Bowling For Columbine Blu-Ray Review (Criterion)

Michael Moore’s Oscar-winning film comes to Blu-ray. 4 Stars

Bowling For Columbine, Michael Moore’s Academy Award-winning examination of gun violence in America, makes its Blu-ray debut from the Criterion Collection. Though the film is over fifteen years old, and while some of its more gimmicky moments may not play as smoothly as they once did, the majority of the film still feels relevant today.

Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Released: 15 Nov 2002
Rated: R
Runtime: 120 min
Director: Michael Moore
Genre: Documentary, Crime, Drama
Cast: Michael Moore, Salvador Allende, Jacobo Arbenz, Mike Bradley
Writer(s): Michael Moore
Plot: Filmmaker Michael Moore explores the roots of America's predilection for gun violence.
IMDB rating: 8.0
MetaScore: 72

Disc Information
Studio: Criterion
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: R
Run Time: 2 Hr. 0 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Criterion Clear Keep Case (Scanavo)
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 06/19/2018
MSRP: $39.95

The Production: 4/5

The word “documentary” often conjures a specific image in people’s minds. Often, there’s an expectation that a documentary will chronicle specific events as they’ve unfolded, with those events presented without comment or judgment, so that the viewer can make up their own mind. There’s an expectation that a documentary should present truth without editorialization, that it should be the filmmaking equivalent of an encyclopedia entry, rather than something from the op-ed page.

That’s not what Michael Moore does.

It is perhaps best to think of Moore’s films as being “nonfiction” rather than “documentary,” for Moore’s style is to use his films as a form of advocacy. Moore’s goal, as a filmmaker, is not to present a series of unconnected facts and to ask the viewer to draw a conclusion. Moore’s intent, rather, is to present a thesis and then build a case to prove it. This may be disorienting for some viewers who come in with different expectations for what a documentary should be, but may be better appreciated so long as the viewer understands that they are watching the filmmaking equivalent of a personal essay.

Originally released in 2002 in the wake of both the 1999 Columbine school shooting in Colorado and the September 11, 2001 attacks, the film is Moore’s examination of gun culture in America. It is a huge, sprawling piece, with Moore leapfrogging from the shooters’ alleged visit to a bowling alley prior to their shooting spree, to acts of domestic terrorism perpetrated by American citizens, to foreign wars and police actions undertaken by the American military. Moore seeks to examine the big picture, looking at a variety of potential causes as he tries to understand what could have led two high school students to perpetrate such a horrendous act of violence.

Frankly speaking, there are parts of the film that have not aged as well as others. While Moore can be an enormously sympathetic presence, offering comfort and understanding to his interview subjects, at other times, he is capable of being equally glib and condescending. An interview with then-National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston was seen as an ambush at the time of the film’s release. Viewed today, it is not so much Moore’s interview itself with Heston that feels problematic. Heston seemed to expect a friendly interview and was not prepared for Moore’s tougher line of questioning, but Moore’s line of questioning does not seem particularly out of bounds when one considers that Heston was the head of an advocacy organization. What does feel uncomfortable is when Heston moves to end the interview, and Moore persists in following Heston around the property as Heston tries to retreat. Moore’s point, that Heston’s advocacy seems disconnected from the reality that gun violence victims can face, and that it was insensitive for Heston to appear at a pro-gun rally in the Columbine community in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, would probably have been better made if Moore had let the interview stand on its own without the added gimmicks.

But there are times when a good gimmick can go a long way, and when it works, it really works. There’s a sequence that remains stunning to this date, when Moore meets with two Columbine victims who suffered profound injuries due to bullets originally purchased at K-Mart. Taking the two students to K-Mart headquarters and forcing the company’s public relations people to acknowledge their presence, the stunt does lead to K-Mart making a commitment to phase out the sale of the handgun ammunition that led to those injuries. It’s an example of how being persistent and outspoken can affect change. The reason that this works better than the Heston exchange is because Moore is seeking a more tangible goal.

