Nixon appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This was an inconsistent and generally bland presentation.
Sharpness generally appeared decent, though moderate softness affected wider shots. Edge haloes tended to be a bit heavy at times, and I occasionally saw a “stair-stepping” effect in edges that made them look artificially harsh. The issue occurred infrequently, but it did distract me at times; it seemed most obvious during the scenes shot in black and white. Otherwise, moiré effects appeared largely absent; I witnessed a modest shimmer on two or three occasions but nothing more than that.
Print flaws also showed no significant concerns. The film displayed a little grit and a few speckles but nothing worse than that. Actually, you will encounter some instances of more serious grain, grit, etc., but I won’t refer to these as defects because they were intentional. As was also the case with other Stone films like JFK and Natural Born Killers, he used a variety of film stocks in Nixon, and many of them were intentionally flawed to suit the “feel” of the scene. I can’t call these “flaws” because they were done on purpose.
Colors usually seemed decent but not much better. Though the movie occasionally utilized various kinds of stylized hues, most of the film stuck with natural tones, though they didn’t look particularly natural; they tended to be a bit brown and flat. Black levels seemed deep and dark, with acceptable contrast, and shadow detail looked clear and appropriately opaque; at no time did I discern any excessive thickness to the low light sequences.
The comments above applied to about 85 percent of the movie - so what about that other 15 percent? Well, that was a rough estimate of the amount of Nixon devoted to footage reinstated for the “director’s cut”. Some DVDs helpfully indicate which scenes are new to the expanded version, but Nixon does not; nowhere in the package or on the DVD itself will you be notified which segments were added. However, you really don’t need such specifications because you’ll see them for yourself; the difference in quality between the original footage and the reinserted shots is startling.
As a whole, the director’s cut scenes look pretty bad. They appeared quite fuzzy and lacked significant depth or detail. They also appeared bland and without much color; part of this may be due to the design of the scenes themselves, but I thought these segments were excessively drab. I don’t know the source of these portions of Nixon, but they look VHS in origin to me. Enough of the movie looked decent to make this a “C-“ transfer, but it wasn’t any better than that.
Audio quality seemed more consistent, though the added sequences caused some issues that I’ll address later in the review. For the most part, however, the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks of Nixon offered a satisfying experience. Not surprisingly, the soundfield strongly emphasized the forward channels. In those speakers, I heard well-differentiated audio that seemed natural and evenly spaced between the speakers. There wasn’t a tremendous amount of localized sound since the music dominated the track, but the atmosphere appeared appropriate and the sounds came from the logical positions. The surrounds kicked in with reinforcement for the score and general ambiance. Again, Nixon didn’t require a killer surround track, and the mix here aptly fit the film.
Audio quality appeared solid. Dialogue usually sounded distinct and natural with no issues related to intelligibility. However, some lines came across as slightly edgy at times. Effects seemed clean and realistic and offered no signs of distortion. The score came across as wonderfully full and rich, and the music also offered excellent low end. Throughout the movie, bass response seemed tight and deep, and these elements added to the overall impact of this very good soundtrack.
As I noted, the sound appeared somewhat less terrific during the scenes reinserted for this director’s cut, but the differences were much less severe than those observed in the visual domain. For the most part, the added segments displayed a fairly monophonic bias, though I did detect some stereo spread at times. Most of the extended snippets were rather quiet, however, so the soundfield became less of a factor. Quality seemed slightly less strong than during the remainder of the film, but the two sounded acceptably similar. If you listen carefully, you can detect some differences between the audio heard in the original scenes and those added to this version, but the sound presented none of the significant problems observed in those video elements.
In this two-DVD special edition, we find a slew of extras, most of which reside on the second disc. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t get hours of material on DVD one, because it contains two separate audio commentaries from director Oliver Stone. I was surprised to see two different tracks and I initially thought that one must be new while the other was created for an old laserdisc release. However, a screening indicates that both are recent efforts. I can’t specify actual recording dates, but Stone mentions the death of Madeline Kahn in the first track, which means it had to take place after December 1999. In the second commentary, Stone mentions that he was able to revisit the film for the director’s cut and he states he got to do so “five years later”. As such, we can tell that both tracks are recent, though I have no idea why Stone sat down to talk about Nixon twice in such a short time-frame.
