enemy in the harsh jungle they are forced to traverse. More problems arise when they happen upon a beautiful woman (Virginia Leith) they take hostage, tying her to a tree. She evokes sexual tension and lust amongst the men, in particular Pvt. Sidney (Paul Mazursky), who begins to have a nervous breakdown while guarding the desirous maiden. It is one of the more over-the-top, awkwardly acted scenes of the film, which is hampered by Kubrick’s rookie mistake to synchronize all the audio in post-production. None of the audio was recorded during filming, and this added many constraints, especially in the foley effects which were looped and the voice acting which sounds, many times, like it is being forced.

Fear and Desire has always suffered from mixed reviews over the course of its lifetime, falling into near obscurity since its release some two years after it was filmed. The harshest critic of all was Kubrick himself who labelled it “amateurish.” While the film never rises to the level of brilliance that Kubrick’s later works would, it suffers from having his name attached to it the most. It is a film of its time, from an American filmmaker heavily influenced by world cinema, breaking out of the Hollywood moral code. The running dialogue and narration from Sackler is often highly poetic to the point of being pretentious. This can be detrimental at times where it is clearly not needed, at other times, it works so well it is a thing of beauty. So is the cinematography from Kubrick, who was working with a camera he had never used before, yet he was able to achieve remarkable, almost surreal imagery. In the “fog of war” effect, that many compare to the then recently released Rashomon Kurosawa, or the gorgeous silhouetted shots of Sgt. Mac (Frank Silvera) rafting down the river, one can already see Kubrick’s influence on filmmaker’s to come, in the visuals of Apocalypse Now, from Coppola, for example.

Fear and Desire, despite its flaws and strengths, still must be set aside from the rest of the Kubrick works and taken in on its own account. People will either love it or hate it, there is extraordinarily little middle ground here. Personally, as an opening statement from a remarkable filmmaker, I find it to be quite an achievement.

Purchase Fear and Desire 4K Ultra HD Combo on Amazon.com

  • Toba Kubrick and Virginia Leith in Fear and Desire (1952)
  • Fear and Desire (1952)
  • Frank Silvera in Fear and Desire (1952)
  • Fear and Desire (1952)
  • Stephen Coit and Kenneth Harp in Fear and Desire (1952)
  • Fear and Desire (1952)
  • Fear and Desire 4K Ultra HD Combo (KL Studio Classics)

The Video

Fear and Desire is taken from brand new HDR/Dolby Vision masters for both cuts – 4K restorations from the 35mm camera negative and fine grain. It appears on 4K Ultra HD in a 1.37:1 HEVC 2160p (4K UHD) Dolby Vision encodement of the rich, high contrast, black and white imagery. The included Blu-ray also comes from the same new 4K restoration. This film has some inherent issues with source damage but it has been well cleaned up for this new release, looking better than it ever has. There was a 2012 release from Eureka’s Masters of Cinema I reviewed that looked more worn. This release is cleaner, but still has crispy and organic grain, lots of texture, and the sequence when the soldiers enter the cabin has never looked more high contrast and detailed. The blacks in that sequence and others are inky, the whites very bright, and overall imagery three-dimensional thanks to the Dolby Vision grading and ‘pop’ in the highlights.

The Audio

We get a lossless English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix for Fear and Desire that has clear dialogue and sound effects, thanks to Kubrick’s infamous and expensive miscalculation of filming silently, without any on-location sound recording equipment, thinking it would be less expensive to synchronize the dialogue and effects later. This resulted in much more expensive production but higher quality sound.

The Supplements

Kubrick’s three early shorts remain paired with this release, but we also get the Premiere Cut of the film, which adds approximately ten-minutes more and two audio commentaries.

Bonus Features:

  • Premiere and Theatrical Cut in 4K Ultra HD and HD
  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian Eddy Von Mueller (Premiere Cut)
  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian/Screenwriter Gary Gerani (Theatrical Cut)
  • Flying Padre (1951, Short Film by Stanley Kubrick) (4K; DV; 00:08:36)
  • Day of the Fight (1951, Short Film by Stanley Kubrick) (4K; DV; 00:16:17)
  • The Seafarers (1953, Short Film by Stanley Kubrick) (4K; DV; 00:28:42)
  • Fear and Desire – Re-Release Trailer (2023) (Blu-ray Only) (1080p; 00:01:18)
  • Fear and Desire – Re-Release Trailer (2012) (Blu-ray Only) (1080p; 00:01:26)

The Final Assessment

Kubrick may have been embarrassed by this first feature of his, but Fear and Desire is a film that deserves a second, or third look, a reassessment about its place in film history. There is some beautiful imagery and moving prose to be found here and the obvious skills of an auteur to be. This new 4K release from Kino Lorber looks excellent in comparison to the older Blu-ray releases. Recommend for all Kubrick fans.


Fear and Desire is out on 4K Ultra HD Combo February 27, 2024 from KL Studio Classics (Kino Lorber)

Purchase Fear and Desire 4K Ultra HD Combo on Amazon.com


  • Rating Certificate: Not Rated
  • Studios & Distributors: Kubrick Family | Joseph Burstyn Enterprises | Kino Lorber | KL Studio Classics
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Written By: Howard Sackler
  • Run Time: 62 Mins. (Theatrical Cut) | 70 Mins. (Premiere Cut)
  • Street Date: 27 February 2024
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: Dolby Vision (HDR10 Compatible)
  • Primary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
  • Subtitles: English SDH
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Four soldiers trapped behind enemy lines battle their inner demons in this feature debut from auteur Stanley Kubrick. Fear and Desire (4K UHD Review)