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Nixon on DVD

By Jim Bray

Oliver Stone's Nixon is a much better movie than I expected, but the DVD leaves something to be desired if you have a widescreen TV.

This Collector's Edition DVD adds nearly a half hour to the theatrical version, making it a director's cut where Stone has had a chance to rethink and retool his vision. It also offers an abundance of extra materials that stretch over two discs.

Anthony Hopkins is outstanding as Richard Nixon, the disgraced US president who, unlike a more recent occupant of the White House, resigned from office rather than put the nation through the trauma of an impeachment. Joan Allen (who, like Hopkins, was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Nixon) plays his long suffering wife Pat, and an all star cast that includes James Woods, David Hyde Pierce, Powers Boothe, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, E.G. Marshall, and David Paymer (among many others) is on hand as well. Particular mention should be made of Paul Sorvino, who is totally believable as Henry Kissinger.

Stone, a noted Hollywood liberal, wouldn't be my first choice to craft a film about a Republican president and his portrayal of Nixon focuses on the stereotypes (a hunched, paranoid man with a persecution complex) rather than bringing new information to the table. Still, Nixon is an engrossing and intriguing movie that I ended up enjoying in spite of myself and my natural aversion to Hollywood's left wing tilt.

And, to be fair, Stone doesn't beat us over the head with his slant.

The film gives us glimpses of Nixon from his strict Quaker upbringing until he boards the helicopter for his final flight from the White House as president. Stone does give lip service to Nixon's achievements in ending the Vietnam war and normalizing relations with China, but almost as afterthoughts and with very little screen time. It focuses more on Nixon's perceived weaknesses and demons, unfortunately, and it makes him out to be a cad who uses people and then leaves them twisting in the wind.

Still, what else would you expect from Hollywood?

All in all, however, Nixion is still an interesting movie, and the extra half hour of stuff in this Collector's Edition provides some good background that I'm surprised was cut. To his credit, Stone ends up portraying Nixon mostly as a flawed and tragic figure rather than merely lampooning him or (in liberal tradition when discussing any conservative) making him out to be an unintelligent boob. And while there was a lot more to the man than Stone shows us, I had to admire his restraint in not making "Nixon" an anti-Republican/conservative rant.

The DVD isn't as good as the movie, however. It's biggest problem is that it suffers greatly from not being offered in anamorphic widescreen. This is a shame because if not for that its picture quality would be considered first rate. As it is, however, owners of widescreen TV's will have to zoom it out to fill the 16x9 screen, which causes pixilization and results in lower resolution than if the DVD were anamorphic.

Owners of "old style" 4x3 TV's will find this complaint irrelevant, of course - but if you buy Nixon and then buy a 16x9 TV down the road, you'll know what I mean - and you'll be PO'd.

This lack of an anamorphic signal really affects the added scenes, the resolution of which is already lower than the "original" footage, causing noticeable digitization in places. Interestingly, the aspect ratio changes during some of these scenes as well, though that has nothing to do with the DVD itself.

On the upside, the audio quality is great. It's presented in a choice of DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, makes good use of all channels and sounds wonderful.

Extras include a pair of running commentaries by director Stone and for the most part he restrains himself here, too, concentrating mostly on the historical and/or moviemaking aspects of the film. There's also a Charlie Rose PBS interview with Stone, some deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.

Nixon, from Buena Vista Home Entertainment
212 min. letterboxed (2.35:1), not 16x9 TV compatible, DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen, James Woods, David Hyde Pierce, Powers Boothe, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, E.G. Marshall, David Paymer, Paul Sorvino
Produced by Clayton Townsend, Oliver Stone and Andrew Vajna
Written by Stephen J. Rivele & Christopher Wilkinson & Oliver Stone
Directed by Oliver Stone


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Updated May 13, 2006