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DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
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Oliver Stone's The Untold History of the United States Blu-Ray Review
- Studio: Warner Brothers
- Distributed By: N/A
- Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
- Aspect Ratio:
- Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
- Subtitles: English
- Rating: Not Rated
- Run Time: 12 Hr. 36 Minutes (Including Extras), 56 Min Per Episode
- Package Includes: Blu-ray
- Case Type:
- Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
- Release Date: 10/15/2013
- MSRP: $49.99
The Production Rating: 4/5Long before I found myself working in information technology, and long before I found my love of home theater I was a college history geek. My college studies went toward a history degree. I enjoyed history and I still do. When Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States appeared on Showtime, I was immediately interested in what Stone's method for addressing history would be.
Stone's work for many will be dismissed before it even gets going due to a perceived (and at points, unfortunately accurate) bias in his recounting of historical events. There will also be a lot of those who will see the similarities between this work and the works of Howard Zinn, and there are a lot of great similarities.
The problem I have with Stone's work is that while it provides a lot of very accurate information that conveys a different view of the history of the US, it often finds itself bogged down in what historians think of as implied intent. Because many historical figures are dead, and because we have no idea of their actual thoughts at historical points there are some elements that are inferred. For historical narratives in film everything from conversations to behavior are implied. The audience for most of this accepts it as a way to get across the key points - especially true in biographies.
But for historians, these narrative flourishes can help change or alter the way in which we feel about events. Stone may view this as "the Untold History", but what makes this series either a provocative piece of film or a series you quickly reject is largely built on the intent that is implied of the historical figures.
I tended to find this most egregious in relation to certain figures, where not only was intent implied but it seemed as though Stone was inferring upon the actors a near prophetic vision that would enable them to see the outcomes of their decisions long before taking them.
The law of unintended consequences rarely exists within this work, as all of the consequences seem to be portrayed as either intended or fully foreseeable, and many of the historical figures are portrayed with intent that fits the narrative of events rather then a more hands off presentation of facts.
Stone's work will be hindered by this; I feel as though a large audience would have watched something like this and if presented with facts, photos and events he might have had some real impact in changing minds about a different way to look at history. But his narration and implied intent work as a disservice to a solid, well rendered effort.
I should add one piece to this: Stone's narration here is not very good. It may just be me, but his seeming monotone drive to tell the story quickly becomes a drone that is difficult to slog through; I found myself breaking this series up over more then a week to make sure that I had an adequate view of the episodes.
The Episodes are:
Chapter 1: World War II
Chapter 2: Roosevelt, Truman & Wallace
Chapter 3: The Bomb
Chapter 4: The Cold War: 1945–1950
Chapter 5: The 50s Eisenhower, the Bomb & the Third World.
Chapter 6: JFK: To the Brink
Chapter 7: Johnson, Nixon & Vietnam: Reversal of Fortune
Chapter 8: Reagan, Gorbachev & Third World: Revival of Fortune
Chapter 9: Bush & Clinton: Squandered Peace - New World Order
Chapter 10: Bush & Obama: Age of Terror
In the end, I found some of the episodes to be cut in a way that made his specific case; and a few that I thought didn't work as well as intended. Specifically, I found some episodes (Eisenhower, Kennedy and Carter) to be amongst the weakest and most problematic as far as intent and prophetic vision assigned. It's sometimes easy to imply that the outcome should be known, but historians have a duty to remember that most historical figures, unless myths, are humans and do not have the ability to see into the future. These episodes presented some real problems that I feel will probably cause many audience members to simply walk away.
Stone's work is interesting.. but it is not as good as it could be, and is not so much history as it is history as interpreted through a narrative constructed by the author. There is nothing wrong with that - as long as you take it for what it is, a viewpoint.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
This is presented in 1080P AVC, and is mostly a Ken Burns style documentary. What works here is that photographic stills especially black and white are amazingly crisp and help sell the narrative stone wants to get across. Some archive footage however is in rather poor shape and being upscaled to 1080P does not improve in any way on the errors contained within.
Still, in a title that should be compared to something like Burn's Civil War it does an effective job of getting the content across.
Audio Rating: 2/5The audio is presented in DTS-MA 5.1, but might as well have presented in Mono. The entire series is narrated by Stone, and it is a choice I wish that could have been changed. Stone's narration reminds me of several bad audio books I've had to suffer though; he stays mostly monotone and just drills right through it. In some ways, it reminds me of a college professor I had, though even in that class we took breaks for levity.
Special Features: 4/5A Conversation with History: Tariq Ali And Oliver Stone 1080P, MPEG4, 102 minutes: Executive producer Oliver Stone and author/political philosopher Tariq Ali have a wide reaching discussion about what society knows and doesn't know about history.
World War I, The Russian Revolution, & Woodrow Wilson: Roots of Empire 1080P, MPEG4: This is one of the bonus episodes which tells the story of the lead up to World War I and the rise of industry within the US.
[b]1920–1940: Roosevelt, Hitler, and Stalin: The Battle Of Ideas 1080P, MPEG4, 56 minutes. While stating it only goes to 1940, this title actually seems to extend fairly deep into WWII, by my brief look a guess of 1942 would be more accurate as a title. This episode focuses on the Great Depression, New Deal, Economic standards, poverty, racism and other issues in America.