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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 10/22/03



Bowling for Columbine
Special Edition - 2002 (2003) - United Artists/Alliance Atlantis (MGM)

review by Rob Hale of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Bowling for Columbine: Special Edition Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/B-

Specs and Features

Disc One - The Film

119 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered, keepcase packaging, audio commentary with receptionists and interns, audio introduction from Michael Moore, theatrical trailer, animated film-themed menu screens, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English DD 5.1, subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned


Disc Two - Supplemental Materials

Interview with Michael Moore on his Oscar win and acceptance speech (15 mins), Return to Denver/Littleton featurette (25 mins), film festival scrapbook (16 mins), Michael Moore interviewed by former Press Secretary Joe Lockhart (20 mins), Michael Moore on the Charlie Rose Show (25 mins), Segment from The Awful Truth II (8 mins), Marilyn Manson's Fight Song music video, teacher's guide, Mike's action guide, staff and crew photo gallery, animated film-themed menu screens, languages: English DD 2.0, subtitles: none, Closed Captioned


"They thought this was going to be another Waco because certain people, namely my ex-wife, and other people, said I'm a radical, I'm a wild man..."

- James Nichols

Over the course of two films and two television series, Michael Moore has taken shots at Nike, Phillip Morris, the Taliban, Borders, and most famously General Motors. Regardless of his target though, one thing has remained a constant... Michael Moore and his array of baseball hats. A shameless self-promoter, Moore has always walked on the fringes of documentary filmmaking, for better or worse, and Columbine is no exception. Using interview and stock footage, guerrilla media manipulation, and cartoons, to name just a few approaches, Moore creates a pastiche that still most closely resembles a documentary form, however uncomfortable the fit may be.

Having seen Columbine on several occasions now, and in widely different audiences and situations, I feel I can safely say that the film doesn't disappoint. It's not that the film will be loved by all, far from it, but it does achieve what it sets out to do - open up a dialog on gun death in America. Pulling together interviews with the Michigan Militia, Matt "South Park" Stone, Marilyn Manson, James Nichols (brother of Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols), executives from Lockheed Martin and K-Mart, Charlton Heston and others, Michael Moore examines the nature of gun death in America from several angles, frequently generating more questions than any true answers. Moore has been criticized for this wide 'I'll try anything' scope, but I feel that this broadness is precisely what makes the film work. By taking such an approach, Moore's own voice and biases become more non-dogmatic. There is no single solution. Moore isn't telling us what the solution to gun violence is, he's participating in an examination of it, and frequently finds all the solutions, or potential 'scapegoats' he can come up with not fitting. If anything, Moore comes across as frustrated because he seemingly can't pin down the problem. Even those successes he has in the film (getting K-Mart to pull handgun ammunition from their stores) are tempered by the fact that it is such a minor thing in the issue he is examining. It's a small 'victory' in an enormous problem.

This being said, Bowling for Columbine is not a film about gun control (the quicker we can get this out of our heads the better). Saying that Columbine is about gun control is akin to saying that Citizen Kane is about a dead rich guy. Sure the statement may be true, but it oversimplifies the film to the point of abstraction. It ignores the complexities that make up the film and give it its true meaning. So what is it all really about? Well, you could say that it's about many things: U.S. foreign policy, the media, consumer culture, even Michael Moore himself. All of these topics would be just as true as gun control, but at the heart of the film seems to reside one key issue. Fear.

Fear is the one thing that can be traced through the film, from beginning to end. The Michigan Militia fear that the police/military will not always be there to protect them. James Nichols fears government control. Students are screened for weapons out of fear of another school shooting. Matt Stone discussed the Columbine tragedy, explaining that he feels the students were afraid of being failures. Marilyn Manson discusses consumerism and cultural conditioning to consume, through fear. Racism's roots are tied directly to fear. Fear keeps us locking our doors at night. Fear gets us to buy during the Y2K scare, and post-9/11. Ultimately, 'fear is what drives our culture,' seems to be what the film is trying to say.

The NRA does play its role in the film and a lot has been said about it, but I honestly can't understand why because I don't think that Moore really attacks the NRA as an institution. If Moore really wanted to belittle or attack the NRA, at its core, he would not give them a voice. He would not admit that there isn't necessarily a connection between gun ownership and gun violence, and he would not state flat out that he believes in the second amendment. It really seems that the major problem that he has with the NRA is what he sees as its insensitivity when the organization comes to Denver and Flint to hold conventions while the communities are still recovering from gun-related tragedies. Is this really such a horrible 'attack?' He's not calling for the NRA to be abolished, just to show a little sensitivity, right or wrong. The only other criticism I can see made about the NRA is one that seems to be at the heart of the film (and the interview with Charlton Heston), which is to stop reducing the issue of gun violence down to political soundbites that do nothing to develop an intelligent discourse about it, because we're dealing with a problem that's killing a lot of people. The issue is bigger than we seem to be thinking at the moment. Perhaps we're afraid of the truth?

For better or for worse though, Moore's film may always be simply connected to the NRA and the gun control issue. This is perhaps the one great fault that the film has - picking on the NRA a bit too much when he has ample evidence and ideas to work with. In all fairness though, the NRA is a major player in the politics of the issues at hand, and Moore is an 'active' filmmaker who will try to get his hands dirty. I can only imagine how still and stale this film would have been without Moore's biases being on display. Columbine is so very effective because Moore does take sides, but only occasionally does his viewpoint 'win.' After all, what can Moore really say about gun violence? It's a complicated set of issues that could never be answered in a simple two-hour film watched over a bucket of popcorn, and thankfully Moore doesn't try to answer them. Rather than oversimplify the issue, Moore tries to expose as many of the complexities as he can, piling information on top of more information, and asking us to think about it, talk about it, yell at it... just don't ignore it.

MGM's disc is a perfectly fine representation of the film, which looked pretty bad in the theaters. Using stock footage, video sources and 'cheaper' film stocks, the film is riddled with grainy and fuzzy images, which makes this transfer look pretty good. Colors are nice, and detail is about as fine as you can get considering the source. Overall, the film plays better in a home theater environment, since the smaller image makes the grain less noticeable and it just seems better for the video footage. The audio is pretty utilitarian, but dialog is clear and the overall sound is clean and balanced. Let's face it... this isn't reference quality material, but it is more than acceptable for the film.

Extras are a very mixed bag. Disc One contains an introduction, which is okay but nothing vital, and a commentary track from the secretaries and interns that worked on the film, which is just plain bad. I waited for thirty minutes for someone to say anything meaningful about the film, and it never came. I'm still waiting. Disc Two does a little better, but is ultimately overkill. Each of the featurettes seem like they would be fine on their own, but placed together there is so much overlap that it gets a little tiresome. That's not to say there isn't interesting stuff here, but be prepared to hear the same stories a few times. The rest of the features are rounded out by a clip from Moore's TV series, The Awful Truth, Marilyn Manson's Fight Song video, a photo gallery, and a couple of DVD-ROM features that I couldn't get to do anything in my computer.

Overall, get the disc for the film. MGM's disc shows the film itself justice, but I would have liked to see a little more meat (and not as much repetition) to the extras. Columbine is flawed, but important viewing nonetheless because Michael Moore achieves what he set out for, which is to generate discussion. Don't worry if you don't think you'll agree with Moore's political viewpoint (and many of you won't)... you're needed in the discussion as well.

Rob Hale
nirayo@yahoo.com




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