JFK Ultimate Collector's Edition
Directed By: Oliver Stone
Starring: Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, Jack Lemmon, Laurie Metcalf, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci
The latest in Warner's recent wave of "Ultimate Collector's Editions" is Oliver Stone's JFK. The heart of this collection is the exact same Two-Disc Special Edition of Stone's extended director's cut that was released in late 2003, and for an assessment of the film, its DVD presentation, and its extras, I will refer you to Herb Kane's enthusiastic review in which he highly recommended it:
I will only add to Herb's review by saying that I did sit through all of the commentary, and it is definitely worth checking out for fans of Stone or the film. He has discussed and defended this project more than any other he has directed. As a result, he comes to the commentary prepared and offers a comprehensive overview of the film and his decision processes while making it. It is a very informative look into his personal approach to this complex and controversial material.
For this Ultimate Collector's Edition of JFK, Warner has paired the film with a separate DVD release of a documentary called The Kennedy's: America's Emerald Kings. This documentary, which is also being made available separately from this box set, adapts the book of the same name by Thomas Maier to cover the five-generation saga of the Kennedy family in America ranging from the emigration of Patrick J. Kennedy from Ireland during the 19th century potato famine through the present day. It is directed by Robert Kline and narrated by Michael Corbett. While this does sound like an ideal subject for an 800 page book, it proves to be a bit too broad in scope for a documentary clocking just over two hours to contain. Editorially, the film moves at a fairly uneven pace, seeming very rushed in its final segments on Robert, Edward, and the Kennedy Women.
The visual content of the film consists entirely of archival footage and photographs, much of it no doubt accessed from the Kennedy library, and the availability of this footage is one of the real attractions of this documentary. It is possible that it also contributes to the unevenness of the film's structure, though, as things may be tilted in the direction of the footage that was available to the detriment of the completeness of the portrait of the family.
One thing I liked about the film is that it looked at the Kennedy family from the perspective of their Irish Catholic immigrant roots, which is a part of their foundation that other biographers sometimes ignore. The early part of the film detailing the rise to prominence of the Kennedy's in the often bigoted world of Boston politics paints an intriguing picture of the American political landscape in the late 19th century. A little more information about the Fitzgerald family might have been interesting as well, but it is nevertheless some fascinating history.
The documentary is refreshingly devoid of the sensationalist nature of many Kennedy family biographies, but at times, it steers clear of controversial elements so completely that it seems to be obscuring the true complexity of its subjects to paint an excessively rosy picture. In the segment on Joseph Kennedy, the narration mentions that he had a reputation for marital infidelity. That seems about right and I do not really need any more detail than that to get the idea. The rest of the film is rarely so straightforward, though. When discussing Ted Kennedy, it mentions the Chappaquiddick incident as one of a couple of reasons why he had trouble securing his party's presidential nomination over Jimmy Carter, but never actually tells the viewer what the Chappaquiddick incident was. Other omissions and soft-pedalings are just strange, such as jumping from coverage of Robert Kennedy's campaign for the 1968 Democratic nomination for President straight to a voiceover of his brother delivering his eulogy without mentioning how he died.
All in all, the documentary leaves a lot to be desired as far as delivering on what it seems to promise, but the copious amounts of archival footage and the unique perspective of looking at the family from the perspective of their immigrant Irish Catholic roots makes it worth a viewing for those interested in the Kennedy family. Personally, I do not think I will watch this documentary all the way through again, but I will likely seek out the Thomas Maier book from which it was adapted.
It is presented in color 4:3 video with English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound and available English and French Subtitles. Due to the exclusively archival nature of its content, video quality is all over the place, but it is presented accurately and spread across a dual-layered disc with few if any compression artifacts. Running time is 133 minutes.
In addition to the documentary, what sets this Ultimate Collector's Edition apart from the Two-Disc Special Edition that preceded it is its deluxe packaging including numerous physical extras. All of the contents are held within a sturdy cardboard box with a double folded spine that allows the front cover to open up to reveal an image of a weathered American flag.
Inside the box, the two-disc special edition DVDs are packaged in a standard Amaray-style case with a hinged tray allowing it to accommodate both discs. The Kennedy's: America's Emerald Kings documentary is packaged in its own Amaray case with an insert inside the case including a replica JFK campaign pin.
A 38 page hardcover book begins with an "introduction" Essay, includes profiles and select filmographies for Kevin Costner, Sissy Spacek, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pesci, Gary Oldman, Oliver Stone, has a page of "Did You Know?" trivia, and concludes with an Essay entitled "A Man Alone: The Trials of Jim Garrison and Oliver Stone". The above materials are accompanied by numerous production stills and images from the film.
The remainder of the contents are included in cardboard folders and/or translucent paper pouches, and include:
- Replica documents from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library:
- Typewritten text of JFK Inaugural address
- Postcard from JFK to mother Rose sent upon arrival in Washington in April 1930.
- Two handwritten letters from a young JFK to his father
- A 1961 State Department Telegram including text of a message of support from Kennedy to Charles De Gaulle concerning his suppression of an attempted coup d'état in Algeria.
- An April 28, 1961 letter from Lyndon Johnson to JFK with a summary "Evaluation of the USA's Space Program"
- 20 Glossy Photo Cards with images of JFK from various stages of his life and political career
- Six double-sided glossy photo cards with pictures of actors in character on one side with a smaller picture of the real life character they play in the film with accompanying biographical text on the facing side. Cards are:
- Kevin Costner/Jim Garrison
- Donald Sutherland/L. Fletcher Prouty
- Tommy Lee Jones/Clay Shaw
- Walter Matthau/Russell B. Long
- Beata Pozniak/Marina Oswald
- Gary Oldman/Lee Harvey Oswald.
This Ultimate Collector's Edition will appeal to über-fans of the movie and would make a nice gift for someone who is a fan but does not yet own the Two-Disc Special Edition. The main enticement to those who already own the Two-Disc Special Edition will be the new documentary The Kennedy's: America's Emerald Kings which proves to be a less comprehensive look at the Irish-American political dynasty than it initially promises to be, but still contains a lot of unique archival footage for those interested in the subject matter. This documentary is also available separately. The highlight of the physical extras are reproductions of a number of documents courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.