WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Raise your hand if you recall the bleak December day back in 1999 when Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was assassinated in Los Angeles. You don't remember that? It was at McArthur Park, and the alleged assassin was a man named Alek Hidell? No? I'm surprised you don't remember it, although there was some controversy surrounding Hidell, who was found dead immediately following the fatal shot. And there was some kind of weird cover-up, and odd actions on the part of the Los Angeles police. We all know that the official police report on the assassination contains huge holes and unanswered questions about the event. And what about the…
Yeah, that's the tactic this odd little film, Nothing So Strange, takes. It's a dead-serious, played-straight, fictional documentary about the death of Gates, and the assassination's controversial aftermath, in which a citizen's brigade called Citizens for Truth takes up the gauntlet of truth and attempts to root out the real facts about that fateful day. The film is a moderately clever, low-budget project with a tremendous amount of earnestness behind its sleight of hand. These people are frighteningly energetic about the elaborate alternate reality they've constructed. It reminds me, in a way, of the devious media campaign waged for The Blair Witch Project, which led you to believe that the events of the movie were, in fact, all too real.
The movie, after setting up the interesting notion of a Bill Gates assassination 10 years in our past, chooses to focus mostly on the inner squabblings of Citizens for Truth—an unfortunate tactic that removes us from what's fascinating about the story and thrusts us instead into the comparatively mundane, bickering nature of the small-group dynamic. This movie isn't really about the Gates assassination—well, most of it isn't. Rather, it's about Citizens for Truth. And to tell the truth, I don't really care about the organization. The best parts of Nothing So Strange occur toward the beginning, when the "facts" of the assassination are laid out in straightforward, unblinking detail, and we see all the points of controversy and debate. That's the first 20 minutes or so. During the final hour, I found my attention wavering, and I knew that the film had already given me all it had to offer.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
The disc presents Nothing So Strange in a full-frame transfer of the film's original 1.33:1 theatrical presentation. This is a shot-on-video production and carries all the inherent flaws of a video production--hard edges and a tendency toward aliasing. Detail, however, is just fine, and colors seem accurate. But video in general comes across as somewhat ugly, in comparison with film.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
Surprisingly, the DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Most of the dialog and other sound come front and center, but the music surrounds you pretty consistently, creating an interesting sound presentation. Voices are clear and accurate, and the music has a pleasing depth and fidelity.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
This DVD offers an extensive array of supplements to build an aura of constructed truth around the fictional events of the film.
First up is a section titled Evidence, which contains amateur video snippets of the Arrival (2 angles), the Assassination (3 angles), and the Running Man (you can use your angle button to switch between angles); a photo gallery that includes a slideshow and access to the Citizens for Truth Web site; and audio snippets of a pivotal interrogation in the "investigation."
A Commentary (not entirely scene-specific) lets you hear the thoughts of director Brian Flemming, as well as Debra Meagher (of the fictional organization Citizens of Truth) and David James (of the equally fictional Citizens for Action). This commentary plays it completely straight, as if the Gates assassination really happened, and that's an interesting though distancing tactic. Flemming talks for a while about his thoughts on commentaries in general, then takes a phone call from Debra, who fills us in for just over 30 minutes on what she's been up to since the events of the documentary and what her lingering thoughts are about the "assassination." Flemming later calls James, and this conversation is a bit more contentious. James isn't a fan of the film, and he tells us why. Then Debra and David get a chance to go at each others' throats toward the end of the commentary. It's a fun fake debate, and well choreographed, but I couldn't help but think that the commentary, like the film, would have worked better had it focused more on the fake assassination than on the inner squabblings of a tiny, fake organization. It does end on a hilarious note, though.
You also get the film's Trailer.
"The City Beat" gives you "footage" from a public-access show called "The City Beat," on which Debra Meagher and Mark Anderson face off with the authors of a book about the Gates assassination. Excerpts from this mock show appear in the film.
"The 2nd DVD" is an interesting special feature that lets you access enormous volumes of extra footage and ancillary items at the www.nothingsostrange.com Web site. Using something called BitPass, you can pay for these items and, at least according to the commentary, even assemble your own cut of the film.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Nothing So Strange isn't quite the alternate-reality puzzle box that it aspires to be. It has an undeniably unique premise, but it quickly devolves into the mundane. You can't fault the filmmakers for giving it their all, however. These guys are really into this project, and that energy comes through in the film as well as the supplements.