Paramount // 1999 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Chief Justice Sean McGinnis (Retired) // October 23rd, 1999
Reading, Writing, Revenge.
A straight-faced comedy laced with irony, Election is sure to entertain. Paramount delivers the goods too, with a splendid anamorphic transfer and a director's commentary to boot.
Election tells the story of two main characters, Tracy Flick and Jim McAllister. Tracy is the typical overachiever in a local Omaha high school and Jim is everyone's favorite civics teacher. Tracy has decided, in typical overachiever fashion, to run for student body President and Jim finds that abhorrent. He has a personal history with Tracy (he holds her responsible for the firing of his friend who also taught at the school). His personal problems with Tracy, and his general disgust for overachievers sets Jim down the path of personal destruction in an attempt to derail Tracy's campaign for President.
Tracy is played deliciously by Reese Witherspoon (Fear, Freeway, Pleasantville), a wonderful actress coming into her own through a careful selection of innocent and quirky roles. Tracy comes off as cocksure and cunning, but also extraordinarily hardworking. Matthew Broderick (War Games, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Glory) plays Jim as the straight man, a victim of circumstance, but we know that Jim feels forlorn about his own abilities, which is what leads him down the path he travels.
Election is hardly funny in any traditional way. And the only way I can see to describe it is to compare it to some other comedy and see how they are different. I have selected Ghostbusters because it is a film we are probably all familiar with. Ghostbusters takes the tack of being set in a sort of fantasy world, in that it is something we all know could never exist. And it is filled with many funny lines. Election on the other hand, is rather straightforward. The situation here could happen in Anywhere, USA and be fully believable. The dialogue is not remarkable funny, but the situations certainly are. We see the choices these characters make and laugh at both their stupidity and naïveté at once. I liked the film a lot, but can think of probably ten "funnier" films off the top of my head. But the film is so well made in so many respects, it ranks up there with some of the very best comedies I have seen. In other words, it's not a gut-buster, but it is a good movie.
The video here is outstanding. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced for widescreen monitors, Paramount continues to do a wonderful job. I have been so very please with the progress of Paramount, they are creeping up my list to the point that I am now pretty sure that they will treat some of their great catalog titles with the respect they deserve. I'm talking about films like Braveheart, of course. The colors here are very well saturated and the video exhibited no shimmering or ringing from digital over-enhancement. There was little, if any, bleeding of colors into adjacent fields and the black level was very nice. The contrast is good and the edges were crisp. A fine job all the way around. It may not be as good as some of the best transfers we have seen, but it certainly is a major step in the right direction.
The audio was quite good as well. The disc includes both Dolby Surround and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, which is clearly preferred, as not everyone is Dolby Digital equipped at this point. And since it is a comedy, and not an action comedy, most of the film revolves around dialogue. In other words, don't expect much from your surrounds or subwoofer here, but that's okay. The dialogue was never thin and covered a good dynamic range. Overall, it was adequate.
The big surprise here is a commentary track by the director of the film Alexander Payne. Payne had some pretty strong ideas and directions he wanted to travel with this film and he clearly succeeded. Overall, it was a largely informative and sometimes entertaining commentary track. Sadly, the disc lacks even a trailer for the film. Had Paramount thrown a few more extras on the disc, they would have had a fine little special edition on their hands. All in all, though, I was pleasantly surprised, especially by the inclusion of the commentary track, as you can see form my rating below. The disc also comes in the preferred Amaray keep case, with some pretty original cover art.
As I said above, my only complaint was the lack of some other extras, which could have made this a better disc. Overall though, I enjoyed the movie and the commentary, and disc was very well made. My only real problem with this disc is its typical Paramount price. $29.99 is just way too much for a disc like this. Granted, it can be had on sale for $20.95 at DVD Empire and the like online, but a more typical price might be $24.95 at Best Buy or somewhere. Which brings up another problem -- Paramount's DVD tagline. "Priced to Own. Yours to Collect." Yeah, right! Give me a break. If anything, that ought to be New Line's line with their $20 Platinum Edition discs. That and Paramount's goofy buy five get one free promotion. But not just any five. It has to be three from list "A" and two from list "B" to get one from list "C" which is only 10 DVDs, most of which no one would want anyway. Give it a rest. If you're not going to have a REAL promotion, don't even bother.
Election is an entertaining film with a good commentary track. Fans of the film will want to own this disc. I encourage the rest of you to rent it when you have a free evening. Well done Paramount! You have made us all very happy. Continued success and growth by your DVD division will be rewarded by more and more devoted fans of your work. Of that I can assure you.
The movie is acquitted, as is the disc. Paramount promotion executives are sentenced to 30 days in the county slammer until they wise up about what we really want from a promotion and that we can see right through them.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary with director Alexander Payne