One of the most interesting and hard to interpret events of the last century is the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Theories abound about a conspiracy, but between all the smart minds and all the American people, this is something that is still a mystery. The Kennedy’s are our closest thing to royalty here in the United States; or at least they were. This family has been plagued with misfortune that all started on November 22, 1963. Robert Kennedy, John’s brother was killed five years later just after he had won the California primary, and more recently John F. Kennedy Jr. was killed in a plane crash as his relative, William Kennedy Smith was killed in a skiing accident a few years before. Jackie, the lovely wife of John Kennedy died a few years ago of natural causes, but the events that this movie centers around can’t help but make you think about the losses that this family has endured throughout the years. This is probably Oliver Stone’s most profound movie. To say that about an Oliver stone movie, though, can be said for most any movie that he’s done. Everyone has a favorite and everyone has one that they dislike. I think that out of all his movies, this one is either my favorite or close to it. One thing that this movie did was create a lot of controversy, as most of his movies do. In the end credits, there are several quips that tell some of the things that have happened as a result of this movie. Now that’s a movie with appeal…things happen in our government as a result of a movie! Some say that this movie was robbed of a Best Picture Academy Award for 1991, when Silence of the Lambs took home the Oscar (along with several others). It’s a toss up between the two, as Silence of the Lambs was an outstanding movie in it’s own right, but I happen to believe that in each year, the competition is different (if this movie were to be made last year, I think it would have won hands down).
Kevin Costner, in his first association with Kennedy (Thirteen Days also has him personally “interacting” with Kennedy instead of investigating his death), plays Jim Garrison, the District Attorney of New Orleans. The movie starts just a few days before the fatal bullet (or bullets…who knows) struck down Kennedy. Garrison is concerned as the nation is shocked about the events that took place in Dallas. As we all know, Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) is immediately pinned as the would-be assassin. The story is that he fired three shots from the Texas Book Depository building, the third bullet being the fatal bullet. In essence, that’s it. The last half of the movie concentrates on the bullets and how the government is covering the whole thing up. Garrison is talking to a Senator (Walter Mathau) on a plane some three years later and is convinced by a comment to reopen the investigation. This has been years since Oswald was gunned down by Jack Ruby (Brian Doyle Murray) on TV, who was also said to have ties to the Mafia. Garrison and his team of investigators, most notably Bill Broussard (Michael Rooker) and Lou Ivon (Jay O. Sanders), collaborate and literally try and reconstruct what happened on that day. From what they put together, it’s not hard to imagine that there is a lot of foul play going on in the investigation of the assassination. Key witnesses tell that they have been harassed and that their statements have been changed. Key figures like David Ferrie (Joe Pesci) and Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) don’t tell one word of the truth, as they are considered to be the key figures in what has led up to be the assassination of the President. Clay Shaw is a wealthy New Orleans businessman who is a homosexual, during this time in our country, homosexuality was looked upon as a sin (not like it is now), but one of the few places that it was rampant was in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Garrison is literally obsessed with the whole ordeal. His wife (Sissy Spacek) tries to be understanding, but just gets fed up with his antics. Garrison proclaims that he is doing this so his kids can grow up in a world where freedom reigns and corruption is nonexistent, though the words are hollow as are his promises to his family to spend more time with them. Though the investigation process, the team comes across many people who all seem to know a little something about what happened. We, as people, are told that there were three shots fired from a building by Lee Harvey Oswald, and that the third bullet was the supposed fatal shot. Through the course of the investigation, we learn (based on the facts of the movie) that there were seven shots. People reported that a shot was fired at the grassy knoll in front of the motorcade. A man was hit by a stray fragment from a bullet under a bridge and the supposed “magic bullet” that made seven wounds, including a wound in Kennedy’s throat and two in Connelly. Costner, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, Jay O. Sanders, Sissy Spacek, Joe Pesci, Vincent D’Onofrio, John Candy, Brian Doyle Murray and Donald Sutherland all play key roles in JFK thereby making this probably the movie with the most “star power” in the last 25 years. Words can’t really do it justice.
Video: How does it look?
