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Oliver Stone's detailed examination of possible answers to unsolved mysteries surrounding John F. Kennedy's assassination. Kevin Costner plays New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who remained unconvinced by the Warren Commission Report and launched his own investigation. This film was released on a wave of controversy and led to calls for Congress to re-open government records from the 1977 House Select Committee on the assassination. Stone weaves actual archive footage with historical reconstruction and conjecture to present his argument that Kennedy was killed by the CIA due to his desire to withdraw troops from Vietnam. The film gained several Oscar nominations and Stone won a Golden Globe award for Best Director.
For more about JFK and the JFK Blu-ray release, see JFK Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on January 7, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Kevin Costner, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Wayne Knight
Director: Oliver Stone
» See full cast & crew
JFK Blu-ray Review
A conspiracy theorist's dream and one of the best-loved films of the '90s is immortalized in Warner's BD digibook.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, January 7, 2009
Marking the 45th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Warner brings Oliver Stone's signature work to Blu-ray format. The digibook package includes a gorgeous 34-page color booklet fixed into the spine of the BD case, making it a perfect keepsake for fans of JFK. Featuring an all-star cast and nominated for eight Academy Awards, the film embodies Stone's distrust of government and shame in his country. The assassination of one of America's most charismatic political leaders marks a black spot in US history, and also a favorite subject of conspiracy theorists long distrustful of the Warren Commission's official findings. By spotlighting certain facts surrounding the assassination, altering other facts and completely ignoring a great deal of evidence, Stone creates a compelling story that points to a criminal government conspiracy and cover-up, reaching into the highest levels of Washington DC. Whether you find this story appealing or a fabrication or just a snoozefest, there is no denying the power of Stone's narrative and the strong use of the imagery, now given a 1080p VC-1 encode on this special digibook release.
JFK follows New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) as he latches on to loose ends poking out of Kennedy's assassination, and becomes obsessed with unraveling the threads. As the narrative plays out, we are treated to some of the most notable actors of all time who appear quite awkwardly. The long list of notables includes Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau and Sissy Spacek as Garrison's wife who is all but ignored as Garrison concentrates on conspiracy. Oddest of all is the appearance of Joe Pesci and Tommy Lee Jones, both of whom sported a bizarre hair-and-makeup job. But the real kicker is how Stone intersperses footage he shoots for the movie with newsreel footage of famous and infamous events and figures associated with the Kennedy assassination, the 1960s and Washington politics. This emotionally charged montage of images includes footage of crosses burning, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as the Cuban missile crisis and of course the assassinations of Kennedy and Oswald. Most manipulative of all is the way Stone uses the newsreel footage with his own faux-aged footage to distort the past and blur the lines between reality and "stonality", for lack of a better word.
To be fair, Stone had somewhat noble motives in developing JFK--to remind the American people to not "sin with silence" (a quote from the movie), but as the saying goes the path to hell is paved with good intentions. Clearly, Stone advocates questioning leaders, holding them accountable and never letting government grow too powerful or dangerous. But film is the most powerful medium and when does revisionism and film manipulation grow too powerful or dangerous? Like a schoolyard bully who doesn't know the size of his own muscles, Stone creates such a powerful illusion, convincing narrative and emotionally loaded series of images that--as far as an ignorant populace is concerned--his film essentially unseats history in favor of its own agenda. What is that agenda? Stone's Garrison says it directly after the initial montage of footage ends: "Today I am ashamed to be an American". If JFK airs at least every year, that shame can be perennial.
A new generation of moviegoers sees the Kennedy assassination not through history's lens, but through Stone's, forever impacting public perception about the most visible national tragedy next to 9/11/01. I won't get into an analysis of all the ways Stone's account differs from reality or the reasons he ignores and massages facts. For that I recommend an excellent Atlantic article, JFK: Oliver Stone's Fictional Reality, by Edward Jay Epstein, a real associate of the real Jim Garrison, as opposed to the make-believe associates of the make-believe Garrison, played by Costner. To Stone's fans who adore the film and believe it to be art and a great constitutional call to arms, I would caution that it is the height of irresponsibility in artistic license to use the death of a leader and a country's mourning as the launching pad to replace fact with fiction. Of course, Stone also works his own voice through Garrison's mouth in telegraphed ways--mostly about the military industrial complex, but also when Liz Garrison wants her husband to be with their kids. "You know I don't like these tribal rituals," Garrison says of an Easter egg hunt.
JFK Blu-ray, Video Quality
With at least some elements of JFK shot on 35 mm, 16 mm and 8 mm, in black and white and color with live action and newsreel footage, the movie becomes a hodgepodge of chopped-up scenes and sources, different film-stock and various camera styles. After the initial round of montages and manipulations are over, however, the film settles into quite a lush groove in its 2.4:1 aspect ratio. With convincing earth tones and skin color and far more definition than seen previously on home video, Warner's BD delivers a remarkably good transfer that far surpasses any NTSC version, including the most recent DVD. There are problems with black level, where gradation detail is lost. Occasionally, other anomalies pop up. But overall, the transfer is no worse than another Stone film that Warner produced for digibook via VC-1 encode: Natural Born Killers. In both films, Stone clearly sacrificed picture quality for emotional impact, and that comes across in 1080p.
