Nixon: Election Year Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin & Noor Razzak (29th September 2008).
The Film

Having a famous actor portray a famous historical figure tends to upset the balance of famous, both frustrating and receiving high praise from critics and audience members in different areas. In Oliver Stone’s “Nixon” (1995), it’s Anthony Hopkins who takes on the title role as Richard Nixon and upsets this balance of famous by putting his face and vocal impersonation on the line, and in the end does a good job of it in this long and interesting study of ‘Tricky Dick.’

Using a non-linear storyline, the film follows most of Nixon’s life, beginning with the Watergate Scandal breaking, with Nixon’s memories and the Watergate Tapes as a jumping point to look into different aspects of his past. Keeping mostly to an almost-flashback style, Nixon looks back on the 1960 election and running against John F. Kennedy, his attempt at California Governor, and his successive runs for office and problems with the Vietnam War. There’s an interesting amount of documentary footage used, in combination with Hopkin’s image as Nixon being digitally added back into some footage.

The way that Stone weaves the whole story together is really impressive and uses enough visual style to keep things interesting over the course of a three and a half hour film. The flashback or non-linear plotting of the film help to keep the film moving, but also explore the larger history of Nixon’s rise to power (especially for those who weren’t even born during the latter part of his presidency) by bringing in the story through Nixon’s most famous move as president: Watergate. However Stone does a good job of keeping the film from becoming an anti or pro Nixon rant. There are definite implications of his actions and a lot of the character flaws on display in the film, his obsession with power and some of his paranoid behavior definitely tracks into the Watergate scandal, along with some implied guilt after becoming president by easily defeating Hubert Humphrey after the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.

While Stone does a good job of creating these elements in the context of the film’s story and visual features, it’s really Hopkins that carries the movie along. Hopkins starts a little behind the curve in portraying Nixon since he looks almost nothing like the man whose jowls are legendary. However his voice does a good job of straying far from Hopkins and incredibly close to Nixon, which combined with his stiff and awkward way of carrying himself as Nixon, Hopkins really shines in the film. The supporting actors around Hopkins tend to rise to an equal level of acting and impersonation, though for the most part it’s hard to overlook their respective celebrity in becoming the characters that they are portraying. Once the film has had some time to settle in and get going after the first 10 or so minutes, most of the cast appears more comfortable in the roles once the audience has had a little more time to adjust to who they are.

Overall, Stone has created an interesting and in-depth look at Nixon’s life as a character and Hopkins does a great job in rising to the standard of the rest of the film. The only big problem is that just watching the film is an undertaking in itself at over 3 and a half hours long. The film doesn’t really drag or go on too many tangents that seem incredibly unnecessary, but a 3 and a half hour character study political film is an exhausting event to sit through. It doesn’t quite have the intrigue or drama of Stone’s earlier presidential film “JFK” (1991) but is nonetheless an incredible film that is worth watching, though a little taxing to do so.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.40:1 this transfer comes to Blu-ray in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and has been mastered using AVC MPEG-4 compression. Previous DVD editions were released non-anamorphically and for these new "Election Year Edition" both for the DVD and this Blu-ray disc has been remastered. The Transfer features a pristine new transfer that retains the filmmaker's intent, the film includes 35mm footage shot for the film as well as a combination of archival stocks and also footage shot in black and white. The mixture of stocks means a varying degree of quality but the balance is well handled and the images look appropriate for their age/type. The film features some grain which adds to the texture of the film, depth is very good although limited in the archival type shots (which is intentional). Sharpness is good especially amid the 35mm footage but some shots do look a bit soft, colors look good as does skin tones and black levels. There were a few edge halos that I spotted but nothing too bad.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included in English uncompressed PCM 5.1 presented at 48Khz/16-bit as well as a standard English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. For this review I chose to view the film with its PCM track. I hadn't seen this film since it came out theatrically, from memory it was a largely dialogue driven film, but I quickly learned from this PCM track that memories can be a bit deceiving. Although the film is very much dialogue driven it's rich with a wonderful score and subtle ambient sounds that fill the sound space with an immersive quality. It's not an aggressive track but a rich one none-the-less, and it perfectly matches the film, its mood and tone.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

This new Blu-ray edition “Nixon: Election Year Addition” comes packaged with a new documentary, along with already available deleted scenes, an interview and 2 audio commentary tracks. Here’s a rundown of the features disc by disc:

DISC ONE:

Two audio commentaries with director Oliver Stone are available on the disc, only described as ‘A’ and ‘B’ from the menu.

Audio commentary ‘A’ focuses more on the production side of filming, Stone talks at length about actors and getting these roles and events ready for the screen. The key here is at length as Stone’s commentary here really isn’t engaging, there are an incredible amount of awkward pauses and gaps where he just goes silent and watches the movie rather than really talking about the process or what’s going on in the scene.

