Toss that fuzzy old pirate copy to one side. A Clockwork Orange is back, and it's taking on the multiplex. Yes, after nearly 30 years of self-imposed exile, Kubrick has cleared the way for his controversial social commentary to be re-released. By dying.
But how does this cult adaptation of Anthony Burgess' novel cope in the new century? Not quite as brilliantly as you may have hoped. Kubrick's second vision of the not-too-distant future hasn't aged as well as his first (2001: A Space Odyssey), looking, strangely enough, like the early '70s. And, considering the director's overhyped reputation as a perfectionist, the sequence in which the droogs go on a chaotic joyride, spliced with obvious studio cutaways, is simply embarrassing.
Of course, many will never have witnessed the (mis)adventures of Alex, as he revels in "the old ultraviolence" while speaking in his bizarre but poetic blend of Russian and English. And, despite its flaws, there is plenty to engross newcomers to his world, with its potent mix of pop-art production design, provocative imagery and boiler suit/bowler hat combos. Criticism of the `excessive' fisticuffs is unfounded, with Kubrick bringing a stylised and near-balletic grace to fight scenes, but there is a lechery to the sexual violence which uncomfortably blurs the line between depiction and exploitation.
While it would be easy, and less challenging, to dismiss it all as a piece of hammy agitprop theatre, the issues of free will and the moral imperative of the individual will come hammering on your consciousness years after viewing. The vision of politicians prepared to place political expediency over personal principle still rings true, and Malcolm McDowell is successful in making Alex simultaneously charismatic and repellent.
At times emotionally shattering, at times harrowing, at times disappointing, A Clockwork Orange is a microcosm of Kubrick's work - consistently interesting but never consistently great.