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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • English DTS-HD 2.0 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Michael Moore Makes a Movie, a new documentary featuring Michael Moore, chief archivist Carl Deal, field producers Jeff Gibbs and Meghan O'Hara, and supervising producer Tia Lessin
  • Programs covering Moore’s return to Colorado in 2002, his 2003 Oscar win, and three film-festival Q&As with Moore
  • Excerpt from a 2002 episode of The Charlie Rose Show featuring Michael Moore
  • Corporate Cops, a segment from Moore’s 2000 television series The Awful Truth II
  • Trailer
  • An essay by critic Eric Hynes

Bowling for Columbine

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Michael Moore
2002 | 120 Minutes | Licensor: MGM Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #928
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: June 19, 2018
Review Date: June 17, 2018

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SYNOPSIS

In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the intrepid documentarian Michael Moore set out to investigate the long, often volatile love affair between Americans and their firearms, uncovering the pervasive culture of fear that keeps the nation locked and loaded. Equipped with a camera and a microphone, Moore follows the trail of bullets from Littleton, Colorado, and Flint, Michigan, all the way to Kmart’s Michigan headquarters and NRA president Charlton Heston’s Beverly Hills mansion, meeting shooting survivors, militia members, mild-mannered Canadians, and musician Marilyn Manson along the way. An unprecedented popular success that helped usher in a new era in documentary filmmaking, the Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine is a raucous, impassioned, and still tragically relevant journey through the American psyche.


PICTURE

Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine receives a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection and is presented on this dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The new restoration was performed by MGM in high-definition and was scanned from a 35mm interpositive.

Considering how the film was constructed I admit that I questioned what possible improvements a Blu-ray for the film could offer over the DVD but I was surprised to see that there is a noticeable improvement, though still a rather moderate one. The film is constructed using both newly filmed (at the time) material and archival footage, with the archival footage coming from various less-than-optimal sources, including (but not limited to) BetaCam, VHS, standard-definition digital (including DVD), and 16mm. The new footage Moore shot for the film also comes from a variety of sources, including what appears to be 16mm, standard-definition digital, and (much to my surprise) high-definition digital.

For the material sourced from video tape and standard definition digital it should be no surprise that the end result is simply limited by the respective formats. Video tape sequences are fuzzy, lack distinct details and appear interlaced, loaded with jagged edges and moiré effects. Standard definition material ends up looking like average (not even above average) standard-definition footage. It is heavily compressed, presents crushed blacks, and is laced with jagged edges. Ultimately this footage is what it is and nothing much can be done about it.

What does come off better, not too surprisingly, is all of the material shot in high-definition, which it appears was what Moore used primarily for his footage. Though obviously coming from older equipment the high-definition image looks good, coming off sharp and detailed, and other than some darker interior shots where the lighting doesn’t help, the black levels are pretty good. Interestingly, though the restoration notes indicate the digital master used for this release was scanned from film elements, these high-def sequences don’t show a lot of evidence of that, as there’s nothing overtly filmic about these moments. Same goes for the midway animated sequence, which looks very sharp and colourful.

Now, actually getting to the moments that come from a film source this is where I was a bit disappointed. Though these portions certainly have a more filmic texture to them in comparison to the DVD, a lot of them are incredibly grainy and the grain isn’t rendered all that well. Some of this could be related to lighting, like portions of the James Nichols interview, which were shot in lower lit environments, but either way the grain rendering is weak.

Maybe doing a higher-resolution scan and/or restoration could have alleviated some of the minor issues with the film-sourced sequences but in the end, it would probably be a waste since a majority of the film comes from video and digital sources, with high-definition being the highest resolution anyways. As it stands, yes, there is a noticeable improvement over the American MGM and Canadian Alliance-Atlantis DVD editions, but I still don’t think it is significant enough to warrant an upgrade alone.

7/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 surround sound track. The film is constructed with a lot of interviews and archival footage so most of the audio is focused to the center speaker, but Moore does spread music and some effects to the surrounds, and it all sounds clear and dynamic. It’s not the most aggressive surround mix by far but it is effective.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

I do get why Criterion is releasing this but once I made my way to the supplements I did have to question why they would have bothered going to the trouble of licensing it. Considering the nature of the film and how it was constructed it honestly wasn’t screaming out for any sort of improvement A/V wise (though in that regard this release does about as well as it can) so any new edition would be justified by its selection of supplements and disappointingly this one doesn’t cut it, despite the potential that is there.

Criterion does offer one new supplement, which is the 35-minute documentary Michael Moore Makes a Movie, featuring interviews with director Michael Moore, chief archivist Carl Deal, composer and field producer (and longtime Moore friend) Jeff Gibbs, supervising producer Tia Lassin, and field producer Meghan O’Hara. So, despite maybe being down on the supplements overall, I will admit that this documentary is a really solid one, though not without its flaws itself. There is some interesting discussion about constructing the film, digging through archives, and trying to properly construct I guess what you can call the “thesis” of the film, to make sure they were saying what they were trying to say. There is also discussion about finding the film’s style and humour, the latter used to inject some sort of release from the fairly dark material.

