With The Doors, Oliver Stone was able to bring the mysticism brewing under the surface in many of his films completely to the fore. It’s none more apparent than in the film’s most memorable and endlessly parodied scene in which Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) and his bandmates drop acid under the scorching sun in the psychedelic vistas Death Valley. It is one of the most iconic scenes in Stone’s back catalogue and frankly, the main reason I’ve always wanted to see this film. Blazingly obvious in its druggy visualisation and transitions but pretty spot-on in capturing the minds-eye of Morrison’s self-made psyche, it’s as if Koynaasqatsi drunk a gallon of Red Bull and went streaking in the desert. Despite having previously seen it through the prism of various parodies, I’m happy to report that that sequence still delivers as a piece of total nutjob cinema. So Oliver Stone. So 1991.
This isn’t one of Stone’s best films but it is one of his most visually adventurous and accomplished. His long standing collaboration with the great cinematographer Robert Richardson was beginning to hit its peak with Richardson’s manipulation of hot top lighting and severe colour with deep black contrast reaching spectacular heights. It feels like a primarily stylistic exercise for Stone. Without this film he wouldn’t get to JFK and certainly not Natural Born Killers. You can see him flexing new muscles and become more experimental with form and structure. The script, as is typical with Stone’s films whether he writes them or not, feels like a sledgehammer constantly banging away but Val Kilmer’s central performance is so staggering that the film remains engaging and occasionally thrilling.
There were times here when I legit had to remind myself that I was watching Val Kilmer and not Jim Morrison. Morrison is known for his contradictions and complications and Kilmer hits all the right notes, even going as far as singing many iconic Doors tracks himself. There are times where you won’t be able to tell the difference between Kilmer’s takes and the original songs. The merging of Kilmer and Morrison is absolute. This isn’t merely a sappy celebration of Morrison either. The character, as presented by Stone and his co-writer J. Randal Johnson, is often a dick or pretentious poser. The film doesn’t seem to sugarcoat him though it can be accused of sidelining much of the band in favour of putting Morrison in the spotlight. The title is quite inaccurate in that regard.
As with so many Oliver Stone movies, the majority of stuff here can be quite superfluous. He’s known as a filmmaker who throws every idea at the wall in an attempt to see what sticks. Sometimes that works in his favour, sometimes it doesn’t. Much of The Doors will begin to recede from memory as quick as it entered but there’s just enough sharp edge to stop if from dissipating entirely. The music, obviously, is great. The visuals are striking and the film has a real pulse. At times it feels scorching hot and frenzied. The riotous concert sequences are as good as you’d hope. At other times it just feels like it’s going through the motions of a slightly unconventional biopic. Luckily, Kilmer’s towering performance presides above it all – a five star Morrison Hotel in a three star town. It kinda makes me want to see what Kilmer and Stone got upto in Alexander. But yeah, if you enjoyed Wayne’s World 2 check out The Doors.