The monthly guide to DVD extras
By Jen Chaney
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2004;
It's a good DVD month for Washington wonks, as two new releases make perfect viewing for political junkies: "The Fog of War" and the second season of TV's "The West Wing."
"The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara"(PG-13)
Release Date: May 11
Filmmaker Errol Morris's "The Fog of War," which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, is an ideal movie to watch in the more-intimate DVD format. As former secretary of defense Robert S. McNamara talks directly to the camera about U.S. mistakes during the Vietnam War, it may feel as though he's in your living room, telling his fascinating story directly to you.
War scholars and history buffs will undoubtedly want to own a copy of this disc, and not just for the movie itself. The extra features, though somewhat limited, include 24 deleted scenes (about 40 minutes of extra footage), each of which makes compelling viewing. It makes one wonder how difficult it must have been for Morris to trim his film, or what additional gems he still has in his vault. Besides the deleted scenes, the DVD also includes a list of McNamara's Ten Lessons, which he says differ from the Eleven Lessons Morris presents in the film.
Though the deleted scenes are strong, it would have been helpful if "Fog" had included a timeline or featurette about the Vietnam War, particularly for younger viewers getting their first introduction to the conflict from this movie. There's also no director's commentary. Morris probably thought it was unnecessary; after all, McNamara's words -- which seem even more meaningful in light of the continuing controversy over war in Iraq -- pretty much say it all.
Most Moving Bonus Point: The deleted scenes really are the centerpiece of this DVD's extra footage. And the most emotional one features McNamara talking about his wife, Margaret, who died 16 days after receiving the Medal of Freedom for pioneering the "Reading Is Fundamental" program. Tears fill the old man's eyes as he describes how much he admired his wife for showing up at the ceremony despite being gravely ill. It's yet another of the many moments in "Fog" that humanize a man still demonized by many.
Most Nostalgic Bonus Point: Another deleted scene includes the famous "Daisy" TV advertisement, wherein a young girl plucks petals from a flower as a countdown to a nuclear explosion. The pro-Lyndon Johnson spot aired only once during the 1964 campaign, but now you can watch it forever.
"The West Wing: Season Two"
Release Date: May 18
Remember when Rob Lowe was still on "The West Wing," and Aaron Sorkin was still writing the episodes, and the show genuinely deserved to be called the finest drama on television? You probably do, since reruns of the show on Bravo and late-night TV serve as a constant reminder. Nonetheless, "West Wing" fans will still enjoy the second season's box set, which presents the series at the height of its powers.
Though the show itself may soar, the bonus features are a bit meager, especially since the fourth disc is devoted to nothing but extras. There are 10 deleted scenes and a couple of interesting featurettes, including a tour of the White House set that Washingtonians will love; but surely there was disc space left for much more. The second season also includes commentaries on four of the 22 episodes, two fewer than the first season's DVD.
Still, even with its faults, this compilation makes an ideal gift for the White House staffer in the family, and anyone else who enjoys brilliantly written TV. This may be "The West Wing's" best season ever, and for that -- if not for the quantity of bonus features -- it deserves your vote.
Most Washington-centric Bonus Point: The aforementioned tour of the White House set, led by director Thomas Schlamme and production designer Jon Hutman, gives viewers a fascinating inside look at where all those walking-and-talking scenes really take place. The "Access Granted" feature also includes a map, with links to photographs, of the "West Wing's" version of the West Wing.
Most Washington-centric Bonus Point, Part Two: A featurette about the season finale, an episode called "Two Cathedrals," includes behind-the-scenes footage of the cast filming at Washington's own National Cathedral.
Most Pointless Bonus Point: A gag reel includes a little more than a minute's worth of bloopers from the show, most of which feature Martin Sheen and aren't particularly funny. What, Stockard Channing never botches any of her lines?
Most Revealing Bonus Point: The commentary tracks, which feature Sorkin, Schlamme and various cast members, are actually worth a listen. During commentary on the second episode, Schlamme praises Sorkin's ability to write tragic scenes that also incorporate humor. Sheen says that quality is something everyone misses about not having Sorkin on the show anymore. So apparently even Sheen thinks "West Wing" isn't as good as it once was. As president, shouldn't he have veto power over lame episodes?
Also Arriving on DVD in May: Attention Salinger family fans: The first season of "Party of Five" is now on DVD. And coming May 25: the bonus-packed, two-disc version of "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." For those who seek the extended edition of the Academy Award winner, not to worry: It's coming later this year, just in time (natch) for the holiday shopping season.
Coming in June:
A three-disc version of Oscar winner "Mystic River" (June 8); a 10-year anniversary edition of the Gen-Xer classic "Reality Bites"; and (joy!) the fourth season of "The Simpsons" (June 15).
© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive