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Universal Studios Home Video presents

Ronald Reagan: His Life and Legacy (2004)

"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem."- President Ronald Reagan

Stars: Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan
Other Stars: Stone Phillips, Michael Beschloss, John Hockenberry, Josh Mankiewicz, Mike Taibbi, Andrea Mitchell, Ken Khachigian, Lyn Nofziger, Michael Deaver, Andrew Sarris, Angie Dickinson, Stephen Vaughn, Jim Baker, Paul Laxelt, Ken Diberstein
Director: Uncredited

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 00h:40m:57s
Release Date: 2004-07-20
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ C-B-C B


DVD Review

There are three men who occupied the Presidency of the United States of America during the 20th century that can accurately be labeled as historically great men. Regardless of one's own political ideology, it is difficult to deny that Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan forever changed the landscape of American politics and, consequently, the world. Since his recent passing, President Reagan has been the subject of a great deal of discussion in the Beltway and heartland. Many tributes were made in his honor by magazines, newspapers, and TV news programs alike. One such program aired on NBC earlier this summer, hosted by Stone Phillips.

Unfortunately Ronald Reagan: His Life and Legacy is not an impressive reflection on the life and career of Ronald Reagan. The fact that this documentary is the result of a rushed effort to pay tribute to Reagan while the nation's mood demanded it cannot be held against those involved. But the lack of substantive information can be. Anybody who watched just a glimpse of the news during the week following Reagan's death (and who could miss it?) will have found many more interesting anecdotes, facts, and a better context than is presented here. Would it have been so hard for the good people at NBC to show some footage of George H.W. Bush speaking about President Reagan, or Reagan's secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, or how about his wife, Nancy? Instead of hearing from the people who knew the man best, there are very brief sound bytes from the likes of presidential historian Michael Beschloss and film critic Andrew Sarris. This is not to say that all the interviews are of people who did not work with Reagan. Chief of Staff Jim Baker and speechwriter Ken Khachigian, among others, explain why they believe that Reagan was a good president. But any of the statements made by the interviewees is trumped by the tedious narration of the reporters.

This primetime special is organized into four segments. First is Farewell to the Chief by John Hockenberry. It plays up the optimism of Reagan at the expense of explaining his accomplishments. Passing references are made to the status of the American economy, but it basically boils down to a one-liner roughly saying that things weren't good.

The second section, The Great Communicator by Josh Mankiewicz, chronicles Ronald Reagan's speechcraft, with many references to his training as an actor. This serves as a perfect segway into The Gipper by Mike Taibbi. Unlike many other news programs shown over the past month, this actually does explain, in full, the story of Reagan's rise in Hollywood. The best part of the documentary is the finale, Picture Perfect by Andrea Mitchell. This is the only portion that has interviews with key figures in the Reagan White House, such as Jim Baker and Ken Duberstein. Yet nothing that is presented here hasn't been covered before, such as the fact that Reagan did not bother with semantics but looked at the big picture. The main problem with all four featurettes, besides containing mostly shallow information, is that the style is tedious. The music is primarily recycled, with minor variations, from almost all other sappy news broadcasts. As for the editing, you can only see a dissolve so many times before it becomes irritating.

