To mark the fiftieth anniversary of his passing, Warner Brothers has assembled a box set that honors John F. Kennedy, his life, and his assassination. In it there are three documentaries about him, and the feature films PT-109, and Oliver Stone’s JFK… which isn’t so much about the president, but the conspiracies that surrounded his assassination. My review of the JFK box set follows after the jump.
The crown jewel of the set is Stone’s film JFK, which is presented in its director’s cut. This is a reissue of the film, as it has previously been released on Blu-ray, and nothing new has been done to the film for this box set release. The film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in Dolbly TrueHD audio, reflective of its 2008 mastering. The film comes with an audio commentary by Stone, the documentary “Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy” (90 min.), which was done for the release of the film, and so it talks to the real people who were there at Dealey plaza, and also features the stars and Stone talking about making of the movie. It’s followed by “Assassination Update: The New Documents” (30 min.), which was done to showcase what’s been revealed about the assassination since the film’s release, “Meet Mr. X” (11 min.) which talks to Fletcher Prouty, the man who inspired Donald Sutherland’s character. Twelve deleted scenes (55 min.) with optional Oliver Stone commentary and the film’s trailer.
As for the film itself, Stone is at the top of his game in this tale of New Orleans DA Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), who is tipped off to a number of people in his town who may have had something to do with Kennedy’s death. Those people start out as David Ferrie (Joe Pesci), and Willie O’Keefe (Kevin Bacon), both homosexuals with criminal pasts, but then more people come out of the woodwork, with Jack Martin (Jack Lemmon) saying that his former boss (and one time CIA spook) Guy Bannister (Edward Asner) may have known Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman), while Willie and David also have connections to Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) who also seems to have known Oswald.
The further the movie goes on, everyone who’s ever been accused of killing Kennedy becomes a suspect at some point or another, while most witness suggest they’re afraid of dying and so they won’t come forward. But by the time Garrison talks to Mr. X (Donald Sutherland) the conspiracies no longer necessarily mesh together. In some ways the film is a three hour information dump, but rarely have those been as engaging, and Stone kicks it into high gear as he documents the shooting itself, following Lee Harvey and all the information about his day, much of which proves contradictory.
Viewed as a statement, it’s quite meaningless, as Stone comes to no conclusion, but then if he did it wouldn’t be a movie. Instead he presents a lot of information about the death, some of it contradictory, and lets the viewer sort it out. As such, it’s the most tempered of Stone’s more political movies, and compelling to watch.
Included in a paper sleeve cover is Chapter 6 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States (58 min.), which is titled “JFK: To the Brink.” If you haven’t seen the show it has Stone narrating events in history, while there are also faux voice overs from world leaders, and familiar footage of the events in question. This dwells more on Kennedy’s presidency that Stone film, and so it pokes and prods at the events that led to his election and the Cuban missile crisis. Stone’s politics are on full display, and so it ends with him suggesting that Kennedy’s death gave the country back to the old guard who wanted to take us to war. It’s the sort of show that you wish offered footnotes as Stone’s logic is compelling but questionable at times.
PT-109 is a feature film made in 1963 about JFK’s adventures in World War II. He was a naval officer and commanded a PT boat, which was sunk by a Japanese Destroyer. Kennedy then had to make sure that his crew made it off an occupied island, and had enough food and water to survive. Released a couple months before the president’s death, the film stars Cliff Robertson as Kennedy and he’s surrounded by familiar faces like Robert Culp, Robert Blake, Norman Fell, and George Gaynes, As Kennedy was in office at the time, the movie is terrible, starting with a boring section where the men make a boat ship-shape, and then the action starts and who cares? It was directed by Leslie H. Martinson, and his career was mostly filled with episodic television. That sensibility is reflected here. But this was always going to be a doomed project, in that only the faithful might show, yet the film is completely unmemorable. This disc comes with a theatrical trailer.
There are two documentaries also included: JFK Remembered: 50 Years Later (90 min.) and John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums (85 min). The former was done for this release and it goes through the greatest hits of Kennedy’s life, while the later was done in 1965, and is narrated by Gregory Peck. Both serve as hagiographies, so the one done in ’65 is of way more interest.
With a set like this, it’s about more than just the movies, but the trinkets that accompany the box. The set comes with a series of six photos from the movie, which pairs the actors with their real-life counterparts and gives details on their real-life inspirations This is matched with “Photos and Correspondence,” which offers pictures of Kennedy and his family, and writings to and from the late president. There’s also a 32 page book book offering quotations from Kennedy, and a 44 page book on the making of Oliver Stone’s JFK. Also included is a poster for Kennedy’s Presidential run and a copy of his inaugural address.