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Anniversary of ‘The Doors’ breaks on through

Brian Doxtader | Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Oliver Stone’s biopic “The Doors” is much like the band itself – sometimes brilliant, maddeningly inconsistent, yet ultimately memorable. It was released to mixed reviews a decade and a half ago, and its uneasy mixture of standard biopic, neo-psychedelic head-trip, and rock god worship understandably caused reservations with critics and audiences. Yet it’s still a fascinatingly atypical look at a major rock band, anchored by a strong cast and the group’s music.

“The Doors” hits all of the major points in the band’s development: its formation in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, the skyrocketing popularity of its first album, its infamous performance on Ed Sullivan, Morrison’s trial for indecent exposure and his death in Paris in 1971. The band consisted of singer Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer), keyboardist Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan), guitarist Robby Krieger (Frank Whaley) and drummer John Densmore (Kevin Dillon). The film focuses on Morrison, whose increasingly erratic behavior and difficult relationships with girlfriend Pam Courso (Meg Ryan) and rock journalist Patricia Kennealy (Kathleen Quinlan) form the bulk of the picture.

Kilmer’s performance may be the best thing about “The Doors.” He effortlessly embodies the spirit and quirks of Morrison, drawing the audience into the character. Stone, however, makes the charismatic front man almost impenetrable, which means that “The Doors” isn’t as insightful as it could (and should) be. The Doors’ music, which forms most of the soundtrack, is great, with many of the band’s biggest hits and best known tracks (“Light My Fire,” “Break On Through,” “Riders on the Storm”) making appearances.

Stone remains an energetic and powerful director, and there are scenes of great power and beauty. The strangeness of the film often matches the strangeness of the band, which is why many of the sequences feel oddly appropriate, despite their seemingly unfocused nature. The concert scenes in particular are often fantastic, and the film version of the band does a great job of imitating the strangeness of The Doors’ stage show.

Unfortunately, the film often gets bogged down in neo-psychedelic fantasy, much of which does little to advance the plot. This would be forgivable if “The Doors” made much effort to give psychological insight into the mind of Morrison, but it instead chooses to celebrate his legend. The film includes plenty of familiar folklore about The Lizard King, such as his claim that the spirit of a dying Indian entered his body when he was a child.

“The Doors” was already released once on a special edition DVD, now usurped by this new 15th anniversary edition. Both versions were two-discs, but the 15th anniversary edition has received a picture and audio upgrade. The 6.1 DTS track sounds fantastic, with The Doors’ music popping out of the speakers. Most of the special features, which are housed on the second disc, focus on the band rather than the film. Sadly, the DVD does not contain an audio commentary from director Oliver Stone, which would have been welcome, especially considering Stone’s outspokenness and the mixed reaction to the film.

As a document of its time and a straightforward examination of the band, the impact of “The Doors” is negligible. It’s not quite a great picture, but it’s not nearly as bad as its reputation, either. The new 15th anniversary edition is a welcome upgrade, especially for those who have never seen the film – it’s a strange and sometimes powerful ode to one of the 1960s most revered rock gods.