This is one of Warner’s most acclaimed catalog titles and it’s seen a variety of formats. There was a Blu-ray DigiBook that came out a few years back, but just in time for the 50th Anniversary of this tragedy, we’ve got a new edition. Although this is a new set, the 2.35:1 VC-1 HD image looks identical to my previous DigiBook release. The film stock varies from a typical movie format, to archived footage and some flashback scenes are shown in a gritty black and white for effect. Naturally it’s hard to give this non-linear type of footage a valid score, but by and large this appears to have held up well through the years. Flesh tones are warm and natural and the lack of edge enhancement certainly adds to the effect. Those wanting JFK to look good will be happy and this Ultimate Collector’s Edition certainly delivers in terms of the video portion, though I’m a bit peeved that Warner didn’t do a new 4K restoration.
Audio: How does it sound?
Again, just like the video the audio is the same Dolby TrueHD mix that was on the 2008 Blu-ray DigiBook (hey, if it ain’t broke…). I figured that there would be some sort of loss when the mix was redone, but the sound is remarkably clear and dynamic. The drum rolls that constantly come out of the front channels sound very rich and full, and the dialogue is clear as well. This movie contains just the right amount of dialogue and action that make it worth watching, and the soundtrack makes it all the more interesting to listen to. This is, essentially, a richer and cleaner sound of what was on the previous DVD version(s).
Supplements: What are the extras?
What better way to celebrate the death of a President than by re-packaging and re-releasing what’s been available for years? Ok, in all truth, there are some pretty cool things in this new Ultimate Collector’s Edition, though I have to wonder what – if any – practical use they have? I don’t use my Singin’ in the Rain umbrella, I don’t use my drink coasters from Casablanca. You get the idea. All of the features from the 2008 DigiBook are still present and we do get the Extended cut of the film which brings it to 205 minutes. Then again what’s 17 more minutes to an already long movie? Let’s delve in and see what’s what, shall we?
JFK: To The Brink – Chapter from Oliver Stone’s “Untold History of the United States” – Chapter 6 of a documentary: Untold History of the United States, written and directed by Oliver Stone. This chapter focuses on the JFK era with emphasis on the Cuban Missle Crisis and the Bay of Pigs.
JFK Remembered: 50 Years Later – This is actually a new supplement for this set and one that didn’t appear on the previous DigiBook. This will also be available as a stand-alone DVD and gives us a look at Kennedy, what got him elected and the trials and tribulations that he faced while in office.
John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums – Produced in 1965 by George Stevens Jr. this documentary tells the story of JFK and chronicles his 1000 days in office. Narrated by Gregory Peck, it’s actually quite gripping and full of information.
Behind the Story
Audio Commentary – Oliver Stone manages to speak almost the whole way through the film, just like the actors in the movie, he is full of dialogue and interesting insightful information about the whole Kennedy assassination, and he’s not the paranoid conspirator that we’ve all heard about. Still if you’ve got another three and half hours in you – it’s worth a listen.
Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy – Another feature ported over from the 2008 DigiBook this features interviews with the cast and crew of the movie along with those of the real-life characters portrayed in the movie. We see and hear from the real Clay Shaw, the real “Mr. X” (played by Donald Sutherland in the film), see photos of David Ferrie and how he tied in with Guy Bannister and Clay Shaw (Bertrand). After watching the movie, it’s amazing to see how closely the actors looked to their real-life counterparts and everyone associated with the movie seems to be on Stone’s side and shares his point of view.
PT 109 – The 1963 film starring Cliff Robertson as Lt. Kennedy is presented in its entirety.
Assassination Update – The New Documents – Narrated by the editor of a newsletter dedicated to finding the facts on who killed Kennedy. The voice is rather annoying, but there’s some good information in there.
Meet Mr. X: The Personality and Thoughts of Fletcher Prouty – Donald Sutherland played this character in the movie who gave Garrison the lowdown and the real story. We see the real Mr. X as he talks candidly about his days with the government and his association with the Kennedy assassination; the movie does a good job about defining how much of a role Mr. X has as well.
Deleted/Extended Scenes – A handful of scenes are included with some production commentary by Oliver Stone.
Trailer – The original theatrical trailer.
Ultimate Collector’s Edition Extras – Some commemorative items from the Kennedy Presidential Library: collectible reproductions of family and presidential photos, a campaign poster from the 1960 presidential campaign, and a copy of Kennedy’s historic inaugural address.
Books – A 32-page book of famous quotations, and a 44-page JFK movie photo book are also included.