Judge Victor Valdivia agrees that "Yes, We Can." However, he also feels that most of the time, "We Just Really Don't Want To."
"A skinny kid with a funny name"—Sen. Barack Obama on himself
That skinny kid with the funny name has, of course, gone on to become the hottest star of the Democratic Party. His story seems tailor-made for Biography Channel, and the liner notes to Barack Obama promise that this DVD "narrates the definitive story" of his life. That's a great idea, and someday someone will do it, as this DVD doesn't come close.
True, Bio Presents: Barack Obama is comprehensive in detailing Obama's personal life. His troubled childhood, when he was shuttled back and forth between continents and relatives, his struggles to find his identity, and his personal triumphs and tragedies are all laid out thoroughly. The show benefits from interviews with several people close to Obama, including his wife Michelle, his half-sister, his brother-in-law, and some of his childhood friends (both of Obama's parents died well before this show was produced). In this sense, this DVD shows a well-rounded picture of Obama as a person.
When it comes to Obama the politician, however, this disc is considerably skimpier. The presence of some of Obama's political advisors, most notably campaign manager David Axelrod, is useful in explaining some of the nuts and bolts of how Obama lost and then won his local races. However, what's missing is how Obama arrived at his political ideology. Some interviewees mention that having grown up so traumatically made him decide "to help people." This may explain why he entered politics, but not why he became a Democrat. Was there any specific connection he felt to the Democratic Party? The show doesn't say. In fact, if you only knew Obama by this show, you wouldn't even know whether he's a liberal or conservative Democrat. Also missing is whether he has ever made any compromises in order to preserve his political life. For instance, the show mentions that when he was a state senator, he introduced several bills. What were those bills? Did they pass? What did he do to try to help them? None of this is explained. These are not trivial omissions. If the goal is to tell the definitive story, it would be essential to explain these issues. Yes, much of this information is available in other sources (including Obama's two books) but isn't the point of this show to be as all-encompassing as possible?
It's the presidential race, of course, that has made this DVD so timely. With Obama having won the Democratic Party nomination, it seems like an excellent time for the Biography Channel to cash in with this DVD. This is actually a reissue of a previous DVD issued in 2005, shortly after Obama won his Illinois U.S. Senate seat in the 2004 elections. Under those circumstances, it makes sense that the original show didn't have anything about Obama's career and accomplishments in the Senate. An updated version seems logical, and the back of the disc does proclaim breathlessly that it will go "behind the scenes of Obama's extraordinarily successful Presidential campaign!" What that actually means is that less than five minutes of clips have been tacked on to the original program (after the credits) that rehash every CNN/MSNBC headline you've already heard 375 million times already. There are no new interviews, analysis, or footage. The Reverend Wright controversy? The "bitter" remarks? All here, in even shorter and shallower form. Also, still missing are any insights into Obama's career and accomplishments in the Senate. As far as useless double dips motivated by sheer greed go, this surpasses even the most redundant Anchor Bay reissue of Halloween. Plus, this just raises the question of whether the Biography Channel will issue yet another version of this disc if Obama does win the election.
The full-screen transfer and Dolby Digital Stereo mix are typical TV quality. There are no extras, a dubious decision considering how many questions this show leaves unanswered. Barack Obama is useful in assessing Obama as a person, but it's only a starting point in explaining his political career. Furthermore, if you've already seen the original 2005 version, don't bother with this new reissue, as the new additions are utterly worthless. Ultimately, viewers will simply have to do more research on their own to learn about Obama's political life, as this show isn't nearly as exhaustive as it ought to be. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Biography Channel
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