Moore is also a master at giving people enough rope to hang themselves. When he approaches his subjects in this manner, rather than trying to trap them in “gotcha” exchanges, he’s much more successful. One interview subject, for instance, claims to have been unfairly persecuted by being singled out as the number two potential threat in the school when he was a high school student. On the face of it, it seems concerning that a school would label a student in that way. But when Moore allows him to continue speaking, the subject continues on to say that he was practicing making all sorts of bombs and that his classmates knew it; furthermore, he was disappointed that he wasn’t considered the number one threat and annoyed that the school wouldn’t disclose the name of whoever was higher on the list than he was. It’s this type of exchange that Moore excels at. Ultimately, what his subjects choose to reveal about themselves says more than what Moore extracts when he resorts to badgering them.

The most compelling question that Moore raises in the film is the one that remains unanswered. At one point, Moore displays a series of statistics to show how other developed nations, which have the same or similar violent histories and/or access to guns that Americans do, have significantly less gun violence than America does. Moore wonders out loud why this is. He spends a good portion of the film looking into multiple possibilities, and ultimately Moore questions if a culture of fear is the underlying culprit. The disparity between the statistics in America and other developed nations can’t be easily ignored or dismissed. Looking back on the film nearly two decades after its original release, this is the point that remains most relevant today.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

Bowling For Columbine is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Though finished on 35mm film, the movie is cobbled together from a variety of sources, including different film and video formats, many of which were standard definition sources. Simply put, the nature of this film’s creation means that it will never be a reference quality presentation. But with that caveat out of the way, the transfer here is nearly invisible. On very rare occasions, there might be a slight bit of speckling or a tiny scratch or two on the interpositive used to create this transfer, but for the most part, it’s a transparent effort. Though the quality of the imagery frequently shifts, these changes are never jarring, and this disc is very faithful to the film’s original theatrical presentation.

Audio: 4/5

The audio is presented in a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 format. This 2.0 mix is the film’s original matrixed surround track. Audio is generally clear and understandable, with some of the more vintage clips exhibiting their age, but with newer elements like Moore’s interviews and narration sounding perfectly clear and understandable.

Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

MGM’s original DVD release included a 5.1 soundtrack, but unfortunately, that option has not been included on this Criterion release.

Special Features: 4/5

Michael Moore Makes A Movie (34:59, HD) – A brand new featurette created by Criterion for this release that examines Moore’s filmmaking process. Moore and his frequent collaborators talk about working on Bowling For Columbine and compare and contrast the experience of working on this film with Moore’s other productions. This is a particularly good retrospective on the film.

Film Festival Scrapbook (12:00, originally SD) – A compilation of interviews that Moore gave during the film’s original 2002 press tour in Cannes, Toronto and London.

Charlie Rose (24:47, originally SD) – An excerpt from the October 8, 2002 broadcast of the Charlie Rose’s PBS show with Moore appearing as a guest. They have a lively and interesting discussion about both the film and the politics and news of the day.

Moore Returns To Colorado (25:09, originally SD) – Moore appears at the University of Denver on February 26th, 2003, approximately six months after the release of the film, for a lecture.

Oscar Speech (13:01, originally SD) – Moore discusses winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary and his controversial acceptance speech in comments recorded several weeks after the ceremony.

The Awful Truth: Corporate Cops (07:17, originally SD) – The complete “Corporate Cops” segment from Moore’s 2000 television series The Awful Truth, which was excerpted in Bowling For Columbine.

Trailer (01:58, HD) – The original theatrical trailer utilizes many of the film’s most humorous moments in a very effective manner.

Booklet – The fold-out booklet includes a new essay by journalist Eric Hynes, notes on the transfer, and art from the production.

