Nixon appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. A few concerns marred the presentation, but it usually looked fairly good.
Probably the biggest distraction came from some mild edge enhancement. Throughout the movie, I occasionally noticed those haloes, and they created distractions. They also affected sharpness and made some shots less concise than they should have been. However, delineation usually worked fine, as most of the movie was acceptably concise. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred.
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, specks, and whatnot, 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, the director used a variety of film stocks in Nixon. Many of these featured intentional defects to suit the “feel” of the scene. I couldn’t call these “flaws” because they were done on purpose.
Colors usually seemed good. Stone opted for a brownish palette much of the time, so I didn’t notice a lot of dynamic tones. However, the hues were acceptably full given the stylistic decisions; they didn’t excel, but they appeared fine.
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. I thought that the problems with edge enhancement knocked down my grade to a “B-“, but this was usually a positive transfer.
For the most part, the Uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack of Nixon offered a satisfying experience. Not surprisingly, the soundfield 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. A few unique elements popped up for flashes of war and other haunting bits from Nixon’s past. Again, Nixon didn’t require a killer surround track, and the mix here 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 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.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2008 “Election Year Edition” DVD? Audio seemed a bit warmer, while visuals showed better tightness and clarity. I strongly suspect both the DVD and the Blu-ray came from the same transfer, so any improvements related to the latter format’s superior capabilities – and both exhibited similar drawbacks, primarily in terms of the edge haloes.
As for extras, the Blu-ray duplicates the 2008 DVD’s components. On Disc One, we locate 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 (as of 2002) while the other was created for an old laserdisc release.
However, a screening indicates that both are “modern” 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 notes 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 took place around 2000, 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 acts as easily the more compelling of the pair. 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 is 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 in real life 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 complaint.
Empty spaces become a greater concern during the second commentary. It offers more of the blank spots, and these run longer in time. At times Stone chimes in with some compelling comments - especially when he talks about the alterations he made for the director’s cut, something he doesn’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 gives us some good information, but the infrequency of his statements makes it frustrating.
By the way, Stone makes some comments that I find 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.
Disc Two starts with a collection of Deleted Scenes. Here we get 11 different segments, and Stone introduces each one. Altogether, the collection runs 58 minutes, 18 seconds.
The section also begins with a lengthy (8:15) overview from Stone and it finishes with his closing thoughts. Those two pieces are very valuable, as Stone actually discusses 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 compelling. This isn’t because the shots are dull or worthless - 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” - provide 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.
Happily, the disc 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 release, we get the entire 55-minute, 10-second episode of Rose’s program from 1995.
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 quality interview that goes by quickly.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a documentary called Beyond Nixon. Created by Stone’s son Sean, this 35-minute and 16-second program offers comments from University of Texas Professor of Constitutional Law Sanford Levinson, American University Professor of American History Peter J. Kuznick, White House Counsel (1970-1973) John Dean, author/syndicated columnist Robert Novak, author Dr. Michael Maccoby, author/playwright Gore Vidal, Nixon speechwriter (1967-1969) Richard J. Whalen, White House Special Counsel (1972-1974) Leonard Garment, Congresswoman (1973-1981) Elizabeth Holtzman, Institute for Policy Studies co-founder Marcus Raskin, historian/playwright.activist/author Howard Zinn, and author Jim Hougan.
“Beyond” creates a picture of the facts and situations behind those in the movie. It expands on those topics and even offers some criticism of the flick’s portrayal, such as when Novak opines that he felt “it was a dreadful movie” due to its historical liberties. “Beyond” doesn’t provide a full biography of Nixon, but it includes some interesting insights.
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. The Blu-ray presents reasonably good picture and audio as well as a strong collection of supplements. Nixon remains one of Oliver Stone’s better efforts.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of NIXON