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HTF DVD REVIEW: NIXON - Election Year Edition



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#1 of 6 OFFLINE   Timothy E

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Posted August 25 2008 - 05:26 PM

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Studio: Hollywood Pictures (Walt Disney Home Video)
Year: 2008
Rated: R
Film Length: 3 hours, 32 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.40:1)
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish


Release Date: August 19, 2008

The Movie
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“Nixon” is a character study of Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States. Released theatrically in 1995, Oliver Stone directed this film and collaborated on the screenplay with Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson.

Film buffs will appreciate the opening sequence, which is evocative of Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane”. “Citizen Kane” begins with Charles Foster Kane living the end of his life in isolation in his palace of Xanadu. “Nixon” begins with Richard Nixon living the end of his presidency in isolation in the White House. The analogy is fitting since both men were at the top of the world before losing everything.

The movie covers Nixon’s life from his childhood in Whittier, California, until his resignation from the presidency in 1974. The story in “Nixon” jumps forward and backward in time between vignettes of Nixon’s childhood and his political career. Although it is a very different movie, the narrative in “Nixon” is not unlike Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” (released in 1994) in its non-linear approach.

Anthony Hopkins plays Nixon as a clumsy man who never appears to be comfortable in his own skin. Hopkins does a fantastic job of emulating Nixon’s mannerisms and posture, even though he does not resemble Nixon much.

This movies is notable for its large cast of first-rate actors, including Hopkins. They include Joan Allen (Pat Nixon), Powers Boothe (Alexander Haig), Ed Harris (E. Howard Hunt), Bob Hoskins (J. Edgar Hoover), James Woods (H.R. Haldeman), and many other A-list stars. Paul Sorvino should have won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Henry Kissinger.

In 1995, Entertainment Weekly called this “The best movie of the year!” Although I may not have agreed with that assessment in 1995, this movie definitely stands up better than I remember. I recall being somewhat underwhelmed when I saw the theatrical cut in 1995. This version of “Nixon” is the extended director’s cut with nearly 30 minutes of additional footage integrated back into the narrative after being excised from the theatrical version. The additional scenes seem to improve the movie and enhance the portrait of Nixon’s life and character. Although there are minor liberties taken with factual detail, the changes are employed for dramatic effect, and not to alter the historical record.

For example, this extended version includes a scene in which Nixon meets with CIA director Richard Helms(Sam Waterston). Helms was a career CIA officer who saw presidents come and go during his tenure, and he states his reluctance to have the president micro-manage his agency. The tone of this confrontational scene is consistent with the historical record in that it is believed that Nixon and Helms had a strained relationship. The scene departs from the historical record to the extent that Helms’ office is filled with orchids. In fact, Richard Helms was not a breeder of orchids. James Angleton, the chief of CIA counter-intelligence at the time, was known for his fondness for orchids. So why did the screen-writers fudge these facts? They did so in order to have Nixon talk about his dislike of flowers, which he says “remind me of death.” Nixon had two brothers who passed away at a young age, and the scent of flowers reminded him of times in mourning, and of the tragedies of his youth.

Except for some minor tweaks, the story seems to stay fairly true to the historical record, at least to the extent of details that are known and have been recounted by the persons who were there. The Watergate scandal is dealt with superficially, but necessarily so, since the historical record is somewhat murky regarding Nixon’s knowledge and extent of responsibility, even given his admissions several years later in television interviews with David Frost.

This movie is more enjoyable if you have some prior knowledge about the Cabinet of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Otherwise, it could be very easy to get lost in portions of the narrative. Certainly, if you knew nothing about Watergate before seeing this movie, the story could be hard to follow, but it rewards you if you have knowledge about this era of history.

Video
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The video is anamorphic wide-screen 2:40:1. The previous extended-version DVD released in 2002 was not anamorphic. The video quality on this DVD is solid. Many scenes have a graininess to them, which is deliberate by the film-makers, so cannot be attributable to defects in the transfer from film. “Nixon” has multiple scenes of archival footage from the 1960s and 1970s which have been cut into the film to lend authenticity. There are also scenes filmed by Oliver Stone in the 1990s which are deliberately grainy or fuzzy to match up with the historical footage. Most of the cinematography has a conventional clarity, however, so it enhances the reality of the scenes rather than detracts from it. I can find no fault in this anamorphic transfer.

Audio
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This movie has 3 audio tracks. The first track is English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. There are also 2 separate audio commentaries by Oliver Stone on tracks 2 and 3. Oliver Stone has a solid grasp on this chapter of history. Whether or not you agree with Stone’s political views, there is no denying that his commentary is interesting, whether to place the scenes in context or to enhance your understanding of history. Disc 1 also features French and Spanish subtitles that display on the English soundtrack. Disc 2 has only English subtitles available.

Special Features
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The feature is on disc 1 of this 2-disc edition, and the special features are all on disc 2. They include all of the following:

Deleted Scenes(58:18): The extended scenes that have been integrated back into the movie are shown here with introductions and explanations by Oliver Stone.

Beyond Nixon(35:16): A documentary with historians and authors commenting on the Nixon presidency, including author Gore Vidal and former White House counsel John Dean.

Charlie Rose Show (55:10): Charlie Rose’s interview with Oliver Stone on January 2, 1996, regarding “Nixon”.

Original Theatrical Trailer (4:32): Cast and crew discuss the fight choreography of the film.

Previews: Trailers for other Disney DVD movies that can be watched individually. These trailers also show automatically at the beginning of disc 2.

Conclusion
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“Nixon: Election Year Edition” is an entertaining, dramatic portrait of Richard Nixon’s character, life, and presidency. If you are interested in this era of history, then this movie deserves 5 stars out of 5. If you are a movie buff with little interest in history, then this may not be your cup of tea, and for most people this movie might be given an average of 3 stars out of 5. This 2-disc edition offers over 6 hours of footage, not including the 2 separate director commentaries of 3 ½ hours each. If you have any interest in American history, this is a great primer for learning about one of the most controversial U.S. presidents with its wealth of documentaries and archival footage. The anamorphic transfer and the special features make it a worthwhile upgrade for those who have one of the earlier editions.

#2 of 6 OFFLINE   Nathan V

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Posted August 25 2008 - 11:44 PM

Great review, Timothy. This is a personal favorite of mine, mostly because of Oliver Stone's muscular direction. Glad to hear the director's cut is an improvement.

Regards,
Nathan
The Tree of Life / Brad Pitt / Sean Penn / Directed by Terrence Malick / 2010

#3 of 6 OFFLINE   Russell G

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Posted August 26 2008 - 04:57 AM

nice to hear about the Video! I'll be getting this to upgrade the previous one in the boxset Posted Image

#4 of 6 OFFLINE   PatrickDA

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Posted August 26 2008 - 02:02 PM

This is clearly the BEST "Nixon" has ever looked on home video. Easy pickup if you're a fan of the film or of Oliver Stone's. My pick for Best Picture of 1995 and one of the top three of the decade.

#5 of 6 OFFLINE   Brett_M

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Posted August 26 2008 - 11:32 PM

Great review. A favorite of mine, too.
Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it meant to roast in the depths of the Sloar that day I can tell you.

#6 of 6 OFFLINE   Frank@N

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Posted August 27 2008 - 07:04 AM

Not crazy about the packaging or the 'tagline edition', but I'll be getting this eventually.