Nixon appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A few concerns marred the presentation, but it usually looked pretty good.
Probably the biggest distraction came from some moderate 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, and many of them 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 Dolby Digital 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 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.
How did the picture and quality of this “Election Year Edition” of Nixon compare to those of the 2002 DVD? Even though this release omitted the old version’s DTS soundtrack, both offered similar audio, but the new 16X9 enhanced transfer worked much than the prior non-anamorphic image. That one was a bit of a mess much of the time, whereas this one seemed tighter and more consistent.
The new transfer’s biggest improvement came from the integration of the “Director’s Cut” scenes. On the 2002 DVD, those looked terrible. The disc never specifically told us when they appeared, but it didn’t need to do so; the VHS-quality of those shots made their presence clear.
At no point during the 2008 DVD was I aware of the shift from the theatrical shots to those of the DC. They blended well and demonstrated smooth integration. I wish the 2008 transfer didn’t suffer from so much edge enhancement, but it remained a significant step up in visual quality when compared to its prededessor.
As for extras, the 2008 “Election Year Edition” replicated almost everything from the 2002 package along with one new component that you’ll find on DVD Two. For DVD 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. 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 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 much more of a concern during the second commentary because 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.
On DVD Two, we start 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. 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” - 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 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, 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 went by quickly.
For the sole component unique to the 2008 “Election Year Edition”, 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 addition to the film’s trailer, we get some Sneak Peeks. This domain provides ads for Dirty Sexy Money Season One, Lost Season Four, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Blindness, Blu-Ray Disc and Miramax Films.
Does the “Election Year Edition” drop anything from the 2002 DVD? Yeah: we lose a five-minute promotional featurette. Since it was a tedious bore, I don’t miss it.
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 a generally solid picture and sound as well a slew of extras. Although some can be frustrating at times, we learn a fair amount from them, and these supplements added to my enjoyment and understanding of the film. All in all, Nixon is a winner.
If you don’t own the prior DVD release of Nixon, this 2008 “Election Year Edition” is the way to go, primarily because it boasts superior picture quality. For fans who already possess the earlier version, I still this the “EEE” merits a look. The flick really does look quite a bit better, and a new documentary adds some value.