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Ultra HD : Highly Recommended
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Release Date: February 27th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1953

Fear and Desire - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Overview -

4K UHD Review by David Krauss
Stanley Kubrick may have loathed Fear and Desire, but despite its faults, the seminal feature of one of cinema's most esteemed directors remains a fascinating film that celebrates Kubrick's raw, unrefined talent. KLSC includes both the premiere and release versions of this disturbing anti-war tale on one 4K UHD disc, along with Kubrick's three short films. Brand new, high-quality HDR/Dolby Vision masters struck from 4K restorations, solid audio, and a couple of commentary tracks add to the luster of this essential release for Kubrick fans. Highly Recommended.

Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Video Resolution/Codec:
2160p/HEVC H.265 - Dolby Vision HDR / HDR10
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
Special Features:
Audio Commentary by film historian Eddy Von Mueller (70-minute cut), Audio Commentary by film historian/screenwriter Gary Gerani (62-minute cut), ‘Flying Padre,’ 1951 short film by Stanley Kubrick, ‘Day of the Fight,’ 1951 short film by Stanley Kubrick, ‘The Seafarers,’ 1953 short film by Stanley Kubrick
Release Date:
February 27th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


Even the greatest movie directors have to start somewhere. A select few, like Orson Welles, enjoy splashy debuts amid incredible hype and fanfare, but most begin their careers with modest, even schlocky efforts that show promise but lack polish. Stanley Kubrick is Exhibit A. Once he rose to the top of the industry with classics like Paths of GlorySpartacus, and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, he disowned his freshman effort, a low-budget war flick called Fear and Desire, deeming it "a bumbling amateur film exercise." He even tried to have the original negative destroyed. Though not even the most gushing Kubrick groupie would ever call Fear and Desire a masterwork, it's far from the debacle the director would like us to believe it to be. Ambitious, often artistic, and substantive, Fear and Desire hits many strong notes that overshadow the choppiness and pretension that drag it down.

Two versions of Fear and Desire exist: the 70-minute premiere cut, which most closely resembles Kubrick's artistic and narrative intentions, and the 62-minute release cut, which deletes much of the movie's thematic meat and relies more firmly on standard war movie conventions. Neither version is a complete success, but both are included in this 4K UHD release from KLSC. Audacious for its time and packed with striking imagery and a command of craft that is rare in such a young filmmaker, Fear and Desire strives to make a bold anti-war statement, but Kubrick's storytelling ability lacks the maturity that distinguishes his artistry. As a result, the film - like its displaced characters - wanders all over map. It's alternately riveting, disjointed, and dull, but Kubrick somehow strings us along.

In an unnamed war in an unnamed country, four American GIs find themselves trapped in a wooded area six miles behind enemy lines. With few weapons and only their wits to guide them, they plot their path to safety, but must contend with a nearby enemy regiment and the unexpected appearance of a young woman who they hold hostage. How the fear, desire, egos, and ideologies of the soldiers influence their rash actions and shape their respective fates forms the crux of the story.

Kubrick was only 23 years old when he made Fear and Desire, but his screenwriter, Howard Sackler, was just 21, and his script, though well-written and deeply felt, betrays his tender age. Insightful one minute and overwrought the next, it draws elements from Shakespeare's The Tempest as it explores an abstract environment. The metaphysical angle piques interest, but the theme of finding meaning and connection in chaos has been explored with more insight in other films and much of the dialogue is overly precious. Sackler, who also wrote the script for Kubrick's second feature, Killer's Kiss (though he didn't receive screen credit), would hit his stride 15 years later, winning a Pulitzer Prize for his play The Great White Hope, but his screenplay for Fear and Desire often feels more like a series of musings than a cohesive work.

The premiere cut of Fear and Desire is edgier than the straightforward release cut, which feels flimsy by comparison. The dream-like presentation adds a mystical air to the tale, but Kubrick constantly brings us back down to Earth with bold sequences of violence and sexuality that brim with visceral power (and push the censorship envelope). It's an odd mix that doesn't always work, but Kubrick wins points for trying to create something out of the ordinary. If his goal was to get himself noticed by the cinema cognoscenti, he succeeded, but back in 1952 Fear and Desire was a bit too esoteric for mainstream audiences...and it remains so today.

