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UNIVERSAL

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Various
Cast:
Ronald Reagan, Stone Phillips
Writing Credits:
Various

Synopsis:
One of the most memorable leaders of the 20th century, few shaped our life and times as did Ronald Reagan. Now NBC News, the most respected name in broadcast journalism, brings you the most intimate and complete portrait of one of our most beloved Presidents – from his illustrious Hollywood career, through two historic terms in the White House, and concluding with the Nation’s week long commemoration following his death.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Dolby 2.0
Subtitles:
English
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 41 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 7/20/2004

Bonus:
• “A Day With President Reagan”
• “Love Letters to Nancy”
• “The General Electric Theater”
• 1981 Inaugural Address
• “Tear Down This Wall” Speech
• “Dear Ron” Correspondence
• Farewell Address
• “Golden Anniversary” Interview
• “The Long Goodbye” Featurette


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EQUIPMENT
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RELATED REVIEWS


NBC News Presents: Ronald Reagan (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 28, 2004)

I hereby declare this review a politics-free zone! I definitely have my opinions of our 40th president, but I won’t present them here, as I’d prefer to focus on the quality of the program alone for my review of Ronald Reagan.

An NBC production, Reagan looks at the life of the president. Narrated by Stone Phillips it comes with support from reporters John Hockenberry, Josh Mankiewicz, Mike Taibbi, and Andrea Mitchell. It also features comments from historian Michael Beschloss, Reagan aide Michael Deaver, Reagan speechwriter Ken Khachigian, Reagan press aide Lyn Nofziger, film critics Andrew Sarris and Jim Hoberman, actor Angie Dickinson, biographer Stephen Vaughn, former Senator Paul Laxalt, and Reagan chiefs-of-staff James Baker and Ken Duberstein.

Reagan splits into four smaller components. We start with “Farewell to the Chief”, which offers a general look at Reagan’s life and political career. “The Great Communicator” examines the benefits of Reagan’s acting career in the way it helped him present material and also the various elements of that side of him. ”The Gipper” views Reagan’s acting roles and history in Hollywood, while “Picture Perfect” looks at his public personality and his resistance to standard politics.

As I watched the first segment, I feared that Reagan would suffer from an excessively disjointed approach. “Chief” flits about from era to era and subject to subject without much clarity, and it seems scattershot.

However, that approach vanishes when that segment ends, and when I realized that, I didn’t mind its nature as much. “Chief” exists mainly to give us a quick “greatest hits” reel and introduction to Reagan. It covers many topics rapidly and doesn’t feel tremendously satisfying, but it functions acceptably well within the whole package.

Nonetheless, I find the other three components to come across as more satisfying. They work well partially because they cover topics about which we don’t normally learn. Throughout the whole period after Reagan died, we tended to hear about the same areas over and over, with an emphasis on those “greatest hits” that popped up in “Farewell”. Some of these other issues got a little lip service and that was about it.

While not deep examinations of those areas, the other three features delve into the topics pretty nicely. They go over the subjects in an entertaining and informative way, and it does seem nice to fill out the lesser-known subjects.

I also like the general absence of the excessively laudatory tone that came with Reagan’s eulogies. For the entire period after his death, all we heard was how wonderful and great he was. That’s understandable, but such an attitude would be out of place in this sort of program. Reagan presents some happy talk, but it seems reasonably objective and doesn’t focus solely on praising the man.

This means that Ronald Reagan isn’t a full, objective biography of the former president, but it also doesn’t present the sort of tedious hagiography one might expect. The show focuses on a few areas that seem illuminating, so while it falls short of a critique of the president, it still is an entertaining and useful program.


The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C-/ Bonus B+

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.375 Stars Number of Votes: 16
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