JFK appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Expect mediocre visuals here.
JFK combined archival footage - mostly from the Sixties - and new shots that were intended to look old in addition to the expected material that appeared appropriately clear and fresh. Because of the mixture of film elements, an accurate grade became difficult to issue. Nonetheless, I thought the DVD suffered from a few more flaws than were necessary.
Sharpness was usually fine. Moderate edge enhancement gave wide shots a slightly blurry look at times, but most aspects of the movie showed good clarity and definition. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, but artifacts created some distractions. The movie took on a gauzy look that made it look like it was shot through a thin screen. As with the edge enhancement, this wasnít a major concern, but it wasnít a good thing.
Print flaws largely were restricted to film grain, much of which was manufactured for the movie; whenever Stone used black and white footage, he added grain to give it that ďagedĒ appearance. There were also some scratches and blotches placed in the new material to make it seem older. For the other scenes, however, the movie looked clean and fresh. I saw a few speckles and a tiny amount of grit, but otherwise the film was free from defects.
Most of JFK featured a fairly restricted palette; the movie mainly offered a brownish tiny that makes sense for this kind of subject. These tones looked clearly replicated and were accurate and full. Whenever the film was allowed to display brighter hues - such as during the Easter parade - the colors were brighter and bolder, with no saturation or bleeding problems. Black levels seemed dark and deep, and shadow detail was appropriately heavy but usually avoided any excessive opacity; a couple of scenes looked slightly too thick, but these were rare. Ultimately, JFK mixed ups and downs to earn a ďC+Ē for its visuals.
This DVDís Dolby Digital 5.1 improved upon the material heard on the original disc and replicated what appeared on the 2001 special edition. The first release offered Dolby Surround 2.0 sound, and the 5.1 track definitely opened up the mix. Not surprisingly, the forward soundstage dominated the audio, but I was pleased to hear the breadth of the work. John Williamsí effective score spread neatly across the front channels and added depth to the film. Quiet a lot of ambient audio also appeared in the forward speakers; most of this stayed fairly subdued - such as cars passing in the background - but I found the audio to seem natural and well integrated.
The surrounds largely contributed atmospheric sound, with their main impact resulting from the dramatic impact of gunshots. Some good ambiance appeared as well through music and general background effects. Split-surround usage was limited but adds occasional substance to the track.
Audio quality always appeared strong. Dialogue seemed natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects occasionally displayed some minor distortion - exclusively during gunshots - but they usually seemed clean and crisp, with good realism and clarity. Williamsí score came across best of all, as the track played it with excellent smoothness and depth. The martial drums seemed particularly good, as they beat clearly and display tight bass. Although JFK wasnít an action-extravaganza, the soundtrack supported the material and added a nice touch.
When we head to the setís extras, we start with an audio commentary with director Oliver Stone, who offers a running, screen-specific track. The emphasis is upon the ďfactsĒ told during the film. On some occasions Stone mentions the actors and their efforts, but for the majority of the commentary, we hear Stone tell us the ďtruthĒ of the matter.
That makes the commentary a tough listen. Stone throws out tons of the usual nonsense, a fact that meant I worried my eyes would be stuck in permanent roll. I donít think Iíve ever yelled at a commentary before, but that happened here, as I couldnít help but shout in disbelief at the idiocy spewed by Stone. The director tosses out so many lies and half-truths that I wasnít sure I believed him when he stated his name!
At times you might wonder if youíre in Bizarro World. For instance, Stone talks about Perry Russo Ė the main inspiration for the composite character played by Kevin Bacon Ė and refers to him as a powerful, honest man. Really? Thatíd be the same Russo who flip-flopped on his story multiple times over the years?
Stone also tells us that witness Jean Hill never changed her story. Really? Would that be the same Jean Hill who embellished her tale every few years, changes that made her version of events more and more fantastic? On November 22, 1963, she stated she didnít see anyone fire a weapon. By 1989, Hill averred that she did witness shooting from the grassy knoll. Thatís a pretty big change for a story that Stone says remained the same.
And so on, and so on. When Stone talks about the filmís creation, the commentary becomes more involving and purposeful. Unfortunately, those moments emerge rather infrequently. Instead, Stone regales us with his pathetic defense of his idiotic, radically inaccurate film. Itís entertaining in a sad way, but you shouldnít take it as anything remotely close to the truth.
The first disc includes a few other minor extras. We find a Cast and Crew section that provides filmographies for actors Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Oldman, Jay O. Sanders, Sissy Spacek and Joe Pesci plus a brief biography of Stone. Awards details some of the prizes taken by the film.
On the second DVD, we find a slew of Deleted Scenes. There are 12 in all - half of which are actually extended versions of existing scenes - and they run for a total of 54 minutes and 40 seconds. Not surprisingly, the completely new segments are the most interesting, as a few of the extensions are rather brief and donít add much. The fresh scenes are more fascinating, especially an odd dream sequence that features a dead Oswald. This may be hard to believe, but had these snippets appeared in the final film, they would have made Stoneís theories even more clear; with shots of the government poisoning Jack Ruby and Oswaldís near-deification, the propaganda factor ratchets up another notch.
Nonetheless, it was interesting to view the excised footage, especially since all of the scenes can be watched with or without commentary from Stone. His remarks here expand upon the same topics covered in the feature track, though he focuses a bit more on the filmmaking process since he discusses the reasons the various clips were left out of the movie.
ďMultimedia EssaysĒ presents two different video features. Meet Mr. X: The Personality and Thoughts of Fletcher Prouty offers interviews with the man upon whom the filmís Donald Sutherland character was based. This 11-minute piece was surprisingly dull. Prouty mainly discusses his career and some aspects of the assassination, but I didnít learn anything new or informative from his comments. Itís interesting to see the real man, but I didnít gain anything from the experience.
In addition to the filmís trailer, we end with Assassination Update - The New Documents. This takes a look at the aftermath effected by the film. For all its flaws, JFK did create renewed interest in the assassination and put pressure on politicians to open up sealed films. This program discusses the actions of the Assassination Records Review Board, a governmental group put together in the mid-Nineties to examine and release much of the previously unavailable records.
If youíre looking for any revelations, youíll need to search elsewhere, as the material covered here seems pretty unspectacular. Narrated by conspiracy buff Jim DiEugenio, the 29-minute and 40-second program rehashes some of the same old material under the guise of fresh and exciting new details. To quote from the film, that dog donít hunt, and I found this piece to be disappointingly drab as well.
To date, Oliver Stone has yet to make a better film than 1991ís JFK. His investigation of the Kennedy assassination makes for an absolutely riveting and thrilling experience that manages to compress almost three and a half hours of material into a timeframe that seems much shorter. However, Stone abuses his power so egregiously that I have a difficult time appreciating JFK because itís such a load of hooey; the film combines fact and fiction in a reckless manner that makes the entire movie intellectually dishonest.
The DVD offers average picture with good sound and some fine extras. Ultimately, I have to recommend JFK just because itís such a strong film, but I urge you to check out other sources of material on the assassination and not just accept Stoneís blather without question.
To rate this film, visit the 2003 Special Edition review of JFK