Kubrick's fingerprints are all over the film. He produced, directed, shot, and edited Fear and Desire, displaying an admirable breadth of talent. The choppy editing is jarring, but fuels the sense of unease and psychological conflict that pervades the narrative. Inventive camera angles and stirring focal points keep the eye engaged, most notably during an ambush sequence in which the GIs disrupt the dinner of some enemy officers. Zeroing in on splattering, half-eaten food instead of blood and guts is a stroke of genius that underscores the encounter's ugliness and barbaric nature. Another scene that depicts the battle of wits between an aroused soldier and the captive woman the GIs have tied to a tree is equally disturbing and well crafted.

The acting is a mixed bag. Frank Silvera, who would also star in Killer's Kiss and enjoy a fruitful career, is the best of the bunch, filing a natural, no-nonsense portrayal. Kenneth Harp overplays the arrogance and cynicism of the commanding officer and Stephen Coit has some nice moments as his subordinate but it is 21-year-old Paul Mazursky who grabs the most attention in his film debut. He would achieve far more renown for writing and directing such 1970s hits as Bob & Carol & Ted & AliceHarry and Tonto, and An Unmarried Woman. Mazursky's inexperience is all too evident when his sensitive character loses his grip on reality, but he's quite effective in quieter, more introspective scenes. In addition to playing GI protagonists, Harp and Coit also turn up as enemy villains. Initially, I had assumed Kubrick assigned them dual parts to make a point about man's duplicity and how personalities can be molded by circumstances. Later I learned their double duty was simply due to budget constraints. I guess a struggling young filmmaker's gotta do what a struggling young filmmaker's gotta do.

Kubrick might like us to think Fear and Desire is nothing more than a disorganized hodgepodge made by an aspiring director who's just flinging stuff at the screen to see what sticks, but that does his debut film a grave disservice. The movie is far from perfect - sometimes Kubrick's amateurish assessment is decidedly apt - but it grows on you the more times you see it and the more closely you examine its individual elements. While I can understand Kubrick's personal dissatisfaction with Fear and Desire, it remains a worthy - if offbeat - entry in his film canon. It's always fascinating to see the early work of legendary directors, and Fear and Desire provides a preview of how Kubrick would evolve over the course of his storied and sensational career. Unlike Orson Welles, he didn't start at the top, but he got there eventually and this wild, sometimes weird movie was the first rung on his ladder to success.

Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Fear and Desire arrives on 4K UHD packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve. A 1080p Blu-ray disc that contains both versions of Fear and Desire and all the extras is also included in the set. Video codec is 2160p/HEVC H.265 with Dolby Vision HDR and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

Video Review


Brand new HDR/Dolby Vision masters of both the premiere cut and release cut of Fear and Desire, both of which were struck from 4K restorations from the 35mm camera negative and fine grain, yield stunning 2160p/HEVC H.265 transfers that heighten the immediacy and intensity of this intriguing motion picture. To my eyes, the premiere cut looks slightly sharper and more vibrant than the release cut, but both are high-quality renderings of this early Kubrick film.

Light grain preserves the feel of celluloid, and though it's obvious which shots and scenes come from the camera negative and which come from the fine grain, the differences in quality aren't as jarring as one might think. Excellent clarity, contrast, and shadow delineation produce a crisp, vivid image that showcases Kubrick's artistic cinematography. Rich blacks, bright whites, and a pleasing grayscale heighten detail and depth levels, while a flurry of dazzling close-ups highlight facial stubble, pores, grit, grime, even spittle. Some print damage crops up now and then and a missing frame or two briefly disrupts the film's flow, but such anomalies aren't a surprise given the rarity of this 72-year-old movie. Frankly, I was not expecting this transfer to look nearly as good as it does, so well-deserved kudos go to KLSC for this superior presentation.

The 1080p Blu-ray also looks quite good. I don't have Kino's 2012 Blu-ray to make any comparisons, but judging from the HDD review of that disc, the rendering on this release seems far superior and was most likely drawn from the same remastered source as its 4K UHD counterpart. The image isn't as detailed and vibrant as the 4K UHD picture, but it's very watchable and should please Kubrick fans.

