Paramount // 2010 // 111 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // February 21st, 2011
The fate of our country won't be decided on a battlefield, it will be determined in a classroom.
Waiting for "Superman" is an alarming documentary that looks at what should be a comforting topic: the government-run education system that most kids go through. It asks us to wake up and take action, before these students slip away. An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim sits down with angry educators and parents to discuss how and why public schools are failing our children. We also follow several aspiring pupils hoping to better their situations through lotteries that get them out of "failure factories" and into institutions that actually prep them for college and real life success. The sad part is only a handful are going to get the chance at a fair shake; the rest are pretty much doomed.
Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Children's Zone, features prominently in the film as does Washington, DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee. Two figures with loud voices, they have strong ideas about how the education should be revolutionized. The real problem is that this system was invented in the 1950s, and hasn't effectively changed with the times. Teachers' unions and state governments obstruct sweeping change, while more and more students either drop out or graduate with no tangible skills. Where the United States was once number one in education, it now ranks at the bottom of thirty industrialized nations, whose leaders are Belgium and Japan.
Waiting for "Superman" is intriguing -- real-life documentary footage mixed with animated charts and vintage educational film elements -- and its Blu-ray looks just fine. Colors are sharp, darkness levels are up to par, and there is no evidence of distortion or digital artifacting. The five channel master audio mix isn't required to do much more than make dialogue clear and does so admirably. I'm not sure we need a Blu-ray to show off the technical elements of this presentation, but details are easily visible and the image gets an A+ for looking better than you would expect.
Bonus features are fairly extensive, for a small budget documentary film. There is a feature-length commentary by the director and producer; while not all that informative, it does explain how the film was structured and influenced by other documentaries. We also get several featurettes which expound upon the story, the making of John Legend's theme song, some updates on changes to the system, a brief interview with the director, and text updates on some of the subjects in the film. The most impressive inclusion is thirty minutes of deleted scenes which showcase several stories that did not make it to the final cut, including an entire section about a school in New Orleans that was opened after Katrina. The package also includes a gift card you can use to donate $25 to a public school of your choosing; a nice idea and certainly justifies the Blu-ray purchase with some "giving back" to the community.
Waiting for "Superman" wasn't nominated for an Oscar, even though it truly was one of the best documentaries of 2010. I almost wonder if the powerful teacher unions wanted to keep it from being honored, or if the subject material was just too close to home for Hollywood. Maybe Academy voters find this one irrelevant because their kids mostly go to private facilities that charge a steep price. The film may be overly critical of teachers, but it does bring to light a growing problem in the United States -- our kids are not educated enough to fill the highly technical jobs being created as the economy shifts away from manufacturing towards data management and information technology. Math and science are crucial, and most public schools have an abysmal record for getting anybody interested in the subjects. We can't hold out hope that someone like Superman will save us; we have to learn to save ourselves. That process starts with education, and Waiting for "Superman" is a great reminder that we're failing to make that a priority.
Not guilty by raising a hand and asking a very important question.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes