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review added: 1/24/01



JFK

review by Brad Pilcher and Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

The Films of Oliver Stone on DVD


JFK: Special Edition Director's Cut

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

JFK
Special Edition Director's Cut - 1991 (2001) - Warner Bros.

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/A+

Specs and Features:

Disc One: The Film
205 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch 1:43:05, at the start of chapter 45), Snapper case packaging, audio commentary by co-writer/director Oliver Stone, awards listing, cast filmography, Oliver Stone biography and filmography, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (88 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
93 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1) and letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, single-layered, 5 deleted scenes, 6 extended scenes and an alternate ending (all with optional Stone commentary), Meet Mr. X: The Personality and Thoughts of Fletcher Prouty (a collection of video interviews with Prouty), Assassination Update: The New Documents (a multimedia essay by James DiEugenio), theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none



JFK: Director's Cut

JFK
Director's Cut - 1991 (1997) - Warner Bros.

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/F

Specs and Features:

205 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, film-themed menu screens, scene access (Side One: 44 chapters, Side Two: 44 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned



"Back and to the left. Back and to the left. Back and to the left..."

The assassination of John F. Kennedy sits in the American psyche like an unresolved childhood trauma. When he died, some say that America's innocence went with him. Because of the expanding coverage of television at the time, we can all remember the images as if we were alive to them ourselves (and some of you MAY remember it first-hand). But for some reason, the facts that the history books have fed us about this event just don't fit. No matter how hard you think about it, some piece of the puzzle always seems to be missing. What's gone wrong?

Oliver Stone took a chance with this film, and said something that probably no one wanted to agree with. When JFK was first released, right-wingers and liberals both attacked Stone for his conspiracy theories. Stone, by questioning the official line given to us by the Warren Commission that one man killed President Kennedy, told the world that the facts of the case didn't jibe with what we'd been told for years. Sure, he admitted that some portions of the story had been changed for the cinema (it was a movie he was making, after all), but everything still had integrity - the facts of the case as seen by Stone. The public response was fascinating. People didn't want to believe that a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy could have existed... and yet many of us couldn't help but think that there was more going on than we were led to believe. It seemed a possible, even plausible, idea. After all, the notion that JFK's murder was more than the act of a lone gunman, while seeming like a nutty conspiracy theory at first, actually holds a good bit of water.

Director Stone reveals his notions of conspiracy by telling the story of one of the men who investigated the event. Kevin Costner stars as Jim Garrison, a real-life New Orleans district attorney who is unsettled by the official version of JFK's assassination. At first reluctantly, but ultimately with a passionate zeal, Garrison begins to investigate the murder, piecing together a connection between New Orleans and the goings on in Dallas, Texas in November of 1963. The theory he comes up with is pretty thin, and is filled with shady characters who can't or won't talk, but at least to Garrison, it all adds up into an eerily plausible argument for a conspiracy to assassinate the President. Garrison's investigation is a long and twisted one, in which he butts heads with his own staff, newspaper reporters and the government. It takes him into the prison system, onto the steps of official Washington and through the dens of a homosexual underworld in New Orleans, that's curiously tied to various operations of the CIA. Garrison builds his case slowly, until he's ready to take it into a court of law, in hopes of proving his theory once and for all.

JFK is a very good film. At times it can be a bit much and at other times it seems so off balance that it's in danger of falling over. But that's all part of the unmistakable Oliver Stone style. Stone gives this film his all - you can tell that he's very passionate about the subject - and in doing so, he "lets it all hang out" so to speak. JFK was made before Stone got carried away with his camera technique (U-Turn anyone?), so everything here is thankfully about moving the story forward instead of visually blowing us away. The editing, the acting and John Williams' powerful score is all woven together with such painstaking precision, that you can't help but be carried away with the film. Stone crafts the kind atmosphere with JFK that grabs you by the collar and yells, "Nothing is as it seems! This is not quite right!" It's a very eerie experience, but it's all so very perfect.

JFK was one of the first films that Warner released on DVD... and quickly became one of those DVDs that everyone wanted redone. The original disc was a "flipper" - which meant that half the movie was on one side of the disc and the rest was on the other. This was in the days before RSDL dual-layering, so with a three-and-a-half movie, there was no other option. Warner also made the mistake of indicating that the video on the disc was in anamorphic widescreen... when, in fact, it wasn't (which just pissed everyone off). The letterboxed-only video quality was a bit muddy and less than detailed. The sound was a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 track that represented John Williams' haunting score and Stone's multi-layered sound editing well enough... but just enough. Add to that the complete lack of any extras and you had an unfulfilling DVD.

