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Alexander Payne
Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein, Jessica Campbell, Phil Reeves, Molly Hagan, Delaney Driscoll, Mark Harelik
Writing Credits:
Tom Perrotta (novel), Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor

Reading, Writing, Revenge.

Director Alexander Payne's second film, based on the novel by Tom Perotta, takes the scandal and mudslinging associated with presidential elections and transposes them to a high school election for student council president in Nebraska - with impossibly sharp, satirical results. Matthew Broderick plays Jim McAllister, a teacher who will stop at nothing to prevent perfect Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), who is running unopposed, from winning the election. Jim, who bears a personal grudge against Tracy, goads a popular but dim football player (Chris Klein) into running against her. This spurs on a series of strange events (both madcap and surprisingly sexual), which add up to an uncommonly funny high school film for adults.

Box Office:
$8.5 million.
Opening Weekend
$119.080 thousand on 6 screens.
Domestic Gross
$14.879 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English Dolby TrueHD 5.0
French Dolby Digital 5.0
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 103 min.
Price: $14.97
Release Date: 1/20/2009

• Audio Commentary from Director Alexander Payne


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Election [Blu-Ray] (1999)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 7, 2014)

Although the action revolves around a high school, 1999’s Election definitely doesn't fall into the same category as more standard teen fare such as 10 Things I Hate About You. Despite the setting, Election is fully an adult movie and there's not much here onto which the average teen can glom. It falls more fully into the category of semi-satirical black comedy, and it achieves its goals in that department pretty well.

At Carver High, the student body election will soon occur. Type-A overachiever Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) wants to add class president to her résumé – and civics teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) sees it as his duty to halt her path toward world domination.

In that vein, McAllister convinces simplistic jock Paul Metzler (Chris Kline) to oppose Tracy. This enrages the previously unopposed Flick – and matters get worse when Paul’s younger sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) joins the race out of misplaced anger at her brother. The film follows a variety of twists connected to the characters and the campaign.

One nice touch in Election comes from the realistic appearance of the environment. I've worked in schools for decades, so I know how they look, and Election shows some of the most realistic classrooms I've ever seen. These aren't some glam set designer's ideas of what would look like a cool class.

The realism exists for a reason: the movie uses actual classrooms. Director Alexander Payne shot in the real classrooms in a real high school that was really in Omaha, Nebraska. Actually, the disc’s commentary reveals Payne to be fairly obsessed with maintaining a natural appearance, and that preoccupation works well in this picture.

One interesting twist on the typical teen formula regards some of our main characters. Usually in this kind of movie, the "big man on campus" character - here embodied by dull-witted jock Paul – gets knocked down a peg or twelve and receives some sort of comeuppance, or at least discovers new insights into his personality.

Not here. Paul's the only truly nice person in the movie, and he glides through the whole movie with a positive attitude that remains unscathed. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but Paul's never going to figure that out; he'll remain dumb but happy forever.

Tracy remains on the flipside, as she offers a girl from modest means who works her butt off and overachieves like crazy. Interestingly, she's the nominal villain of the piece, though I'm not sure that designation is quite fair. She's quite focussed and absorbed on keeping herself ahead, and her determination makes her ruthless and unethical, but she doesn't actually seem to be bad; it appears that she simply doesn't know any other way to behave. Being number one at all things has become a way of life for her so all she does has to feed that demon.

While all of the characters are fairly one-dimensional - McAllister being the most broadly defined persona - Tracy seems especially so. Witherspoon's a fine actress but her portrayal appears fairly one-note with little indication of any other side of Tracy's personality.

According to the audio commentary, that's not the fault of Witherspoon; a number of scenes that might open up her character fell on the cutting room floor. I'm not sure whether the character is more or less successful as she appears in the final cut, but it would have been interesting to see the deleted scenes.