Audio commentary ‘B’ looks at the historical aspects of the film, with Stone talking about the events surrounding the Nixon campaign and Nixon’s life. It almost feels like if this commentary were cut up and placed with the ‘A’ commentary it could make for one track that could actually have some consistent talking. While Stone’s addendums are interesting, it’s frustrating to sit through the gaps and be suddenly interrupted from the film by a random bit of information.

All of the bonus trailers and ads are also included on this disc:

- "Disney Blu-ray" spot disc runs for 1 minute and 43 seconds.
- “Blindness” runs for 1 minute and 51 seconds.
- "Miramax" pictures spot runs for 2 minutes and 27 seconds.
- “The Nightmare Before Christmas” runs for 2 minutes and 1 second.

DISC TWO:

First up are the deleted scenes with introductions by director Oliver Stone:

- “Introduction by Oliver Stone” which runs from 8 minutes and 11 seconds, where Stone reveals the original runtime of around 4 hours and 15 minutes and talks about some of the influences of some of the cut scenes from the movie.
- “Nixon’s Limo” runs for 1 minute and 55 seconds, Nixon rides his limo through a crowd of protestors while talking with Haldeman (James Woods). I believe this entire scene was actually in the 'Director’s cut' of the film, the version featured on the disc, and it’s a little odd that it was thrown in the deleted scenes area.
- “CIA Building: Richard Helms and Nixon” runs for 11 minutes and 52 seconds, Nixon talks to Richard Helms (Sam Waterston) in his office about issues of control and power between the executive and the CIA. Again, this scene was included in the 'Director’s cut' of the film, and is just represented here in much lower quality.
- “Hoover and Nixon (Second Meeting) / Tricia’s Wedding (Expanded)” runs for 8 minutes and 24 seconds, Hoover (Bob Hoskins) reccomends Nixon tape himself, creating the Watergate Tapes, as a means of setting the record straight for memoirs or later things. Again, another scene already put back into the film at higher quality.
- “Cabinet Meeting” runs for 2 minutes and 56 seconds, Nixon lectures his cabinet about a new leak and his plans for the future.
- “Air Force One (Expanded)” runs for 3 minutes and 57 seconds, a look at Nixon on Air Force One talking about international politics and re-election with Kissenger (Paul Sorvino).
- “Jones Ranch Bull Ring” runs for 1 minute and 42 seconds, Nixon visits a ranch and watches some bull riding in Texas.
- “Oval Office: Nixon, Dean, Haldeman & Eherlichman (Expanded)” runs for 4 minutes and 59 seconds. Dean (David Hyde Pierce), Haldeman and Nixon talk about how to make some of their problems disappear after the Watergate scandal surfaces. Another scene included in the 'Director’s cut'.
- “Haldeman and Erlichman walk (Expanded)” runs for 3 minutes and 36 seconds, the two Nixon aides discuss Nixon and the Bay of Pigs, the concerns the two of them have over the current state of Nixon’s actions.
- “The Rockefeller Party (Expanded)” runs for 5 minutes and 42 seconds, Nixon is introduced to Henry Kissinger at a party thrown by the Rockefellers.
- “The Jones Ranch Barbecue (Expanded)” this runs for 1 minute and 56 seconds, Nixon and Jones make some deals on the down low at a Barbecue while Nixon is visiting before his second presidential campaign.
- “The Director’s Closing Remarks” runs for 3 minutes and 3 seconds, Stone talks about the scenes, how proud he is of the film and how much he’s intrigued by Nixon though he would never want him as president.

“Beyond Nixon” is a new documentary that runs for 35 minutes and 16 seconds which puts it more around featurette length. This piece features a group of historians in talking about Nixon as a mythic or realistic figure, along with people around of the time of Nixon such as John Dean. It’s an interesting documentary piece on Nixon, the historical ideas of the movie and the actual history, one of the commentators even calls the film garbage. It’s an interesting look around the movie from some historians who both defend and bash on the film, a nice new special feature.

Charlie Rose Interviews Oliver Stone” runs for 55 minutes and 10 seconds. This interview is actually an entire episode of the Charlie Rose show featuring Stone as a guest, apparently created in 1995 around the time of the release of “Nixon.” Stone is fairly interesting in the interview, talking about himself as a filmmaker rather than a historian. It’s a slow, quiet, conversation; it’s interesting to hear from Stone and Rose around the time of release, another nice addition to the set.

The original theatrical trailer for “Nixon” runs for 4 minutes and 32 seconds.

Overall

The Film: A- Video: A- Audio: A Extras: C- Overall: B+

 


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