The magical level of detail and definition associated with the best BDs just isn't there in JFK. While this is more the fault of the original production than the transfer for Blu-ray release, overall the quality can best be described as average. Watch the scene where Donald Southerland who plays a "deep throat" type of character dubbed "Mr. X" in the movie, sits with Garrison on a park bench looking out over the mall of the nation's capital. From the lush green grass and fabric of the mens' suits to the reflecting pool and monument in the background--it all appears with good color and detail but lacks any real wow factor or extraordinary dynamics.
JFK Blu-ray, Audio Quality
While Warner is to be commended for including a high definition track, the audio has its share of problems. Though rare, audible distortion can be heard at points throughout the film, not unlike an analog-to-digital transfer in the early days of CD. This type of anomaly from the advent of digital audio is not what one wants to hear in a newly remastered Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. Often, lugubrious violins or a mournful trumpet rises in the mix, but mostly it's dominated by crisp dialogue. Considering that little action occurs, the surround field is surprisingly immersive with ample use of rear channels during a downpour for example, and heavy use of LFE. Dialog, solidly anchored in the center channel, often sounds thin and does not show the treble extension characteristic of the very best audio content available on Blu-ray disc. Neither does the soundtrack music. The weak midrange appears dead, muddled and stuck to the speaker. The bass, too, is poorly defined and perhaps over-aggressive for car engines. But for most people, the 5.1 TrueHD content is perfectly sufficient, sounding better than the average DVD.
JFK Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Even though--true to form--Warner does not deliver any HD bonus content, the Blu-ray edition of JFK delivers most of the supplemental material that was included on the many standard DVD releases. The only documentary that does not appear is The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings, a 2008 bonus featurette included in the new Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD. Also on the DVD but missing from the Blu-ray are John F. Kennedy's inauguration address, and a collection of DVD-ROM essays. No big deal, but it begs the question why Warner would port over most of the material but not all of it. The BD does have the booklet with glossy photos and some production notes, as well as actor bios. But the main draw for most JFK fans are Stone's commentary and the many documentaries. If you ever wanted to listen to Stone drone on for 3.5 hours, now is your chance. From technical points of the production to the controversy of his conspiracy theory to the faux facts that he peppers throughout the film, this is Stone's chance to bolster his case for making the movie without any serious interviewer or historian challenging him. He gives it all he's got, and if you don't know any better it all sounds mighty impressive. The other bonus content includes:
Beyond JFK: the Question of Conspiracy--clocking in at an hour and a half and further bolstering the case for conspiracy cover-up, this documentary is far from objective. It features interviews with eye-witnesses of the Kennedy assassination as well as comments from the cast and crew.
Assassination Update: the New Documents--a recently produced half-hour documentary focusing on new developments that have surfaced over the past few years.
Meet Mr. X--this 11-minute interview shows the "deep throat"-like figure portrayed by Donald Southerland, who is referred to in the film as Mr. X and is actually Fletcher Prouty, a known CIA critic. It's not mentioned in the interview, but in addition to his book with the same namesake as the film, Prouty espouses many other crackpot conspiracy theories about US intelligence agencies' involvement, including complicity in the Jonestown deaths and Korean Airlines flight 007 downing.
Additional Footage--as if JFK wasn't long enough for you, the Blu-ray includes nearly an hour's worth of footage left on the cutting room floor, including an alternate ending. If you really want to see how far out in left field Oliver Stone can get, some of this footage is for you. Rounding out the bonus material is the two minute theatrical trailer in standard definition.
JFK Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Like many figures whose lives have actually intersected with Stone's work, including Ray Manzarek of The Doors and Edward Jay Epstein of Jim Garrison's team, I find Stone's films not just irresponsible and factually inaccurate but purposefully manipulative in a reckless way. This review will no doubt generate its share of controversy, but that is what Oliver Stone invites: controversy. I apologize to those readers on Blu-ray.com who genuinely enjoy JFK and feel it deserves a higher rating, including my esteemed colleague Kenneth Brown who gave a near-perfect rating to the movie itself. In his review, Ken wrote, "I've watched JFK countless times over the years and will continue to do so for many more. Its stirring performances, tight screenplay, and thought provoking revelations keep me rooted in my seat every time, regardless of how often I've followed Jim Garrison into the courtroom. Thankfully, its Blu-ray debut is strong enough to satisfy fans and attract newcomers. It features a faithful (albeit intentionally uneven) video transfer, impressive TrueHD audio, and a wealth of supplemental material. Minor problems aside, this is an easy release for me to recommend." For what it's worth, I concur that this Blu-ray is the difinitive version for collectors to enjoy. But aside from students of film (Kenneth Brown certainly is one) and social studies who are educated and wish to take a scholarly approach to explore how this film changes the facts to build a strong narrative, I cannot recommend this film. The thought of an ignorant public coming to know the circumstances of Kennedy's assassination through Stone's lens and being manipulated into buying off on a conspiracy theory is frankly chilling.
JFK: Other Editions
JFK Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - November 11th - November 11, 2008
Today is Veteran's Day in the United States - a day to remember those who have sacrificed for the country by serving in its military. Today also marks the release of 'Band of Brothers' on Blu-ray, which is - in my humble opinion - the absolute best World War II ...
• Warner Brings JFK to Blu-ray - July 21, 2008
Warner Home Video has announced that they will bring the Oliver Stone film 'JFK: Ultimate Collector's Edition' to Blu-ray on November 11th, day-and-date with the DVD re-release. No technical specs have been announced at this time, but expect a 1080p VC-1 video ...
JFK Blu-ray Screenshots
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