While Broderick's McAllister would seem to be the film's protagonist - he's the main character, at least - it could be argued that he falls into the villain's spot as easily as does Tracy. Of the main characters, they're really the only ones who behave unethically. However, since he's the one who has to pay more directly for his sins, he comes across as more of a tragic figure; it's his pettiness and envy that drive the plot and that cause his downfall. Tracy's megalomania provokes her to act inappropriately, but she escapes pretty much scot-free; McAllister's the one who suffers.

Anyway, those are just some of the issues I considered after watching Election. Although it seems somewhat cartoonish at times, I think it harbors a number of different themes and areas that are ripe for exploration and discussion. If you don't want to do that, however, you can just watch the movie on its own and enjoy it; it stands up as a cruelly entertaining piece.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+

Election appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie came with a mediocre transfer.

Sharpness was generally positive. Wider shots demonstrated softness, and the image never looked especially concise, but it showed reasonable delineation. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but light edge haloes cropped up occasionally.

Source flaws were a bigger concern, especially early in the film, as the opening shots suffered from specks and marks. The rest of the movie came across as cleaner, though a smattering of defects still materialized. The transfer could – and should – have been significantly cleaner than it was.

Colors tended to be lackluster. The movie went with a natural palette, but I thought the hues veered in the direction of drabness and rarely showed much vivacity. Granted, I didn’t expect this tale to feature bright, dynamic tones, but I thought they should’ve been livelier.

Blacks were acceptably dark and deep, while shadows were a bit muddy. Low-light shots offered acceptable clarity but weren’t particularly strong. The image lacked the positives to rise above a “C+“.

Somewhat more successful was the film's Dolby TrueHD 5.0 mix. As I'd expect from this kind of movie, it's a pretty unassuming track, but it complemented the picture to an acceptable degree. The front soundstage offered a decent amount of depth. It lacked a tremendous amount of spatialization but it still placed sounds across the three front channels. While the rear speakers didn't get much of a workout, they did contribute to the overall effect and they even featured some well-placed split surround images on occasion.

The quality of the audio was always fine. Dialogue sounded natural and concise; I noticed a few slightly edgy lines, but nothing serious marred the speech. Music showed decent range and delineation, and effects – a pretty minor aspect of the track – were clean and clear. Nothing special stood out here, but the audio was adequate for this sort of flick.

How does the Blu-ray compare to the 1999 DVD? For reasons unknown, the audio changed from 5.1 to 5.0, but that didn’t cause problems. This was such a subdued mix that the absence of a dedicated LFE channel seemed largely irrelevant. The DTS-HD MA audio was a bit fuller than the Dolby Digital track from the DVD, but the mix’s nature meant the improvements seemed minor.

As for the picture, it showed the step up one expects from Blu-ray but suffered from restrictions. I suspect the Blu-ray used the same transfer from 1999, so the upgrades came from the format’s higher resolution and nothing else. This made the Blu-ray more satisfying but not as good as it could be.

Election includes one supplement: an audio commentary from director Alexander Payne. During this running, screen-specific chat, Payne discusses how he came onto the project, the script and the adaptation of the source novel, themes and symbolism, locations and sets, cast, characters and performances, deleted scenes, music, production design, and costumes.

When I initially reviewed the DVD back in 1999, I didn’t think much about the commentary; I felt it was slow-paced and lacked much depth. I guess the last 15 years have shown me some really bad commentaries, so this one looks much better by comparison. Really, my only minor complaint comes from the moderate amount of dead air, as Payne goes silent a little more often than I’d like.

Nonetheless, Payne covers most of the movie, and he offers a lot of good notes. He goes over both production specifics as well as more introspective topics, so he balances out the chat well. I still wouldn’t call this a great commentary, but it’s a good one with quite a bit of useful information.

A barbed look at high school politics, Election provides an amusing and tart affair. Complete with good performances and clever situations, it provides an entertaining ride. The Blu-ray offers mediocre picture and audio along with a mostly good commentary. I like the movie but would prefer a better executed Blu-ray.

To rate this film, visit the 2008 review of ELECTION

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