Alexander Payneís Election receives a new Blu-ray edition from Criterion, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this dual-layer disc. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from a new 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Comparing to the old Paramount Blu-ray provides a night-and-day difference. In terms of colour tones the two differ quite a bit, some sequences in Criterionís coming off darker and/or drearier. This different look hasnít been applied flatly throughout, though, and some scenes still look fairly bright and come close to how they look on the old disc. Black levels also look a bit better as well, exposing more shadow detail in the process.
The biggest improvement, though, is the level of detail. Paramountís presentation is okay but itís not as sharp as it could be and it looks to have been processed. This presentation is far sharper in comparison and the close-ups in particular are stunning. Every pore, every thread, every imperfection and concrete block in that school just pop off of the screen. Also nice to see is film grain, which is pretty much missing on the old disc. The grain is very fine here but still visible, and it remains natural and clean, no sharpening effects appearing to have been applied. I also did detect any other digital anomalies.
The source itself is clean and I never noticed a print flaw of any sort popping up, other than intentional ones in what is supposed to be home movie footage, archival footage, or purposely inserted marks. In all itís a remarkable looking image and it makes this release picking up all on its own. 10/10
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.
Criterion improves over Paramountís previous near-barebone editions by adding a number of engaging features. Paramount did, at the very least, include a very good audio commentary by Alexander Payne on their editions, which Criterion has thankfully ported over to this edition. I liked this track a lot when I listened to it on the original DVD (almost two decades ago, ugh) and revisiting it was again a pleasure. Payne has a lot to say and he manages to keep it going, talking about the development of the film, how he wished to present the characters, creating the appropriate world for them, what it was like shooting in an actual school, and even goes over the process of casting real students, teachers, and more in the film. It was also entertaining listening to him talk about the editing processóhis favourite part about moviemakingóand what went into the decisions he made in this area. He also laments a bit about editing in current Hollywood films, particularly the disappearance of the ďwipe,Ē which he does employ here. Whatís a little frustrating, though, is Payne talks about deleted scenes, bringing them up where they would have shown up in the film, but, like the old Paramount releases, those scenes are nowhere to be found on this release. Getting past that, though, the track is an incredibly entertaining and rich one, filled with wonderful details about the filmmaking process. If you havenít listened to it yet itís well worth doing so now.
From here Criterion adds a number of other features. What may be of most interest is the inclusion of a new restoration of Payneís UCLA thesis film, the 49-minute The Passion of Martin. This is accompanied by a printed directorís statement, where Payne explains the film and begs patience and forgiveness because of its rough edges, aspects of it embarrassing to him now. On top of that, though, Payne also provides a new 11-minute interview, talking about how he first got into film, film school, and then this film and how it aided him in getting a Hollywood job at Universal (though that ultimately went nowhere).
Though Payne is a bit embarrassed by it now (despite the fact it did play a huge part in getting his foot in the door in Hollywood) I donít think he has any real reason to be. Itís a student film and, yeah, it has its rough edges. But itís a confidently edited film and fairly funny to boot, some of the humour and editing techniques finding their way into his future films. The premise: a young photographer named Martin (Charley Hayward) feels alienated from the world but then feels a spiritual connection to a young woman, Rebecca (Lisa Zane), who he notices at one of his gallery shows entranced by his favourite photo there, one that no one else seems to care for. He runs into her later, the two talk for a while, and then head back to his place. The next morning he awakens to find her gone and his obsession for her begins to intensify from there.
The main character isnít at all likeable, which will be a turn off to many, and the film takes on a darker demeanor when Martin takes things to an extreme and starts stalking Rebecca, and this does lead to an incredibly uncomfortable scene where he confronts her. Yet, despite this, the film does work, offering a portrait of an unbalanced man and his skewed perception of reality. And itís how Payne presents this where you can see what caught the attention of studio executives because Payneís clever use of editing and narration manages to portray the characterís skewed reality against the actual reality that we can clearly see, and this is similar to the use of narration in Election where a character tells us one thing but we can clearly see another (and it even has a couple of moments similar to Broderickís final voice-over in that film).
Despite the dark subject there are quite a few laughs to be found in it, the humour similar to what is found in Payneís later films. But again, not all of it works. Thereís a scene in an ATM line where Martin freaks out on another in the line, showing his disdain for mankind but itís too heavy-handed and over-the-top. Though the pacing is generally frantic thanks to Payneís playful editing there are some rough patches that feel off. Despite that, though, itís a confident and impressive student film, and you can see elements of this film in his feature work later.
Reese Witherspoon next provides a new interview exclusive to this release. For 10-minutes she recalls her experience on the film, from auditions and pretending to be a student at the school where they were shooting, to her excitement at being able to work with Broderick and what it was like being directed by Payne. She also recalls her shock at the final film and her performance: she felt she had given a serious performance but was surprised at how funny she came off because of Payneís editing (and those freeze frames), giving her a big lesson on comedy. Sheís fond of the role and proud of the film, surprised that Tracy Flick has registered most with fans (she still gets approached by people about the character). But most interesting are her comments on how she had a hard time getting work for a couple of years after the film, filmmakers having a hard time disassociating her from the character. I was disappointed by the lack of anyone else giving new interviews (I would have thought for sure Criterion would have been able to get Broderick or Chris Klein) but Witherspoon still nicely fills that gap.
For more on the production Criterion has ended up licensing an episode of truInside, which covers the making of the film. Seeing it was from truTV I admit to not expecting much from it but the 40-minute episode does give an incredibly in-depth behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film through a number of interviews including ones with Payne, author Tom Perrotta, actors Matthew Broderick, Chris Klein and Jessica Campbell, and many more involved in front of and behind the camera (they even get interviews with a number of former students that managed to get roles in the film). You also get a glimpse of an alternate ending that looks to come from a VHS tape (and it also looks tonally to be significantly different to the actual film) and various local news segments covering the film (according to all this movie being made around Omaha was a big deal to everyone around). Itís a really good addition to the release.
The disc then includes a one-and-a-half minute clip from local news coverage from a CBS affiliate, which aired in 1997, getting interviews with Payne, Broderick, and then newcomer Chris Klein. We then get the filmís theatrical trailer, showing that marketing didnít really know what to do with the film. The included insert then features an essay about the film and how it has aged quite well with the passage of time.
The one big disappointment with this edition is the lack of any of the deleted scenes mentioned throughout the supplements, as well as the lack of the alternate ending (though in the case of the latter you can find it on YouTube). At the very least, though, the material included is still all well worth the trouble of going through. 8/10