Overall: 4/5

Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine is a film which sadly still feels relevant today. Though the film’s use of a variety of sources of varying quality means that this will never be a reference presentation, the film looks and sounds as it did on opening night. In addition to the new transfer, this Criterion edition also contains an excellent new featurette on the making of the film, along with most (but not all) of the bonus features from the original MGM DVD release. Fans of the film may wish to hold on to their older DVD to keep that release’s 5.1 soundtrack, commentary track (which was recorded by Moore’s production office interns and was frankly a chore to listen to) and a few other minor features that didn’t carry over. Ultimately, the new documentary (“Michael Moore Makes A Movie”) is a fine addition to the set and of higher quality than just about anything missing from the original release.  (The omission of the 5.1 track is baffling.)  More than fifteen years after its original theatrical release, Criterion has put together a worthwhile Blu-ray edition of Bowling For Columbine.

Published by

Josh Steinberg

editor,member

30 Comments

  1. Terrific review of material that exists outside the edges of HTF’s normal boundaries. As a heads up, the mods will be -heavily- scrutinizing the responses posted in this thread. Keep it clean and talk about the material, not your personal take on the issue.

  2. bigshot

    I totally wrote off Michael Moore when it got to the end of this movie. The way he treated Heston was despicable. It was obvious that he wasn't all there. That's heartless.

    Without getting into political jeopardy on this forum, I would state that, while I felt a bit uncomfortable at the tail end of the Heston interview, the man was, even then, an icon of the NRA, and his "Cold, dead hands" speech pretty much sums up the way the very divisive 2nd Amendment is handled today. I thought Moore's badgering of Heston was a bit over-the-top, but he made his point. He could have edited out a couple of minutes and the message would have been just as salient.

  3. bigshot

    I totally wrote off Michael Moore when it got to the end of this movie. The way he treated Heston was despicable. It was obvious that he wasn't all there. That's heartless.

    I enjoyed the movie up until that point. Heston was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and Michael Moore bullied him. It was a sickening sight. Ruined the movie for me, and my respect for Michael Moore.

  4. It's fair to criticize Moore for appearing to bully Heston during that interview, but the facts are that as active President and face of the NRA he was fair game; he was not then currently diagnosed with Alzheimer's (so Moore couldn't have known); and he was active on the campaign trail for weeks after that working to get Bush and Republicans control of the House and Senate; and he was on pre-production for his next film. He was fair game.

    Moore was quoted in an interview at the time saying, "God I hope he doesn't get any bad diseases, I wouldn't wish that on anybody. I hope he lives a long life. I feel that the argument on my side of the fence is strong enough that I don't need him to be weakened by any disease." Heston was not diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the time.

    The other interesting thing about this encounter was that Moore was also a member of the NRA, and even paid extra dues to have his membership bumped up to Lifetime Member status so that he would be eligible to run against Heston for the presidency of the NRA. His plan was to campaign and recruit 5 million more Americans to join (that shared his views) at the lowest fee level, and they would turn around and vote him in as president, and then he would win and dismantle the organization from within. (A strategy later straight out of the Bannon playbook).

    But to me the film still stands up as a valid documentary and mirror of a gun-obsessed society.

    I don't think these are provocative comments, but Moore is someone it's hard for people to be neutral on, and I just wanted to say don't let the Heston interview discourage you from an otherwise thoughtful and entertaining documentary.

  5. Hollywoodaholic

    It's fair to criticize Moore for appearing to bully Heston during that interview, but the facts are that as active President and face of the NRA he was fair game; he was not then currently diagnosed with Alzheimer's (so Moore couldn't have known); and he was active on the campaign trail for weeks after that working to get Bush and Republicans control of the House and Senate; and he was on pre-production for his next film. He was fair game.

    Moore was quoted in an interview at the time saying, "God I hope he doesn't get any bad diseases, I wouldn't wish that on anybody. I hope he lives a long life. I feel that the argument on my side of the fence is strong enough that I don't need him to be weakened by any disease." Heston was not diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the time.

    The other interesting thing about this encounter was that Moore was also a member of the NRA, and even paid extra dues to have his membership bumped up to Lifetime Member status so that he would be eligible to run against Heston for the presidency of the NRA. His plan was to campaign and recruit 5 million more Americans to join (that shared his views) at the lowest fee level, and they would turn around and vote him in as president, and then he would win and dismantle the organization from within. (A strategy later straight out of the Bannon playbook).