Anybody who lived through the Reagan years or has studied the man will not be impressed with the documentary. Supporters of Reagan will see something that does not adequately show the accomplishments of their hero. President Reagan's detractors will find something that avoids the perceived awfulness of his policies. Major events that occurred during Reagan's presidency and life—being a lifeguard, his alcoholic father, Iran-Contra, the Air Traffickers strike, Hinckley's assassination attempt, the "Evil Empire" speech, the INF treaty, and many more—are either not discussed or granted only one sentence. Ultimately, 40 minutes is not enough time to sufficiently explain a U.S. president, which is in no small part why this program is not as good as it could have been. Politically engaged viewers will find a great deal more information that does not shy away from either liberal or conservative viewpoints with PBS' American Experience episode on Reagan. No matter what your political viewpoint is, Ronald Reagan: His Life and Legacy is a bland and superficial portrayal of Ronald Reagan.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in a nonanamorphic 1.33:1 transfer, Ronald Reagan: His Life and Legacy is not a very pleasing experience. However, this is not the fault of the transfer. Still photographs look nice, as do the interviews, with nice detail and contrast. Yet much of the documentary is devoted to old video news footage of Reagan. Understandably this is weak material, seeing as it is upwards of 20 years old and stemming from a primitive era for video. It is difficult to determine if the flaws present during these scenes are the fault of the transfer or footage, but since this footage was shown on TV by many stations with a similar poor image, it is a safe bet that the transfer is fine. However, none of the images are especially strong, containing a minimal amount of depth and a muted town.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Accompanying the image is a Dolby Stereo 2.0 sound mix. The surround speakers are not involved in this mix, as one would expect. The front soundstage presents the audio with clear dialogue, especially for the voice-over narration by the journalists, and well-balanced music. Clips of Reagan's speeches have an irritating hum, which could have easily been corrected for this DVD. There is no sound separation and the mix is bland.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 4 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. The General Electric Theatera presentation of the 1950 television showcase hosted by Ronald Reagan, showing the complete episode of No Skin Off Me starring Reagan.
  2. Reagan's Speechesa collection of three famous speeches by Reagan as President-the 1981 inaugural address, the "Tear Down This Wall" speech, and the farewell address.
Extras Review: The special features on this DVD are more interesting than the feature presentation. There is a function allowing the viewer to play all of the supplemental materials together in one sitting. There is a documentary from the 1981 broadcast of NBC Magazine, "A Day with President Reagan" (34m:59s), hosted and narrated by David Brinkley. The aesthetic quality of the news certainly has evolved drastically over the past 20 years (this broadcast is on level with today's local public TV shows). There are many interesting moments here that make this a candid look at the process the president goes through in a day.

In addition to the documentary, there are four featurettes. Love Letters to Nancy (14m:29s) is a brief look at some of Ronald Reagan's love letters to Nancy. Mrs. Reagan reads his letter to her on their 29th anniversary (their first in office) and Hal Lyndon reads the rest. It contains interviews with Dr. Richard Davis (Nancy's brother), Patricia Neal, and Merv Griffin. Following this is Dear Ron (06m:49s), a news story from Dateline about Reagan's lifelong correspondence with Lorraine Meekler (one of his fans from when he was a movie star). There are some interesting stories about what he wrote to her, though none of the letters is actually read in full. The third featurette is Golden Anniversary (08m:31s), a touching interview between Nancy and Katie Couric about their 50th anniversary, an event which occurred well after Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, making for a truly stirring situation. The final featurette is The Long Goodbye (03m:57s), a short summary of the week following Reagan's death. It shows some footage from the funeral as well as people lining the streets and expressing their emotions. All four featurettes will play well for fans of Reagan.

Next is an episode from The General Electric Theater, for which Reagan played host, called No Skin Off Me (28m:43s). Starring Reagan, this story is about Farmer Watson (Reagan), who trains a young boxer with crooked connections. This TV show seems dated and lackluster, but the GE commercial that occurs halfway through is worth taking a look at because of how radically different it is from today's commercials. The final batch of extras contains three of Reagan's more famous speeches. His 1981 inaugural address (21m:13s), his "Tear Down This Wall" speech (26m:38s), and farewell address (20m:57s) are shown in their entirety with a brief voice-over introduction by Stone Phillips. Each speech shows how Reagan became known as the "Great Communicator" and should be watched for historical purposes (especially the "Tear Down This Wall" speech). The extras are overwhelming in comparison to the feature documentary and may be the only reason to check out this title.

Extras Grade: B

Final Comments

Ronald Reagan: His Life and Legacy will not please either the supporters or dissenters of President Reagan. This DVD does not feature a stellar transfer or sound mix, but this is a result of the source material. Surprisingly the extras are actually more interesting than the feature presentation, which makes this DVD worth purchasing for the most die-hard of Reagan followers.

Nate Meyers 2004-07-27