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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

"He couldn't get his judges appointed, he had trouble getting his legislation passed, and he lost Republican control of the Senate. His approval ratings in the polls began to sink. He was already beginning to look like a lame-duck President. With everything going wrong, he did what any of us would do. He went on vacation."
- Michael Moore (Narration)

Review By: Jesse Shanks  
Published: October 28, 2004

Stars: Michael Moore, George W. Bush, Lila Lipscomb, Abdul Henderson
Other Stars: Condeleeza Rice, Dick Cheney, Donald Wolfowitz
Director: Michael Moore

MPAA Rating: R for Violent and distrurbing images and for language
Run Time: 02h:02:13s
Release Date: October 05, 2004
UPC: 043396086708
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ A-BB A+

DVD Review

Fahrenheit 9/11 reached a previously unmatched total for a documentary film of over $100 million dollars in theater receipts and its DVD release has set new sales records. The initial furor has died down to a duller rumble across the land. Linda Ronstadt made headlines when she was fired as a performer by the Aladdin Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas for making pro-Michael Moore comments in an intro to the song Desperado, provoking some fans to boo or walk out. Michael Moore has engaged in a nationwide Slacker Uprising tour aimed at mobilizing youth voters (and promoting the DVD.) His appearances have attracted hecklers and protesters, been cancelled by college administrations, and severely criticized by supporters of George W. Bush.

Manyopponents had already perceived George W. Bush as the ne'er-do-well son of an elitist Connecticut family who posed as a Texan prior to his inauguration as President of the United States. He was noted to have been a poor student in college, avoided service in Viet Nam as a member of the Texas Air National Guard, was a businessman with a spotty record of success, and part of a group that bought the Texas Rangers baseball team and got rich. Elected governor of Texas, Bush emerged as the savior of the Republican party after the re-election of Bill Clinton in 1996. Controversy surrounded his election in 2000 as a decision of the Supreme Court ultimately trumped destiny's hand.

Much of what is called Fahrenheit 9/11's most damning material, the description of the beginning of the Bush presidency, has been around since the beginning of his term. Many noted his frequent vacations but prior to September 11, 2001, it seemed a minor issue. The famous scene of a baffled Bush sitting for agonizing minutes with My Pet Goat on his lap in the classroom as the need to authorize the shooting down of hijacked airplane missiles ticked by has been available on the internet for months. The documentary, Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election, was a much fuller analysis of the debacle in Florida but did not contain the devastatingly compelling images of Gore as President of the Senate being forced to rule again and again against objections to the certification of the dubious vote count because no Senator would sign an objection—the same senators who went on to award Bush's supporters with massive tax cuts, pass the Patriot Act, and vote unanimously to give unfettered war powers to a minority president.

If you have not seen the film, much of what you have read about Fahrenheit 9/11 is wrong. The movie is easy on George Bush rather than skewering, as it is portrayed in the press. Very little attention is paid to Bush's draft dodging, except to establish a link with the Saudis through a fellow officer in the Guard who was also suspended from duty at the same time as Bush. Very little attention is paid to Bush's history of substance abuse. His notoriety for bumbling syntax in public speaking is avoided by and large with two notable exceptions. No mention is made of his propensity to choke on pretzels, drop dogs, bump his head, and crash Segways and mountain bikes. Moore steers clear of all this inflammatory material in his portrait of this president. The most important focus of the Bush portion of Fahrenheit is Moore's perception of Bush's incompetence as a commander-in-chief.

The press would have you believe that this is Michael Moore's opinion and spin on the Bush presidency. That is far from how the movie plays. Michael Moore is out of the way for the most part and the actual clips speak for themselves. The media would have you believe that it is Moore's artistry that makes a flimsy case against Bush more powerful. Wrong again. The editing is good but any junior college broadcasting student could have spliced together this video footage to pop songs and made a movie almost this good. Surprisingly, there is nothing very special in the movie making. It is the power of the images presented that make Fahrenheit 9/11 worth seeing.

The case against the Saudis is also not the way the press portrays it. The Bush-Saudi connection is certainly like something from the X-Files and it comes off like a grand conspiracy. Somehow the Saudi connection begins to be more like Alfred Hitchcock's legendary "MacGuffin"—the item that begins the story and seems to be what the story is about, but really the story is about something else entirely. This film is really about the human toll resulting from war in Iraq and the falsehoods that exploited the environment following the destruction of the World Trade Center. Moore also includes depictions of prisoner abuse by American soldiers.

The agonies of the thousands of wounded soldiers are told in the brave statements of a few with shattered bodies, minds, and lives. Congress does not get off lightly in the film, either, as Moore confronts our legislative branch directly by trying to get members to enlist their children in the army and also rolls around the Capitol in an ice cream van reading the Patriot Act to them when he finds that few had read what they voted for in the fear-filled days following the terrorist attacks. At one point, Moore films across the street from the Saudi Embassy in Washington and is confronted by officers of the Secret Service.

The national media itself takes some of the most serious arrows from Moore's quiver as they are depicted with less-than-flattering imagery. From the "embedded" reporters cheerleading the war plan to the cowed reporting of White House activities, Moore presents a picture of a watchdog press that was and continues to be fast asleep on the job. Other documentaries such as The Hunting of the President and Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism also tackled this controversial topic.

Receiving the Best Documentary Oscar at the beginning of the war, Michael Moore got cheers and boos when he stated: "We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fictition of duct tape or fictition of Orange Alerts, we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you. And any time you got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up. Thank you very much." It was right after this appearance that Moore announced that his next project would be a telling of the story of the President's actions before and after the terror attacks. There is no denying Moore's courage in making the film knowing the opposition from supporters of the war and the President.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is not the best documentary ever, but perhaps one of the most powerful at least to we who are living in these times. Perhaps one could argue strongly that it is not a documentary at all, even though it would be most difficult to find a "pure" documentary as any objective portrayal is tainted by viewpoint. Is Fahrenheit 9/11 art intruding into the political process? Perhaps this film will take its place beside Picasso's Guernica and Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind as an expression of disillusionment with the darker places of humanity and those who exploit and celebrate them, or it might join Triumph of the Will on the ashcan of propaganda and exploitation films. Perhaps only the election results of 2004 will determine whether Fahrenheit 9/11 stands the test of time or becomes a cinematic footnote in the much bigger question of what or who rules this nation.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Fahrenheit 9/11 was a mixed bag on the big screen with television images blown up to 1.78:1 widescreen, photos, digital video, archival footage, and handheld footage. The transfer here does a good job of preserving the various sources, but such a varied range of clips from so many sources is still going to have a grainy, "cut-together" quality.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Fahrenheit 9/11 comes with a somewhat superfluous Dolby Digital 5.1 audio soundtrack. Most of the film is narration or sound taken from television. There are a few moments when the stereo mix is very effective with a combination of voice, sound effects, and music. But the main thing is that there is good work to make sure that all is clearly audible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Super Size Me, The Fog of War, Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Spellbound, Silver City, Soundtrack to War
1 Deleted Scenes
9 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Excellent set of extras for the disc, but it would be interesting to see more of those light-footed U.S. Congressmen like (my own former) Rep. John Doolittle dodging Michael Moore like he was carrying anthrax instead of a microphone.

The Release of Fahrenheit 9/11 (11m:24s): A nifty little, if somewhat self-aggrandizing featurette that gathers some funny and pointed clips surrounding the release Fahrenheit 9/11 including the Cannes Film Festival.

People of Iraq on Eve of Invasion (8m:23s): Fahrenheit 9/11 producers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal provide scenery and interview footage from Iraq just prior to the beginning of bombing. Bluster, fear, and anger from the Iraqis underline the fact that war was against a people who did none of the things of which Saddam Hussein was accused.

Homeland Security, Miami style (3m): Additional scene featuring retirees who patrol the Florida coast looking for terrorists as part of the homeland security plan.

Outside Abu Ghraib Prison (7m:01s): On January 8, 2004 US forces released 100 "low-risk" suspects from Abuy Ghraib. This footage interviews Iraqis who gathered outside the prison to receive the released prisoners and records their comments on the American occupation. Following the release, some prisoners are interviewed.

Eyewitness account from Samarra, Iraq (18m:04s): "Embedded" Swedish journalist Urban Hamis accompanied an American unit on a raid in Samarra in December of 2003. The journalist provides a straightforward account of his experiences on that raid and his overall experiences as a war journalist in Iraq. "I experienced both the Iraqi's plight and the American soldier's plight."

Lila, D.C. (4m:40s) Lila Lipscomb makes some very affecting remarks at the Washington, D.C. premiere of the film.

Arab-American Comedians (10m:35s) - Comics tell of their experiences following the terrorist attacks. "Welcome to the Axis of Evil Tour," said comedian Achmed Achmed. "My name is Achmed Achmed, I can't fly anywhere."

More from Abdul Henderson (7m:32s): A Marine reservist who was called to duty for the Iraq war provides more details about his experiences during the conflict.

Condoleeza Rice "I Asked You What the Title Was" (8m:07s): Condoleezza Rice's 9/11 Commission testimony.

Bush After His "Visit" with the 9/11 Commission (5m:27s): George W. Bush's full press briefing after his 9/11 Commission appearance.


Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

One of the essential political documentaries of this election year, Fahrenheit 9/11 is heavyweight propaganda that takes aim at the presidency of George W. Bush and his handling of the "war on terror." Don't see it because you have to, see it because you still can.

 


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