Madacy // 2001 // 225 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // September 20th, 2001
History and alarming trends in organized crime.
Supposedly from a manuscript written by a highly placed mobster now in the Witness Protection Program, this set of discs comprises history and the nefarious dealings of organized crime gangs worldwide, including the Mafia (both American and Sicilian), the Chinese Triads, and the Japanese Yakuza. Meant to be a wake-up call to everyone about some highly dangerous activities going on, it is sometimes less than believable due to the re-enacted dramatizations and the propagandistic style in which it is portrayed. If the stories inside are all true, then it is indeed alarming, but that nagging doubt of voracity plagues the presentation. Madacy released this box set some time ago and some annoying methods of authoring mar an otherwise decent technical release.
There are five discs to this set: International Syndicates, Killers of the Underworld, Mafia Nations, Gangland Confessions, and the Nuclear Mafia. There is a fair amount of overlap between the discs, as most give history lessons about the various crime organizations, and warn of similar problems. The present day warnings come from the anonymous mob informant shown in silhouette, and the history lessons seem cobbled together from newsreel footage with commentary. The Nuclear Mafia is perhaps the most alarming of the discs, as it talks about organized crime's role in proliferation in nuclear materials used to make bombs. It paints a grim view of Russia and their ability to keep tabs on all those nukes and materials used to make them. The most upbeat is probably Gangland Confessions, which talks about gangs that have been taken down by the law due to informants. The other discs are mainly history lessons about the various mobs and how they operate today.
I've always been a history buff, and the history of the Mafia has always been an interesting topic to me and to Americans in general, if our love of mob movies is any indication. This disc set tries to overturn our romantic notions of organized crime, painting them as psychopaths rather than people who police their own organization and just "give the public what they want." An alarming, strident tone is used throughout, forecasting dire consequences should viewers fail to heed the warnings within. This did not serve the goals of the program well, as it came off as a bit too earnest considering we have only the word of an anonymous person to believe. But it was still interesting, and I found myself putting in one disc after the other to hear the rest. Each disc only comprises about 45 minutes of program, with a short quiz and picture galleries to provide extra content. So it is really more like a three-disc set made to fit five.
The real problem I had with the set comes from the technical qualities. When you first pop in a disc you are "treated" to a computer graphics animation of a guy watching TV then going to jail, presumably for violating the copyright warning that pops up at the end. It is impossible to skip this "feature" and takes more than a minute to complete on each of the five discs. Then you get the long-winded animation that results in the Madacy logo. This takes nearly two minutes before you even get to the program, and you are a prisoner yourself waiting for it to start. Madacy isn't the only DVD producer guilty of this, and I'm going to start calling the other studios for it as well, but it is simply annoying. I'm not a pirate, I don't know any pirates, and I truly hate being forced to watch anything but the main menu when I pop in a disc. I know I'm not alone.
The picture quality ranges from decent to poor, depending on the footage shown. The interview footage with our anonymous mobster is clear, although the man is kept in silhouette. Some of the archival footage looks pretty good, but the older stuff is badly faded, very grainy, and extremely soft. Nothing I didn't expect, but noteworthy. The sound is a 2 channel mix that is entirely dialogue driven, with some music for emphasis. It is clear enough, which is good since there are no subtitles.
The biggest question looming in my mind as I watched this set is "Can I believe a word of what is being said?" It seems plausible at least, and very alarming if true. The history seemed accurate from my own knowledge base. But the tone of the programs sounded like propaganda rather than a straight-forward account, and it raises my radar for skepticism.
I'm releasing this one, not because I believe in it, but because I can't find anything to charge it with.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 225 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Madacy Video