    But to me the film still stands up as a valid documentary and mirror of a gun-obsessed society.

    I don't think these are provocative comments, but Moore is someone it's hard for people to be neutral on, and I just wanted to say don't let the Heston interview discourage you from an otherwise thoughtful and entertaining

    documentary.

    Though Heston at the time of the interview might not have been diagnosed he was clearly suffering. It is painful to watch and should have been deleted from the film.

  6. Hollywoodaholic

    It's fair to criticize Moore for appearing to bully Heston during that interview, but the facts are that as active President and face of the NRA he was fair game; he was not then currently diagnosed with Alzheimer's (so Moore couldn't have known); and he was active on the campaign trail for weeks after that working to get Bush and Republicans control of the House and Senate; and he was on pre-production for his next film. He was fair game.

    Moore was quoted in an interview at the time saying, "God I hope he doesn't get any bad diseases, I wouldn't wish that on anybody. I hope he lives a long life. I feel that the argument on my side of the fence is strong enough that I don't need him to be weakened by any disease." Heston was not diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the time.

    The other interesting thing about this encounter was that Moore was also a member of the NRA, and even paid extra dues to have his membership bumped up to Lifetime Member status so that he would be eligible to run against Heston for the presidency of the NRA. His plan was to campaign and recruit 5 million more Americans to join (that shared his views) at the lowest fee level, and they would turn around and vote him in as president, and then he would win and dismantle the organization from within. (A strategy later straight out of the Bannon playbook).

    But to me the film still stands up as a valid documentary and mirror of a gun-obsessed society.

    I don't think these are provocative comments, but Moore is someone it's hard for people to be neutral on, and I just wanted to say don't let the Heston interview discourage you from an otherwise thoughtful and entertaining documentary.

    I didn't want to muck up this review thread but I have to respond to this.
    Because Heston was not diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease at the time doesn't make it any less painful to watch. I have had three relatives with Alzheimer's, and even though they were not "diagnosed" until the disease was in the later stages, the confusion was there long before, and family members recognized what they were suffering from before the diagnosis.

    Michael Moore had to have known something was wrong with Heston, but he insisted on needling him anyway, and he kept the scene in the film.

    I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would think that is OK. To me it is on the same level of killing live animals for dramatic effect like they used to do in movies. Completely uncalled for, and sickening.

  7. TravisR

    I find it weirdly honest that they left the Charlton Heston interview in the movie. Everyone (including Moore) had to know it would be criticized by many people.

    I don't think Moore questions himself much… just other people.

  8. TravisR

    I find it weirdly honest that they left the Charlton Heston interview in the movie. Everyone (including Moore) had to know it would be criticized by many people.

    It's a weird moment because Moore tries to make Heston feel bad for a girl's death, even though there's no tangible connection.

    Was it super-tacky that the NRA would have rallies in towns recently scarred by gun violence? Hell yes.

    Was Heston or the NRA at large responsible for the little girl's death? Not at all.

    IIRC, Moore makes no case that lax gun laws or the NRA had anything to do with that tragedy – it's just the juxtaposition of the killing and the rally that come across poorly.

    But it's super-manipulative and bizarre that Moore badgers Heston to apologize to the dead girl. It makes Moore look worse than Heston – Moore openly uses the image of a dead six-year-old for his own political ends, and it's a terrible choice…

  9. I never saw the movie until I got the Blu-ray a few weeks back. My site's review comes from another critic, one who lambasted its supposed anti-gun/anti-2nd Amendment bent.

    The critic remains a friend, but I can't figure out what movie he saw! "BfC" is a badly flawed movie – and not a very good one, IMO – but it is not an anti-gun screed…

  10. TravisR

    Me too but there's so much in the movie that I find outright depressing that I'm probably going to hold off.

    I saw this movie in theaters when it opened in 2002, and then again when the original MGM DVD came out in 2003 – but I hadn't revisited it since. What I had forgotten was how funny many parts of the movie are. Moore has a comedian's sense of rhythm and timing and knows when to throw in a joke or a bit of sarcasm or an ironic clip to lighten the mood. I remembered the movie being pretty grim (except for the animated sequence in the middle) but I was surprised at how many moments I had forgotten that just made me laugh out loud, and where it seemed clear that that was the intent.

    Colin Jacobson

    "BfC" is a badly flawed movie

    I don't know if I would go that far, but one of the things that wasn't really apparent to me in 2002/2003, but which stood out to me this time, was how all over the place the movie was. Moore throws a lot at the wall to see what will stick, and the transitions between material aren't always very smooth. He has a lot of people on his team working on the research end, whether it's fact finding or archival footage, but there are times when he appeals more to your emotion than your intellect. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. But it does mean that the film is much more of a personal essay or opinion piece than it is an encyclopedia article. But there was definitely a huge cultural moment around the release of the film, and I think that, if nothing else, the film is invaluable as a time capsule.

  11. Josh Steinberg

    I don't know if I would go that far, but one of the things that wasn't really apparent to me in 2002/2003, but which stood out to me this time, was how all over the place the movie was. Moore throws a lot at the wall to see what will stick, and the transitions between material aren't always very smooth. He has a lot of people on his team working on the research end, whether it's fact finding or archival footage, but there are times when he appeals more to your emotion than your intellect. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. But it does mean that the film is much more of a personal essay or opinion piece than it is an encyclopedia article. But there was definitely a huge cultural moment around the release of the film, and I think that, if nothing else, the film is invaluable as a time capsule.

    That's all why I think the movie is badly flawed. It plays for emotion rather than theory/purpose and just casts a huge net that fails to catch anything.

    It's basically a series of weird people – James Nichols, anyone – and manipulative events. That whole K-mart stunt was almost as awful as the Heston interview!

  12. The most memorable image to me from the film as I remember (and one that resonates as profoundly today as it did then), is when he interviews a father of a Columbine student at his workplace… and the man is talking about his inability to fathom where these 'kids' are getting these destructive or ideas of killing and causing death from…. and he's standing in front of an ICBM missile at his workplace, which is a weapon designed to fly thousands of miles and kill hundreds of thousands of people. And he works at this plant that builds them. And he can't understand where this sense of kids thinking about killing comes from.

  13. I think that sort of thing is what Moore is best at, showing people in their day to day lives and allowing the inherent contradictions to reveal themselves. He can extract the point from people if he wants, but he’s at his best when he just allows his subjects to paint that picture themselves.

  14. Josh Steinberg

    I saw this movie in theaters when it opened in 2002, and then again when the original MGM DVD came out in 2003 – but I hadn't revisited it since. What I had forgotten was how funny many parts of the movie are. Moore has a comedian's sense of rhythm and timing and knows when to throw in a joke or a bit of sarcasm or an ironic clip to lighten the mood. I remembered the movie being pretty grim (except for the animated sequence in the middle) but I was surprised at how many moments I had forgotten that just made me laugh out loud, and where it seemed clear that that was the intent.

    Yeah, Moore is funny as usual which keeps the movie from being unwatchably sad but the things that depress me are really depressing.

  15. I still remember seeing this movie in my senior year of high school in my College Writing course (the movie had already been out for several years at that point). I'll have to pick up a copy either during this or the next Criterion sale.

  16. Hollywoodaholic

    The most memorable image to me from the film as I remember (and one that resonates as profoundly today as it did then), is when he interviews a father of a Columbine student at his workplace… and the man is talking about his inability to fathom where these 'kids' are getting these destructive or ideas of killing and causing death from…. and he's standing in front of an ICBM missile at his workplace, which is a weapon designed to fly thousands of miles and kill hundreds of thousands of people. And he works at this plant that builds them. And he can't understand where this sense of kids thinking about killing comes from.

    I get that, but I think that's a metaphor stretched to the brink. Yes, at heart we all understand missiles intend to kill, but in reality, they're a pretty abstract concept.

    Guns are tangible. We see gun violence in the news, in movies, on TV, etc. and have a concrete grasp of the damage they do.

    But an ICBM? That's more abstract. While we get the massive harm they can cause, there's not the day-to-day "real world" connection there.

    Moore wants us to connect the missile factory in Colorado with the proliferation of violence, but I think that's an incredible stretch. I think there's about a 0.01% chance the missile factory did anything to "cause" the Columbine shooting…

  17. TravisR

    Yeah, Moore is funny as usual which keeps the movie from being unwatchably sad but the things that depress me are really depressing.

    Moore is clearly bright and clever and can be insightful, but dear God, his self-absorbed smugness gets old.

    Sure, he can be self-deprecating at times, but he usually seems intent on showing that he's the smartest person in the room, and that gets old.

    Moore leaves far too little room for interpretation/other viewpoints. Granted, that's part of what makes his movies stand out, as they're forceful and not wishy-washy about POV, but it also means his movies tend to be overbearing and borderline propaganda…

  18. TravisR

    Yeah, Moore is funny as usual which keeps the movie from being unwatchably sad but the things that depress me are really depressing.

    Moore is clearly bright and clever and can be insightful, but dear God, his self-absorbed smugness gets old.

    Sure, he can be self-deprecating at times, but he usually seems intent on showing that he's the smartest person in the room, and that gets old.

    Moore leaves far too little room for interpretation/other viewpoints. Granted, that's part of what makes his movies stand out, as they're forceful and not wishy-washy about POV, but it also means his movies tend to be overbearing and borderline propaganda…

  19. Admittedly, I'm not the type who generally agrees with the viewpoints and tactics of Moore and those like him, but I did watch this years ago and remember making some very tenouous connections to gun violence. The incident with the little girl who shot herself, I remember Moore trying to blame Dick Clark because his restaurant chain made the mother work late. There was also the part where IIRC he tries to make connections to Lockheed having a major shipping route that ran right through Littleton. Then I remember he visits some idyllic Canadian town and noted that the residents don't even lock their doors (yet the scene is shot in broad, sunny daylight. I don't lock my doors during the day either).

    He also got on Trey Parker and Matt Stone's shitlist for editing the movie in a way that suggested that they created the animated segment.

  20. WillG

    The incident with the little girl who shot herself, I remember Moore trying to blame Dick Clark because his restaurant chain made the mother work late.

    It was a young boy who shot a female classmate, and the mother of the boy had to travel a long way to get to her job at the Clark affiliated restaurant – essentially Moore felt Clark and company took advantage of borderline "slave labor".

    The "gotcha" moment with Clark was a disgrace. It's stuff like that that makes Moore look like a self-aggrandizing showboater much more than an actual documentarian…

  21. Colin Jacobson

    The "gotcha" moment with Clark was a disgrace. It's stuff like that that makes Moore look like a self-aggrandizing showboater much more than an actual documentarian…

    I like to say that Michael Moore makes 'opinion movies' rather than documentaries. And I don't mean that as a critique because they're often opinions that I share but he doesn't have a lack of bias that I feel is needed for someone to be considered a documentarian.

  22. TravisR

    I like to say that Michael Moore makes 'opinion movies' rather than documentaries. And I don't mean that as a critique because they're often opinions that I share but he doesn't have a lack of bias that I feel is needed for someone to be considered a documentarian.

    I think every filmmaker – documentarian and otherwise – is biased. Some just hide it better than others! 🙂

  23. Colin Jacobson

    I think every filmmaker – documentarian and otherwise – is biased. Some just hide it better than others! 🙂

    True. But there's a difference between a bias and an agenda.

  24. Worth

    True. But there's a difference between a bias and an agenda.

    Agree, though I admit in the case of "Bowling", it's not clear what Moore's overall agenda would be.

    The easy assumption is that he'll attack gun owners/2nd Amendment, but that doesn't occur.

    He shows an agenda in parts of the film – mainly "let's attack celebrities like Heston and Dick Clark" – but the overall package never quite comes together…

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