Zeitgeist Films // 2003 // 145 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // April 25th, 2005
Subject: The Corporation
Diagnosis of Personality Disorder: Psychopath
The Corporation features valuable interviews with dozens of central figures, and might be the most powerful and important film of the last several years. In a sea of recent documentaries, it stands out as better constructed, fairer, and timelier than any others that I have seen. This DVD release is the perfect showcase for it.
Although it begins by studying the implications of allowing corporations to operate as legal persons under the law, The Corporation quickly branches out into a wide ranging discussion of corporate responsibility, the role of Government to control the growing power of multinational corporations, and our role as consumers in the messy world we've created. It features interviews with Noam Chomsky (who rocks), Naomi Kline, Michael Moore, some activists, and corporate leaders that I didn't expect to see at this particular party.
The Corporation has brilliant construction and shape. Filmmakers Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, and Joel Bakan develop a complicated argument which is laid out so well that virtually anyone could follow it comfortably. Segments at the beginning set up a framework for the ideas, then case studies show those ideas in action. Afterwards, larger situations combine those ideas, adding depth to the argument. At the end, the filmmakers present solutions and raise a challenge for change, urging us to act. Although I'm horribly cynical, I forgot at times that The Corporation is carefully constructed, and fell for the message completely. Footage from several decades ago, with the optimistic message that the corporate way of life is wonderful and here to stay, is cleverly juxtaposed with current proof that our way of operating is unfair, dangerous, and unsustainable. I have rarely felt inspired to act at the end of a film as I did when the credits of The Corporation began to roll.
The real test of a good documentary isn't how much you agree with it while immersed in its magic. The true test comes while you are having a discussion with other people afterwards, challenging the views you have just been presented with and mulling them over for yourself. The Corporation passes that test with flying colors. Enough footage is included from the opposing side so it never feels like the audience is being manipulated for a single political purpose. We are being mobilized for positive change, but it feels totally different from films like Fahrenheit 9/11.
There are more great anecdotes than I have room to discuss in this review, but several of them stand out. Take the story of the city of Cochabamba in Bolivia, in which the Bechtel corporation purchased the rights to any drinking water in the area, including rain water. The citizens were then forced to spend much of their small salaries in order to get clean water, which is utterly bizarre and inhumane. We care so much about freedom in North America that it baffles me that we can hear stories like this and do nothing about it. The other story that really impressed me was the fight that Steve Wilson and Jane Akre had with the Fox network, in which they lost a court battle after Fox refused to air a well-researched and true story about the dangers of products used in milk production. Freedom of speech is also something that we claim to care deeply and fight strongly for here, but this process suggests that we have given much of that up to support our large television studios.
Opponents of the film would claim that corporations are actively fighting for freedom of choice and speech. After all, a corporation is free to do anything in order to be profitable, and you are never forced to buy its products. The Corporation reminds us that we have been quick to sacrifice our freedom to the altar of the financial bottom line, and that the advertisements, corporate propaganda, and business practices of corporations are a long way from being democratic. The lesson is important and timely, one I hope that North American audiences are willing to take to heart.
Zeitgeist has not only gotten its hands on a great film: This is a fantastic DVD, with a first grade transfer. Although the footage is of varying quality, it has been assembled expertly into the 1.85:1 anamorphic ratio. The older footage never feels like it's been cropped on the top and bottom, even though it almost certainly has. Much of the footage shot for The Corporation was shot in digital, and doesn't have the high gloss look of a high budget 35mm production, but the color levels are perfect and it looks more professional than many documentaries. The sound is solid as well, although there is no action in the surrounds. There is little need for them in this film, though, and it's far more important that the voices are clear, never outdone by the music. It's easy to understand what's being said, and the music has been mixed well across the front sound stage.
This is also an extensive special edition in the largest sense. These discs are packed to bursting with additional material. There are two commentary tracks from the filmmakers. The first is the comments of Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, who recorded separately then edited them together into one track. The second is from Joel Bakan, who wrote the book that this film was inspired by (and co-produced the film as well). These are highly intelligent people, they have put together a brilliant film, and they speak intelligently about it. Both are heavily intellectual tracks, but they also contain interesting anecdotes from the production.
There is yet more on the first disc. A Q&A series with the producers discusses the funding, purpose, and history of the film. The most useful of these is the "what can we do?" segment, which is full of practical changes that would solve these societal problems. They are not short sighted, pat answers to the problems. These are practical but challenging changes that need to be made. There are also deleted scenes, which would have fit well into the film but would have extended the already long 145 minute running time. Next up is an interview with Joel Bakan by Janeane Garofolo for Majority Report. It's a solid interview, and although it covers quite a bit of the information from the film, it works as an excellent primer for the ideas presented in the film. The last feature on the first disc is an interview with Katherine Dodds explaining what the grassroots advertising campaign for The Corporation looked like.
That's nothing compared to the second disc, which houses a whopping five hours of additional interview footage. Some of this footage contains external footage as well, so it's almost like having another five hours of deleted scenes. These segments are broken up by interviewee as well as a "topical paradise." This is a great way to set it up, as it allows us to check out more from Naomi Kline if that's what we want, or it lets us explore the idea of corporate responsibility in great depth. There are dozens of topics included, all discussed by the brilliant minds that appear in the film. It's almost like having a short University course on corporations, which can be explored in any order you want.
In case that's not enough, the second disc has a number of logos and other marketing images in PDF format as well. This is a heavily stacked release, more than any other documentary than I can think of.
North Americans need to get the message that we validate the behavior of corporations every time we put money down for a product. If we are unhappy with the way that corporations run, and the way they act on the international scene, we need to work together to do something about it. It's time for our society to be responsible to humanity, the environment, and the future. The Corporation argues that point well, and offers numerous practical ways for us to move in that direction. There are films that everyone ought to see: this is a film that everyone needs to see and discuss with the people around them. There's no better way to do this than picking up this DVD, which is a valuable investment.
Guilty? I think not.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 145 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary Tracks
* Question and Answer Section
* Deleted Scenes
* Interview: Majority Report
* Marketing Presentation
* Additional Interviews
* Home Page