In the mid-sixties, young Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) attended film school with big dreams. He wanted desperately to be part of the counterculture, and channelled that into his work there, but his student films were lambasted by his fellows as hopelessly pretentious. Well, not all of them, as one friend he made there before he walked out of the place for good was Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan), who believed in his talent and soon they were planning a band to artistically express themselves - a band which would go down in history.
The real Ray Manzarek spent the years ever since this movie doing criticising of his own, slagging off director Oliver Stone's vision for his band, and more specifically his good friend Jim, as completely innaccurate, depicting the lead singer as an out of his head alcoholic and drugs fiend for almost all of his adult life from about 1966 to his death in 1971 at the age of 27. Whether that was actually a true reflection of Morrison was unlikely to appease either side of the debate, for when The Doors was released the reaction was mixed for other reasons besides accuracy. The biggest flaw that was levelled at Stone's work here was that it was so boring that you quickly lost interest in whatever he was trying to say.
Certainly he was investing a lot of symbolism into Morrison as a summation of the rebel spirit of the nineteen-sixties in rock star form, encapsulating all that Stone admired about the decade, and what was lost when Jim died, according to this taking the good things about that time with him as he went. So there were what even then were regarded as clichés with the late sixties shown to be a period of far out culture, massive drugtaking, oppressive authority, youth kicking back against the old guard, and that old favourite of Stone's the Vietnam War. Unfortunately it was a little too much to weigh down the shoulders of Morrison, and it was not long before the film was buckling under the pressure.
Kilmer undeniably threw himself into the role, by all reports pretty much living his life as Mr Mojo Risin' as far as he could, which given how he behaves when the cameras were rolling can't have been much fun to be around. Basically the Jim Morrison here may be the centre of attention, but at best he's irresponsible and at worst he's a permanently sozzled, self-obsessed jerk, oblivious to how he was squandering his talent and ruining what good personal relationships he had. It's unclear how much of this personality Stone was building up as a laudable indulgence of the rock lifestyle and how much was an unintentional side effect of his methods, but the end result was a film that spent far too much of its two hours plus on someone it was hard to see what the big deal about was.
Luckily, there was the music to contend with, and many a wade through the molasses-like thickness of druggy atmospherics was saved by a good tune on the soundtrack. To be fair, some of what Stone offered here really did happen, and Morrison may not have been a saint, but in this telling there were two sides to him: addict and shaman. The latter was absurdly presented as literal truth as he is seen associating with Native American spirit guides who appear intermittently throughout the story: even Ray sees them at one point, a rare example of somebody around Jim actually tapping into what he was shown to be in this as it's clear from very early on this is the tale of Jim Morrison and the Jim Morrison Band (though Robby Krieger manages to get grudging credit for Light My Fire).
This being the Jim Morrison story through and through everyone else was either a worshipper or an annoyance to our hero according to the unfolding drama, decked out in a truly terrible selection of wigs and fake facial hair, never convincing the viewer they are, as intended, plonked straight down in the middle of the tumultuous late sixties. Take the unfortunate Meg Ryan as the much-maligned Pamela Courson inhabiting both disciple and critic attitudes in one character (sample line: "You killed my duck!") but ending up the shrew who introduced her lover to the dubious delights of heroin, as meanwhile familiar faces passed in front of the lens impersonating other famous faces. Kathleen Quinlan threatened the limelight in an almost scene stealing black magic ritual, but the cast were waging a losing battle with Kilmer. All in all The Doors was like being around an actual, head-lolling stoner while you remained sober as a judge, and every bit as amusing as that sounded, unless you were inspired to play some hellish drinking game with it (not recommended).
Didactic, aggressive and in-your-face American writer-director who, after directing a couple of horrors (Seizure and The Hand) and writing Midnight Express and Scarface, settled into his own brand of political state-of-the-nation films like Salvador, the Oscar-winning Platoon, Wall Street, Talk Radio, JFK, Natural Born Killers and Nixon. Slightly out of character were The Doors and U-Turn: respectively, a celebration of the late sixties and a sweaty thriller. In 2004 he experienced his biggest flop with Alexander, a historical epic, but followed it with the reverent World Trade Center and a biopic of then just-leaving President George W. Bush. A belated sequel to Wall Street and gangster movie Savages were next. Say what you like, he has made his mark and loads of people have an opinion on him.