Punch your ticket to the Interzone, Turbine Medien answers the call of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch with an incredible 4-Disc 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Mediabook. This bizarre and hypnotic film looks better than ever with a gorgeous Dolby Vision transfer, excellent audio, and hours of exciting in-depth new and archival bonus features with an extra feature-length Burroughs documentary. Another Must Own edition of this film for fans to consider.
I don’t have much to add to Sam’s excellent review of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch. I was at the right impressionable age when I discovered this film and William S. Burroughs’ literary works. I was always a voracious reader growing up, but in part, I was also desperately trying to look cool amongst my limited pool of peers when I picked up a collection of Burroughs short stories. That effort partly paid off. I didn’t impress anyone and what was an attempt to look edgy and mysterious actually turned into an eye-opening experience with a piece of writing the likes of which I’d never encountered before. Then I found a cheap tattered copy of Naked Lunch on a dollar rack at a used book store. And then I discovered the guy that made Scanners and The Fly adapted it into a movie starring RoboCop! Well, I had to see that.
While the film isn’t even remotely close to being a faithful adaptation of the book, because that’d just be impossible, it’s a clever amalgam of Burroughs’ novel, short stories, and pieces of his life. As we watch Peter Weller navigate his bug-powder-fueled journey into the Interzone, bits and pieces of the shocking and tragic life of William S. Burroughs are also explored. It’s strange, it doesn’t always make sense, but it’s hypnotic and I can't look away. Up to that point, it was Cronenberg’s bravest ballsiest film… then he made Crash, another film that is just as weird, wild, and unfilmable, yet this soft-spoken Canadian master of body horror pulled that off too.
Anyway, enough of my dithering, here’s what Sam Cohen had to say about this film in his Arrow Video Naked Lunch 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
Of all the novels dubbed “unfilmable” over the years, it’s easy to understand why William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch was immediately given that title whenever a filmmaker expressed interest in adapting it. Burroughs’ free-flowing prose is seated in a world fully realized and nearly incomprehensible, and its depiction of power imbalances under capitalism sure hit harder given today’s reality. To look back on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s banning of the book is to find irony in the Democratic capital of the United States trying to stymie expression. Anyway, the point is that Burroughs’ book is the kind of art that changes how you engage with art, and Cronenberg nearly achieves the same with his adaptation.
Burroughs is famous for being cantankerous about adaptations of his work, and he’s more than a bit justified in that exact feeling, though the man’s violent attitude certainly takes an artist of a certain demeanor to parse through all the terse wordplay. In comes Cronenberg, a calm and metronomic presence that seems at odds with Burroughs at first, but what’s always been there is a man that deeply understands our relationship with drugs, power, and money as in how they dictate our reality. Thus, we must revolt, in whatever way we can.
Naked Lunch follows drug addict and exterminator William Lee (Peter Weller), a man who accidentally shoots and kills his wife, but that was after he hallucinated that a giant talking beetle was trying to conscript him to kill his wife for a mysterious corporation called Interzone Incorporated. Lee flees to Interzone, a constantly morphing city located somewhere in North Africa, and becomes involved in a mysterious plot orchestrated by Dr. Benway (Roy Scheider). Naturally, Bill has many drug episodes along the way, including one where his typewriter/beetle creature brutally murders another typewriter in gruesome, weird, and bloody detail.
The film is anything but a straight adaptation of Burroughs’ source, eliding a loose autobiography of Burroughs’ life and specific passages from the book to create something incomprehensible but thematically full. Something that, I think, accurately captures Burroughs’ writing while being something completely of Cronenberg’s making. The horror maestro’s proclivity for stories about addiction and how that morphs both the person and the reality around them is on full display here, and the breathless production design and creature effects make for a fully realized vision.
To write about Naked Lunch is to fail to summarize its strengths neatly, but believe me when I say that it still stands as one of Cronenberg’s most formally and narratively audacious works. And better yet, it still delivers on that confounding, transfixing feeling you get when reading Burroughs’ work.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Gathering up some booze, glasses, and ammunition for a game of William Tell, German label Turbine Medien delivers a fully-packed four-disc 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch with Limited Edition Mediabook packaging. The 4K version of the film is pressed on a BD-66 disc, the 1080p version is on a Region B locked BD-50 disc (the only region-locked disc of the set), with a Region Free BD-50 for bonus features, and another Region Free BD-25 disc for the documentary William S. Burroughs: A Man Within and a few additional bonus features. On top of all that, there is a 48-page booklet detailing the genesis of the film, how it came to be, its production, and its release. The book is in German but I’ve steadily started picking through it using Google Translate on my phone. A lot of this material is covered in the various documentaries and interviews, but there are some interesting bits and bites worth reading about. Each disc rests in its own tray without being stacked. Also included is a replica business card for Dr. A Benway.
As Sam mentioned in his review of the Arrow Limited Edition, the film elements were scanned in Toronto with Turbine doing the conforming and color grading with the final results approved by David Cronenberg. Effectively the transfer for this disc is identical - and it’s beautiful. I’m not one to often pull this movie off the shelf, definitely one I need to be in the right mood for, but the immaculate details, natural film grain, and those eerie olive-toned colors were just too impressive not to get sucked into. From the facial features to the film's impeccable production design and the wildly hallucinogenic creatures, everything is on display.
And as Sam mentioned with the Dolby Vision grading (HDR10 is also available), those yellow-golden tones are vivid and clear with reds and blues getting their moments to shine. Black levels are excellent allowing for the shadows of all the different seedy creepy locations to fully envelope the imagery with an impressive sense of depth and dimension. Whites are crisp and immaculate. The old Criterion Blu-ray was always a highlight release in my opinion and a tough act to follow, but after seeing an archival print screened a few years ago and now this new 4K UHD disc, this transfer is the clear winner of the hour. With Cronenberg’s love for practical effects and interesting imagery, this is another great-looking release that lets you pause and appreciate the artistry that went into making this film. Here’s hoping more of Cronenberg’s early classics are on their way to 4K soon! Can you imagine The Brood or Scanners?
For this release of Naked Lunch, we get German & English DTS-HD MA 2.0 and DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio tracks. Being a German company, Deutsch is the default audio so you English speakers will need to zip into the main menu and change that over. Now - I’ve recently come to learn that the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track featured on the 4K and Blu-ray discs for this release is not the same as what is on Arrow’s disc. From what I’ve come to understand while working to improve the German language tracks, Turbine went in and punched up the DTS-HD MA 5.1 while they were at it. I don’t have the Arrow release on hand as of yet, so I can’t immediately compare the two, but taken as its own experience it’s a very strong surround mix. The surround channels are subtle as much of the film is front/center focused but there are engaging audio effects and Howard Shore’s score to give a very satisfying immersive soundscape experience. Busier sequences in bars or street locations have a more pronounced surround presence, but even in quieter moments, I felt like there was ample activity in the channels.
On top of this option, there is the DTS-HD MA 2.0 Surround track that is very good in its own right and probably gives you something a little closer to the original Dolby Stereo theatrical experience. It sounds a little tighter and a little more “present” if you will, but both audio options are dynamite. So depending on how you’re set up at home, both tracks should easily whisk you way to the Interzone.
Now if slick packaging, a practically perfect video transfer, and two excellent audio options weren’t enough, Turbine digs in for an insane number of bonus features - some exclusive to them, some also featured on the Arrow edition. At the top of the pile are two David Cronenberg solo audio commentaries recorded only a year apart. Now he covers a lot of the same material in both commentaries at the roughly same time, he hits some of the same notes, but then some of his tangents are different enough that it makes listening to both worth the journey - even if his monotone delivery can lull you to sleep a little, he’s still fascinating to listen to. Next up is a fabulous selection of new interviews. Leading off the list is a terrific interview with Peter Weller, and it’s just badass to see a guy so passionately and knowledgeably discussing the book, the film, and Burroughs' history with a cappuccino and a lit stogie in his hand. Absolutely worth the hour you give it. The other interviews with Producer Jeremy Thomas, Composer Howard Shore, effects man Chris Walas, and Director of Photography Peter Suschitzky are all worth the time as well, but man, that Weller Interview is something else all its own. We then get the archival materials carried over from the Criterion disc as well as an open matte version of the film in SD if you want to relive the glory days of watching the film at home in the ‘90s.
Another slick extra here is the feature-length documentary William S. Burroughs: A Man Within narrated by Peter Weller. Some of it touches on the film of Naked Lunch but it’s largely an overview of the man himself and his life. It’s a deep dive certainly, but the range of personalities interviewed as well as clips with Ginsberg and Burroughs readings and events is a fascinating look at the complicated author and personality. The bonus features for this disc are a look at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the novel recorded in Chicago in 2009 and a trailer.
4K UHD Disc
Blu-ray Disc Two
Blu-ray Disc Three
Naked Lunch is an experience unto itself - literarily and cinematically speaking. Peter Weller headlines an amazing cast to aid David Cronenberg in accomplishing the impossible and adapt Burroughs’ iconic novel into a feature film. While certainly loose with the source material, it pulls from other stories and from Burroughs' life blurring the lines of fiction and reality into a bizarre and hypnotic masterpiece.
Now on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Turbine Medien unleashes their beast of a 4-disc Mediabook set. Fans pick up the film in 4K with a beautiful Dolby Vision transfer and fantastic audio options. You get a 1080p disc (that’s Region B locked), as well as a bonus features disc with hours of new interviews and archival extras with another disc for the Burroughs feature-length documentary. Like its UK Arrow Video sibling, this set is a Must Own - Now all you just have to do is decide which one is more Must Owny for your shelf (or not at all if you're not a fan of the film).