Audio Review


The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono tracks supply clear, well-modulated sound. Reportedly, all the dialogue was looped in post-production, so it's well prioritized and easy to comprehend. The gunfire sounds a bit shrill and artificial, but footsteps in the dirt and brush are distinct and the rumbles of distant bombs supply ominous undertones that enhance tension. A wide dynamic scale embraces all the highs and lows of the first feature-film music score by Gerald Fried, allowing it to fill the room with ease. (Fried also supplies the music for Kubrick's short Day of the Fight, which is included on this disc, and would subsequently score Killer's KissThe Killing, and Paths of Glory for the director.) No distortion creeps into the mix and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackle mar the track.

Special Features


KLSC pads the disc with some great extras that celebrate the young Kubrick's burgeoning talent. Most notable are the three short films Kubrick directed at the dawn of his career, all of which are presented in 4K UHD. Audio commentaries for both versions of Fear and Desire are also included.

  • Audio Commentary with film historian Eddy Von Mueller - The film historian examines the 70-minute premiere version of Fear and Desire, calling it an "amuse bouche" for Kubrick's subsequent filmography. He also terms the movie "a bit of a mess" and a "textbook example of low-budget filmmaking in the latter half of the 20th century." Von Mueller puts the film in context with its time, chronicles its genesis, and analyzes its style. He both lauds and criticizes Kubrick, citing his inexperience, lack of maturity, and "rookie mistakes," and praises the work of actor Frank Silvera. Von Mueller closes his literate and absorbing discussion with this cogent observation: "Part of what makes this movie so rewarding to watch is the very incompleteness of the famously controlling Kubrick's control over the medium he will strive to dominate throughout his career. Fear and Desire is so important to a full appreciation of Kubrick precisely because it's not really completely a Stanley Kubrick film, because Stanley Kubrick hasn't completely learned yet how to be Stanley Kubrick."

  • Audio Commentary with film historian/screenwriter Gary Gerani - Gerani handles the chores for the release cut and spends a fair amount of time recapping the plot and chronicling production and distribution. He also discusses Kubrick's style, cites the differences between war and anti-war movies, provides mini bios of the cast and crew, explores the story's themes and characters, and relates the film to Shakespeare's The Tempest. In addition, he quotes extensively from an interview with Paul Mazursky about Fear and Desire, points out a scene that was reshot, details how Kubrick became ashamed of his debut movie and sought to destroy it, and talks about the film's renaissance in the 1990s.

  • Flying Padre (1951) (UHD, 9 minutes) - Kubrick's very first film is a documentary short that covers "two ordinary days" in the life of Father Fred Stadtmuller, who serves a spread-out parish in rural northeastern New Mexico using his private prop monoplane that he has christened The Spirit of St. Joseph. The silent film with voiceover narration, sound effects, and music reverently honors the dedicated clergyman and his faithful parishioners and features an array of arresting close-ups.

  • Day of the Fight (1951) (UHD, 16 minutes) - Kubrick's second short, narrated by esteemed CBS News correspondent Douglas Edwards, begins by addressing America's fascination with boxing, then follows journeyman prizefighter Walter Cartier as he goes about his routine on the day of a big bout. Once again, Kubrick directs a slice-of-life short with both warmth and flair, although the climactic fight doesn't deliver the hoped for thrills.

  • The Seafarers (1953) (UHD, 29 minutes) - More of a promotional film than a documentary, this languorous short was made after Fear and Desire and marks Kubrick's first foray into color photography. The picture touts the work of the Seafarers International Union, which provides myriad benefits to career seamen, but lacks the flair of Kubrick's earlier, more personal short films. Unless you're a diehard Kubrick aficionado, you might want to skip this earnest but dull effort.

  • Trailers (HD, 3 minutes) - The 2012 and 2023 re-release previews, both of which are produced by Kino Lorber (and only appear on the 1080p Blu-ray disc), tout the rarity of Fear and Desire. In addition, trailers for Killer's KissThe Killing, and Paths of Glory are included.

Final Thoughts

Fear and Desire is the black sheep in Stanley Kubrick's cinematic family, but though the director's first feature film is uneven at best, it provides a glimpse of the talent and innovation that would soon take Hollywood by storm. The bizarre yet stirring anti-war tale and Kubrick's three early short films all look great in 4K UHD, thanks to brand new HDR/Dolby Vision masters. Excellent audio and a couple of commentaries enhance this essential release for Kubrick fans. Highly Recommended

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