The documentary becomes more interesting, though, when Moore explains the motivations behind the film and the journey he and his crew went on while filming it. He first recalls hearing about the Columbine shooting and the impact it had on him at that moment, which I don’t doubt was very similar to many other people’s reactions (I still recall that day very clearly). It’s here, though, as Moore talks about how the project started, where I had to give him credit. Moore is very honest and up front here, even admitting right off that he figured the solution to gun violence in America was obvious: gun control and lots of it! He even comments on how he did have the narrative of the film pretty much planned out because he was so sure it had to be the answer. But as he journeyed around and filmed material he realized gun control wasn’t the obvious answer, a conclusion he came to after he visited (of all places!) Canada. He ended up dropping this perspective and it forced him to ask other questions, leading his crew down many paths (the power of the NRA, racial and social injustice, the media capitalizing off of all of it, the pushing of fear in the country, etc.) which does explain how the film can feel scattershot: the subject was much more complicated than he first figured and there was no single magic solution.

But while the documentary may explain why the film can feel unfocussed it also explains some of the film’s worst impulses, which of course further lead to that feeling of being unfocussed. The whole last portion of the film does seem to kill whatever idea Moore had built up before (once the film found a focus) and it appears this happens only because Moore caught all of this other footage out of luck. The Heston interview (which Moore admits he isn’t proud of) was such a fluke, as was getting K-Mart to drop sales of some types of ammunition, and he just felt compelled he had to use it. He also mentions how they really do shoot off-the-cuff, no preparation for anything, and this probably explains why the Heston interview went so poorly: Moore was nervous and Heston was thinking the discussion was going to be about gun control, which it wasn’t since Moore wasn’t going that route, so it’s possible more preparation could have led to a more constructive conversation.

At any rate, despite any feelings one may have on the film the documentary ended up being rather rewarding and fascinating. Yes, there is a certain sense of self-satisfaction at times in this piece, but whether it means to or not it does offer a rather insightful look into the construction of the film, and provides some explanations for some of its problems. It ends up being a solid inclusion on Criterion’s part.

Unfortunately that’s really the only thing Criterion has contributed to this release, at least on disc. The rest of the material recycles what was on the previous MGM and Alliance-Atlantis DVD releases. This starts with the Film Festival Scrapbook, a collection of footage from the festivals the film was entered. This 12-minute montage features clips of Moore talking about the film at Cannes, the Toronto Film Festival, and the London Film Festival. What is odd, though, is that Criterion has oddly cut out footage of Moore’s acceptance speech at Cannes, which was shown on the MGM DVD. No clue why that would be.

Following this is then the same 25-minute Charlie Rose interview with Moore, which took place on October 8, 2002. Though there is talk about the film the interview ends up becoming a little bit heated (but civil) as Moore and Rose talk about the then-current focus on Iraq and the war on terror. The discussion on Iraq actually becomes an interesting element here (as it does in some of the other features found on this disc) since it feels opinions have changed on the war all these years later, so the recycled features on here at least provide a great time capsule.

Moore Returns to Colorado also gets ported over. Filmed in early 2003 the 25-minute video features Moore, in front of a large audience, talking about his film and the usual subjects he likes to cover: the spread of fear by the media along with his usual Bush love. This is then followed by a 13-minute video of Moore talking about his Oscar speech. This too appeared on the original DVD editions though it has been altered for this release. Moore explains the build up to the Academy Awards and the fallout that happened after he gave his speech. On the original DVD Moore states he couldn’t license the footage of the actual speech from the Academy so he ended up recounting the night in a play-by-play fashion. Criterion, who has licensed Oscar footage from the Academy for a few releases already, cuts out Moore’s play-by-play and replaces it with the actual footage from the broadcast.

Also from the old DVD is the “Corporate Cops” segment from the July 5th, 2000 broadcast from Moore’s show The Awful Truth, which features him confronting Harrison Research Laboratories over its president’s (Lynne Harrison) conviction over testing products containing pesticides on human subjects without their knowing. This showcases Moore’s usual confrontational style.

The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer while the included insert features a new essay by Eric Hynes on the film’s impact and its relevance today. Not everything has made it over from the old DVD, though: Criterion drops an audio introduction by Moore, along with an interview with Moore from HBO’s Comedy Arts Festival, a photo gallery, and a video for Marilyn Manson’s “Fight Song.” A DVD-ROM “teacher’s guide” is also missing (this was just a Civics lesson, though). The biggest drop is probably the audio commentary, featuring members of the crew, including interns, but it was pretty terrible so this isn’t a huge loss.

The documentary on making the film is a good new addition but there is a real missed opportunity here to look at the film again all these years later or focus on its impact, and its disappointing Criterion just seems to recycle the previous material. A big inclusion would have deleted footage (there is mention of a a lot of filmed material not used in the film) but alas we don’t even get that.

7/10

CLOSING

Though I get why Criterion is releasing the film it is a bit of an odd release in the end. The film wasn’t really screaming for a high-definition upgrade due to how it was constructed so it would really come down to supplementary material and unfortunately it falls pretty short. Criterion has chosen to just recycle most (and not all) of the material from the previous DVD editions, only throwing in a new making-of (which is good) and the actual clip from Moore’s Oscar speech.


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