In any case, the first commentary is easily the more compelling. Stone aptly covers a variety of topics such as some historical liberties, various aspects of Nixon’s life and career, and the different technical challenges presented by the subject. The latter area was most interesting because Stone wanted events to be real but also knew that he had to provide exposition that would make them not exactly true to life. For example, during an added scene between Nixon and CIA director Richard Helms, the two have to make lots of statements that would have been unnecessary but need to be mentioned to keep the crowd “in the know”. The track occasionally suffers from some moderately long gaps, but since the film runs more than three and a half hours, that’s not a big problem.
Empty spaces are much more of a concern during the second commentary because it offers more blank spots, and these run longer in time. At times Stone chimes in with some compelling comments - especially when he talked about the alterations he made for the director’s cut, something he didn’t discuss in the other track – but he goes mum for extended periods. This commentary needs an index to make it an easier listen; Stone offers some good information, but the infrequency of his statements makes it frustrating.
By the way, Stone makes some comments that I found fairly dumbfounding. Stone briefly touches on the fact that Nixon apparently watched Patton repeatedly at one point and that it seemed to affect his war policy. Stone calls Patton “jingoistic”, which makes me wonder if he ever actually watched the movie. Granted, Patton is a movie that I think functions as something of a cinematic Rorschach; whether hawk or dove, the viewer sees what the viewer wants to see. I’m just surprised that Stone would see it as a pro-war, blindly supportive flick.
On the second DVD, we discover additional supplements. The prime feature here seems to be a collection of Deleted Scenes. Here we get 11 different segments, each of which is introduced by Stone. (The DVD menu refers to “audio commentary” by Stone for all of these snippets, but this simply means the introductions.) The section also begins with a lengthy (8:15) overview from Stone and it finishes with some closing thoughts. Those two pieces were very valuable, as Stone actually discussed the production itself in more detail than during the audio commentaries. His statements are compelling and stimulating.
I also liked all of his introductions to the individual deleted scenes. Unfortunately, the snippets themselves are less valuable. This isn’t because the shots are dull or worthless. No, many of them are quite good, really. My complaint stems from redundancy. Of the 11 scenes, only four of them don’t already appear in the “director’s cut”. Of those four, two are completely new segments: “Bull Ring” and “Jones Ranch Barbecue”, both of which involve the Larry Hagman character. The other two - “Air Force One” and “Rockefeller Party” - are extended versions of existing scenes.
Granted, I don’t mind the duplication of the other seven clips too much because we get to hear more from Stone about them. Nonetheless, some may be irritated at having to wade through repeated material. Aren’t you glad I’m here to tell you which clips to skip? Happily, the DVD includes chapter stops for each scene, so you can easily jump from one Stone introduction to the next; you aren’t stuck watching material you’ve already seen, so you can just check out Stone’s comments and then move to the next part.
Next up is a compelling piece called Charlie Rose Interviews Oliver Stone. Unlike the snippet found on the Natural Born Killers DVD, we get the entire 55-minute episode of Rose’s program from 1995 when Nixon hit the screens. Some of the information duplicates the details Stone offered in the audio commentaries, but most of the discussion touches on new areas. Rose provides insightful questions and keeps the conversation moving briskly, and he’s not afraid to touch on areas of controversy as he brings up many of the criticisms leveled by Stone’s detractors. It’s a very compelling interview that went by quickly.
Much less stimulating was the DVD’s Featurette. This five-minute glorler (glorified trailer) largely combines film clips with a few shots from the set and interview snippets from principals like Stone, Hopkins, Allen, and Woods. It’s not a terrible piece, but it’s clearly promotional in nature and it offers little of value. In addition, the film’s actual theatrical trailer appears.
In Nixon, Oliver Stone showed that he could still surprise me. I expected a vicious attack on the ex-president but instead found a fairly even-handed and moving look at the private man. As with every Stone film, Nixon possesses many flaws, but it remains one of his most consistent and compelling efforts.
The DVD presents flawed picture, while the sound is more consistent and strong. This Special Edition packs in a slew of extras; although some can be frustrating at times, these supplements added to my enjoyment and understanding of the film. Despite the problems with the transfer, Nixon is a winner.
To rate this film visit the Election Year Edition review of NIXON