Well... thankfully, all that's all changed. JFK is now available as a terrific 2-disc special edition. It features a gorgeous anamorphic widescreen transfer, that boasts sharp lines, exquisite blacks and shadow detail and colors to die for. It simply looks beautiful. The sound too has been upgraded. Here, we get a wonderfully active Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The sound field is wider and deeper, dialogue is clear and centered and the Williams score is very well presented in the mix. From the quality standpoint alone, this is a noticeable improvement.

That right there might be enough for a new release, but Warner also saw fit to pack on the extras. Disc One includes another great commentary track with director Oliver Stone. Stone jumps right into the commentary, not missing a step. He talks constantly - it's a really incredible track. Even if you don't agree with this man, believe me... if you spend three hours listening to him, you'll start leaning towards his views. Stone reads from transcripts, spouts memorized quotes from speeches and brings us through the script. He's analyzing the facts, pointing out the loopholes. Stone even tells us about the real life individuals involved, and reveals that some appeared in the film as extras. Throughout the commentary, Stone is reserved and methodical, without even sounding "crazy", preachy or silly. Also on Disc One, you'll find a listing of the awards JFK won, a cast filmography and Stone's own biography and filmography.

So THAT would be enough for a new release, right? Well, guess what? There's another disc. Unfortunately, Warner sort of fumbles the ball here - not in the second disc itself, but in the packaging. In their continuing to support the Snapper case, the studio has given us a 2-disc set where the second disc is contained in an envelope that fits into a pocket in the package's cover-flap. That's just absolutely lame. First of all, it makes accessing the second disc a chore. Then there's the obvious risk of physical damage to the disc, in the form of scratches or worse, from dented or otherwise mistreated packaging. We really wish Warner would have abandoned the Snapper this one time, or at least found a two-disc version of the Snapper that works. As it stands, this packaging is REALLY awful. And you should know that if you buy the Oliver Stone Collection, the new 2-disc versions of Any Given Sunday, The Doors and Nixon all use the same thing. Yuck!

On the other hand, the second disc's contents are pretty incredible. First up are 10 minutes of interviews with the person upon which the character of Mr. X is based - Fletcher Prouty. In the featurette, Meet Mr. X: The Personality and Thoughts of Fletcher Prouty, Prouty discusses some of his thoughts and feelings about the JFK assassination (and considering his background, they should be taken seriously). In another featurette, Assassination Update: The New Documents, we get what Warner is calling a "multimedia essay" (hey - it works for us) by writer James DiEugenio. DiEugenio walks us through some of the facts he's uncovered from the thousands of recently declassified JFK files (files which were declassified, in no small part, because of public reaction to this film). The piece is a pretty wild ride, and it's not nearly long enough. Also on the second disc is a collection of over 50 minutes of deleted, extended and alternate scenes. For those of you who think JFK is already too long, this may be overkill. But for those who couldn't get enough of Stone's conspiracy theories, these surely elaborate on them. The collection is broken into separate chapters (although you can watch then all at the same time) and you can also opt to watch them with audio commentary by Stone. Once again, Stone is great here - he really dedicated himself to this film and it shows in his commentary. The video quality of these scenes isn't great, but they're clear enough and watchable. Also included on Disc Two is a DVD-ROM pathway to a special website that includes trailers, reviews and future connection to Oliver Stone live events.

Ultimately, JFK isn't about giving us answers. If you think that's what it's about, you missed the point. The film was (and is) about the search for truth, and the failure of our government to fully seek that truth and communicate it effectively its citizens. In fact, the government has actually fueled public skepticism on this and other controversial subjects, by failing to recognize when secrecy is unnecessary. This new DVD special edition not only entertains with a great film, but actually gives us food for thought. Whether or not you agree with Stone's arguments, there's no denying that his arguments are well made. The guy definitely knows how to express an opinion... and isn't that what America's all about anyway?

Brad Pilcher
bradpilcher@thedigitalbits.com

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com

The Films of Oliver Stone on DVD

JFK: Special Edition Director's Cut


The Oliver Stone Collection (6-film)


The Oliver Stone Collection (10-film)


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