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JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide

History Channel // 2013 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 14th, 2013

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All Rise...

Judge Gordon Sullivan doesn't even believe there was a JFK.

The Charge

Who does America think really killed JFK—and why?

The Case

Hunter S. Thompson once called the failure to find a definitive answer to the mysteries surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy the single greatest failure of the journalists of his generation. Even if you buy the official story—that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone as the only shooter before being killed by the patriot but misguided Jack Ruby—the death of John F. Kennedy opened up so many cans of worms, exposing our involvement in Cuba, drug running, and sexual scandals at all levels of government. With 2013 marking the fifiteth anniversary of the event, scores of people are hoping to cash in on America's fond memories of JFK. History Channel gets into the game with JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide. There's not much news for conspiracy buffs, but those looking for a pretty thorough look at the start of current thinking on the JFK assassination—from hard-line Warren Commission defenders to the nuttiest explanations you can imagine—this DVD is a good place to start.

Over the course of 88 minutes, JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide gives viewers the story of JFK's assassination, narrating the events of the day and the various theories that people have come up with to explain it. We also get to hear from contemporary people about what they think happened, along with recreations to help show how Oswald could have assassinated the President from the School Book Depository. A combination of talking-head interviews and archival footage round out the visual presentation.

This documentary makes it fairly clear that most people do not accept the official word about the Kennedy assassination. In fact, the filmmakers conducted a survey, and the results indicate that the official explanation is less than satisfying. The great tragedy of the Kennedy assassination, however, is that one needn't believe in any conspiracy to see that JFK's death made it obvious that a lot of people had reason to want the President dead. Whether JFK had personal involvement or not, his administration was in a pickle over Cuba, may have colluded with organized crime to earn votes in Chicago, and was involved in CIA shenanigans involving drugs. That's a number of very powerful motivations to kill JFK, the president where no one could understand why anyone would want him dead. Even if Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, the illusion of JFK's perfect kingdom of Camelot was shattered.

Of course, there are the apparent inconsistencies with the official story. The number of bullets fired, the acoustic signature of those bullets (which makes it sound like there were four bullets from two shooters), the number and position of those shooters—and that's just the few seconds when JFK was actually shot. Looking at the official explanation, we have to question who Lee Harvey Oswald was, and his connection to the Russians and the CIA. Then there's Jack Ruby, who was involved with organized crime. Those are just the sane, rational questions everyone should ask about the official story. The Definitive Guide also gives us some not-so-plausible scenarios, like the Zapruder film showing us that JFK's driver was actually the one that shot him. These scenarios come from experts, but also interviews with random Americans. Together they give a pretty broad portrait of what may or may not have happened on that day in Dallas, and while none are ultimately convincing they do show just how hollow the official explanation can feel.

The History Channel gives us JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide on DVD with a 1.78:1 transfer that's fine. The archival footage is sometimes in so-so condition, but the transfer retains as much detail and saturation as possible. The contemporary interview material is as sharp as you'd expect. Overall, the disc looks like fine broadcast television. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track keeps the talking heads and narrator well-balanced as well. The only extra is a set of trailers for other releases.

For assassination buffs, there's not much new here except some survey data about who's most likely to believe in conspiracy theories. Those well versed in the Warren Commission report and all that it entails will be on familiar ground. Heck, if you've seen Oliver Stone's JFK, you have a pretty good idea what the basic conspiracy theories are, and not much new info has come out since then, though perhaps people have gotten slightly more creative in offering alternatives.

If you're looking for a decent summary of the conspiracy theories surrounding JFK's assassination, then JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide is a good way to dip your toes in to this wild world. Conspiracy diehards, however, will find little of value in this overview.

The Verdict

We may never know how killed JFK, but this special is not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: History Channel
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (CC)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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