Ronald Reagan appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture quality of Reagan seemed acceptable but unexceptional.
Any program with this much archival footage will be tough to rate, but Reagan appeared watchable. Sharpness varied, and I found the new interview footage to look a little soft at times. Those shots came across as a bit muddy and flat, and they lacked much pizzazz. Colors seemed somewhat bland and drab. The hues appeared reasonably positive, but they didn’t present much depth or flair.
Archival materials varied quite a lot, as one might expect. Reagan included footage that dated as far back as the middle of the 20th century, so some of the work demonstrated a lot of flaws. Some edge enhancement appeared throughout the program, and I also noticed moderate examples of jagged edges and shimmering. For the archival footage, colors seemed erratic but usually tended to be somewhat thin and muddy. Ultimately, Reagan looked decent but nothing better than that.
The Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Ronald Reagan remained modest from start to finish. For all intents and purposes, it presented a monaural mix. Music represented some light stereo imaging, but since we only heard a little score, it failed to make much of an impact. Otherwise, the track seemed totally stuck in the center channel, and I noticed no use of the surrounds at all.
Audio quality appeared decent but unexceptional. Speech sounded reasonably distinct and natural, though those elements varied. At times, some of the interviews were slightly muddy and thick. Effects played an extremely small role in the production, but they came across as clean and accurate. Music remained a background element and only showed up infrequently. The score was subdued but it seemed acceptably vibrant and bright when it appeared. Ultimately, the audio of Reagan appeared lackluster but worked acceptably for this sort of program.
Chock full of extras, we find materials that span a mix of Reagan-related topics. Shot very early in the administration - the footage of Jim Brady makes it clear it occurred prior to John Hinckley’s March 1981 assassination attempt - A Day With President Reagan originally aired as an episode of NBC Magazine and it fills 34 minutes, 58 seconds. It follows the president during one day and mainly focuses on Reagan’s attempts to concoct various cuts. Most of this follows a “fly on the wall” approach, but we also get a short interview between host David Brinkley and the president. It’s very interesting and gives us a nice snapshot of Reagan’s work in office.
Next we locate a 14-minute and 29-second piece called Love Letters to Nancy. This presents readings of Reagan’s missives to his wife as well as comments from TV personality and friend Merv Griffin, Nancy’s brother Dr. Richard Davis, actors Patricia Neal and Rhonda Fleming Mann, Vanity Fair writer Bob Colacello, and Reagan Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver. Despite the potential for schmaltz, this segment seems fairly charming and sweet as it offers a take on Reagan’s affection for Nancy.
For a look back at Reagan’s Hollywood days, we find The General Electric Theater. This 28-minute and 44-second presents a 1957 broadcast called “No Skin Off Me”. Reagan hosts the show and also acts in it as a boxing trainer. It’s not a good show, but this is a fun historical element to find. (I also enjoyed the “educational” ad from General Electric, the show’s sponsor.)
A couple of historical segments appear next. We find Reagan’s complete 1981 Inaugural Address (21 minutes, 14 seconds), his well-known June 12, 1987 ”Tear Down This Wall” Speech (26 minutes, 38 seconds), and his Farewell Address (20 minutes, 56 seconds). All come with only a smidgen of narration to place them in historical perspective. Instead, they mostly present the original footage without comment. That makes them very useful and quite interesting to watch. The “Wall” speech is the best, mainly because it enjoys the greatest impact; the other two are notable due more to their chronological significance than because of anything said in either. In any case, all three are worthwhile.
After this we get correspondence under the banner Dear Ron. Reported by Sara James, this six-minute and 48-second featurette focuses on Lorraine Makler, a woman who wrote a fan letter as a teen in 1943. This started decades of correspondence with Reagan, and we hear about that here. We also get some quick notes from presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, but mainly we cover Reagan’s career and how his letters reflected this. I’d have liked more excerpts from the missives, but this is still an interesting footnote.
One last interview with Reagan comes with the title Golden Anniversary. It runs eight minutes and 31 seconds and comes from March 2002, the time of Ron and Nancy’s 50th anniversary. Katie Couric interviews Nancy as she talks about her relationship with Reagan. It’s only slightly compelling, as it seems redundant after the more moving “Love Letters” segment.
Finally, The Long Goodbye presents a three-minute and 57-second featurette quickly covers Reagan’s funeral. Actually, it mostly acts as a minor obituary and appreciation, as it largely consists of biographical highlights and comments from those who adored the president. It’s too brief and fluffy to offer much.
A generally interesting program, Ronald Reagan doesn’t excel but it proves largely informative. It concentrates on a few slightly unusual areas and comes across as well-packaged and entertaining. The DVD presents mediocre picture and audio with a very nice set of supplements. Reagan won’t satisfy those with a desire to see a complete history of the president, but it offers a lively and useful piece nonetheless.