OLIVER STONE'S "The Doors" is a somewhat sympathetic, tell-it-as-it-was story of the life and death of Jim Morrison, leader of the title rock group, who died in 1971 at the age of 27, in Paris, in a bathtub.
The authorities say it was heart failure, but Morrison had always courted death. He had been on drugs and booze all his adult years.
The movie is a grand mix, monotonous for the first 70 minutes, then riveting for the next 70. The first 70 play like that much MTV, and 10 minutes of this are enough for anyone.
The film also spends too much time on the Doors' concert appearances during the latter portion of the film, but that second half, despite this indulgence, is strong enough to leave us feeling a bit sorry for a man who programmed his own death.
Morrison, according to the film, was a wanderer who kept to himself. It took a reporter to learn that he had a brother and sister and that their father was an admiral.
When the film begins, Morrison is a 5-year-old boy who witnesses a highway accident in which some of the passengers, American Indians, die. Morrison is apparently haunted by this sight because Stone, who directed and co-authored the script, keeps returning to the old Indian who lay dying on the side of the road. In Morrison's hallucinations, the Indian is not always dying. Most often, he is alive and moving about, business that adds a mystical note to the film.
At close, the 5-year-old Morrison returns to haunt the man he became. It's a rather poetic touch, but it works.
The things that don't work are most of those first 70 minutes. Stone, however, does manage to re-create the world of drugs with amazing insight. His whole film is zombieland, a landscape of addiction and disorientation, all those nice things drugs and booze do to the user, and in this sense the movie is always on the mark. We do, however, get too much hallucination before we begin to learn a little about Morrison himself.
When Morrison blazed, he blazed. He was in Paris after having been convicted of gross behavior during a performance in this country. His case was being appealed when he went to Europe, followed by his girlfriend, who died three years after he did.
"The Doors" tells much the same story "Sid and Nancy" did, but it can't be dismissed as just another drug opera. The latter portion of the film is too good, and Val Kilmer, as Morrison, is absolutely superb. According to Stone, Kilmer sang all the songs "with only a few exceptions."
If you liked The Doors, you may find added reason to appreciate the film, though Stone doesn't overdo with the songs. Where he does overdo is the concert footage, scene after scene in which young men and women strip naked and run to the stage. Not all. Just some.
Meg Ryan is the flower child who loves Morrison, even after she sees him in action with a number of other women, including a reporter. She is apparently wild about this man and is willing to suffer any indignity. She, of course, is also on drugs much of the time.
Kathleen Quinlan is the reporter who comes on to Morrison and pursues him, thinking she can somehow bring this man down, make him commit to her. She, too, however, is on drugs. Drugs are what make the world go around for these people. Sometimes they die from them, but that's the way it was during the early drug years.
Dennis Hopper, Ed Sullivan and Andy Warhol are some of the other people who are impersonated in the film. The actor who does Sullivan seems to be doing him in a mask, one that has frozen his features. It is an unnecessary touch. It would have been enough to hire someone who merely suggests the man.
The film was shot in subdued color, a wise choice on Stone's part, and the background music, apart from the music of the Doors, sounds, at times, like background music for a horror film. Well, that's what this is. It isn't slice and dice, but it isn't sex comedy, either.
When it is good, "The Doors" is rock-star biography at its best. When it isn't, it is one more trip through MTV land.
** The life and death of rock musician Jim Morrison
CAST: Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kathleen Quinlan
DIRECTOR: Oliver Stone
RATING: R (sex, language, nudity)
) RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes