- Jul 8, 2001
Studio: Columbia Tri-Star
Film Length: 122 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio: DD 5.1 Surround
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Note: because of difficulty obtaining a screening copy of this disc from Columbia Tri-Star Home Entertainment, this review is being posted after the street date of the DVD. Sorry for any inconvenience.
"We live in fictitious times," said Michael Moore in accepting last year's Academy Award for Best Documentary for "Bowling for Columbine." So began a career odyssey that led to Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore's wide-ranging assessment of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. The film makes no effort to hide its political agenda. Moore asks questions - and frequently provides his own answers - about why President Bush and others decided to invade Iraq. He explores links between the Bush family and mid-east royalty who may or may not have connections to terrorism. Whether these passages are compelling is a decision for each viewer, and certainly most will bring their pre-formed political affiliations to the table.
Is the film misleading? Not more than your typical stump speech. Whether "Fahrenheit 9/11" speaks to you depends on what you believe already. Most people have already made up their minds, about both the war and the film. In that one's enjoyment of the film hinges on his or her political affiliation, criticisms that the film is biased or misleading ring hollow. Was there anyone who went to this film not knowing what was in store? Then who was misled? You might disagree with Moore's politics, and you might criticize his technique, but there is no denying his talent, or his passion.
It's difficult to assign a star rating here, as this is essentially a hodgepodge of different sources cobbled together, from home video footage of the Florida classroom in which President Bush learned of the 9/11 attacks, to broadcast news footage cropped to fit the wide aspect ratio. Footage shot exclusively for the film generally looks good and is pleasingly detailed, though some has the sickly pallor of mediocre digital video. Close-ups, as in the interview with Abdul Henderson, are nicely detailed in the foreground, but there's some odd ringing and noise in the background.
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The audio track here is, like the transfer, adapted from a number of sources. However the score and Moore's narration have a wonderful clarity and nuance that set Moore's voice apart from the other effects. He's an expressive narrator anyway, of course, but this is a track that really adds something to the experience of the film. It also is responsible for the single most powerful moment in the film: In full surround - and with an all-black frame - we hear two planes fly overhead, from back to front, and crash into the World Trade Center. It's so startlingly lifelike that it's difficult to describe.
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The Release of Fahrenheit 9/11 is a featurette with a variety of interviews with and statements from people only loosely (or not at all) associated with the film. In addition to statements from various members of congress (and an unfortunate clip in which a White House spokesman says one needn't actually see the film in order to know it contains many factual inaccuracies) is includes a great many "man-in-the-street" interviews with people coming out of the theater. I find these interviews to be ridiculous in almost any context, and particularly here, where the issues involved are so incredibly complicated. The featurette is worth a look, but it's a real grab bag.
The People of Iraq on the Eve of Invasion is a montage of children playing and Iraqis talking about the imminent war. Many of those interviewed express sentiments that would likely - and logically - turn them into what we now refer to as the insurgency. However there is no mention of the horrors of Saddam Hussein's long tenure at the country's helm.
An Eyewitness Account from Samara uses footage obtained by a Swedish Journalist in an attempt to illustrate the effect that cultural differences between troops and Iraqi citizens have on relations. The journalist rides along on an early morning raid in Samara, where a number of Iraqis are led away in hoods. Later, an injured Iraqi is mocked and abused by American soldiers. The most shocking aspect of the footage is that they would behave that way in full view of a reporter with a video camera. It should be noted that this was shot three months before the pictures from Abu Ghraib became public. The journalist says that he tried to give his story to the American news media, and that they told him they weren't interested, then later accused him of acting irresponsibly in not turning the video over to the authorities.
Lila Lipscomb at the Washington D.C. Premiere is home video of a short speech by the woman who drives the second act of the film's narrative.
New Scenes include a profile of the all-retiree, all-volunteer homeland security Coast Guard force in Miami, whose law enforcement authority consists solely of calling the real coast guard if they see anything suspicious while riding around in their fishing boat. It's easy to see why this scene was cut: presumably there is a real Coast Guard presence there that does most of the patrolling, and the scene mocks a few well-meaning seniors who are trying to help their country as best they can.
An extended interview with Abdul Henderson goes into more detail with the marine who served in Iraq and became entirely disenchanted with the war, the armed services, and the administration that sent them there.
A scene at the release of one hundred Abu Ghraib prisoners gives many Iraqi civilians a chance to vent their frustrations about the way they've been treated during the occupation. It's good footage, and is likely an accurate depiction of what it's like to be on the business end of such an arrangement in this or any war.
President Bush's Rose Garden press briefing following his meeting with the 9/11 commission is included in full. It's not the president's finest hour, as he becomes irritated whenever a reporter tries to find out what was discussed in the meeting.
The most contentious series of questions from National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice's testimony before the 9/11 commission is included. Dr. Rice does not acquit herself particularly well, as she is made to seem alternately forgetful and conspiratorial by a member of the commission who will suffer no wasted syllables.
"Arab-American Comedians - Their Acts and Experiences After 9/11" is a short doc/deleted scene about, well, what it sounds like. Not surprisingly, people were not too keen on jokes about Muslims immediately after 9/11.
There's no commentary from Moore or anyone else, which is less surprising when you consider that the film already has a Moore commentary track - the narration.
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This is top-notch release of an important title. The film shattered every box office record for documentaries, so it's no surprise Columbia has pulled out all the stops, piling on as many extra features as possible and delivering a superb audio track (and a transfer that's probably as good as can be expected). Many outlets will no doubt refuse to stock this title, just as it was a struggle to release it theatrically. That's an unwise decision both financially and politically - the answer is never censorship. Only by challenging one another's ideas with ideas of our own do we progress and grow into something greater than what we are.