TechnoFILE is copyright and a registered trademark © ® of
Pandemonium Productions.
All rights reserved.
E-mail us Here!

Wag the Dog"Wag the Dog" on DVD

Fiction even stranger than truth?

Wag the Dog (1998, 96 min.)
Directed by Barry Levinson
Starring Robert de Niro, Dustin Hoffman, and Anne Heche
from New Line Home Video

By Jim Bray

Timely when released in theatres, the long and drawn out Clinton "affair" continued to drag on so long that, by the time Wag the Dog was released on DVD, it was even more timely than it was originally.

Wag the Dog is director Barry Levinson's ("Rain Man," "Sphere," etc.) black comedy about a presidential sex scandal and its subsequent coverup by unscrupulous apologists for the Commander in Chief. In this case, the president has been accused of having sex with a "campfire girl" and top spinmeister Conrad Brean (Robert de Niro) is brought in to put out the fire.

De Niro's idea is to create a diversion: a fake war between the United States and Albania. But how to stage a fake war? Why, you bring in top Hollywood producer Stanley Moss (Dustin Hoffman) to create the hostilities via film and special effects while using the White House's resident spin machine to disseminate a campaign of misinformation.

Anyway, with only a week and a bit to go before the presidential election, and Clinton's (oops, "the President's") opponent smelling blood and going for the jugular, the Hollywood dream factory and the White House go into overdrive to protect their man.

Sound like events of Spring 98, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal erupted and Clinton harrumphed about bombing Iraq? The producers must have thanked their lucky stars at the ebb and flow of real life...

Based on the book "American Hero" by Larry Beinhart, Wag the Dog was written by Hilary Henkin and revered scribe David Mamet, and it's generally bang on in its satire and its characters. I had some problems with the speed at which the so-called war developed (remember, the whole movie takes place over a period of about ten days), and found it hard to suspend my disbelief there.

It wasn't hard to suspend my disbelief about the lengths to which these people would go to cover up the truth, but I thought that the writers could have achieved the same end without actually going to a fake war; they could have merely been leading up to the fake war.

On the other hand, as a Canadian who realizes just how porous our government has allowed or borders to become, I found it quite funny to see Canada as a kind of "unindicted co-conspirator" with those dastardly Albanians.

The performances, as one might expect from a cast that includes de Niro and Hoffman, are first rate, as are the production values in general. Hoffman's character is particular juicy, especially his attitude as PR crisis mounts upon PR crisis ("This is nothing!"). Anne Heche, Willie Nelson, Andrea Martin, and Denis Leary are also strong in their supporting roles.

I also found it particularly juicy to see the portrayal of the media as gullible puppets who swallow everything "leaked" to them by the spinmeisters. Any movie that portrays the media as anything other than shining paragons of virtue and professionalism is all right by me!

Platinum DVD

The DVD release is part of New Line Home Video's "Platinum Series," and includes lots of extras. Not only do you get widescreen and "full screen" (pan and scan) versions on either side of the disc, there's an audio commentary track by directory Levinson and star Hoffman, a featurette ("From Washington to Hollywood and Back") that includes interviews with the director as well as Hollywood and/or Washington insiders Tom Brokaw, John Frankenheimer, Dee Dee Myers and others.

There's also "The Line Between Truth and Fiction," an essay about politics and the media, including Hollywood (though I would probably have been more vicious toward a media for which I have little respect), the theatrical trailer, biographies and filmographies, and the usual menu system.

It's a pretty all-encompassing package, and New Line has done a nice job with this disc.

As expected, sound and picture quality are superb. I have yet to find a DVD release that doesn't knock my socks off technically. Once again, however, the labels for the widescreen and pan and scan version are written in tiny text around the spindle hole of the disc, and I found it very hard to read. I know I finally need glasses, but couldn't they print the widescreen lettering in red and the full screen in blue or something, then point you toward that fact on the liner notes?

Remember, though, that this isn't only a problem with Wag the Dog; lots of DVD's are horribly labelled in this manner.

Also, the only reference I could find to running time (96 minutes) was also on the disc's spindle label, another minor annoyance.

Language buffs may be disappointed to know that Wag the Dog only has English and French audio and subtitles on it, though this may only be true of the Canadian version we reviewed.

On the whole, however, New Line's DVD release of Wag the Dog is a delicious package that blends an enjoyable and highly topical satire with a good example of the potential of the DVD format.

Wag the Dog (1998, 96 min.)
Directed by Barry Levinson
Starring Robert de Niro, Dustin Hoffman, and Anne Heche
from New Line Home Video


Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think













Support TechnoFile
via Paypal

TechnoFILE's E-letter
We're pleased to offer
our FREE private,
private E-mail service.
It's the "no brainer"
way to keep informed.

Our Privacy Policy

Updated May 13, 2006