Biography: John McCain:
By now plenty of you know Senator John McCain's story, he's been a subject of national attention in America for about forty years, and his current run at the presidency means he's been in the daily news for about two whole years. It's certainly a good time for The Biography Channel to resurrect this 45-minute biography from the early part of the century (prior to 2004). At the conclusion of the original version of the program, in reflecting on his failed 2000 campaign, McCain professed no desire to run again, only an eventual desire to retire to Arizona and never come back to Washington. Well, we all know about famous last words.
As biographies go, an under-one-hour look at a man with a life as amazing as McCain's has been, by necessity can't be too exhaustive. As such, this look at McCain is something slightly south of your typical Reader's Digest version. Nonetheless, it covers all the basics, touches briefly on the man's negative side (we all have one) and represents an easy-watching and decently informative primer on someone about whom we should all be informed.
At times looking eerily like a PM Magazine-type special (especially during '80s clips) with cheesy-cheery synthesizer music, the biography informs of McCain's early family life, and his peripatetic journey as the son (and grandson) of a Navy man. Teen rebellion and emulation of James Dean segues into skin-of-his-teeth graduation - and more rebellion - from Annapolis. The incredible rigors of that Naval academy didn't deter McCain from his natural inclinations, essentially soft-pedaled ones of boozing and womanizing (not that I'm not inclined similarly, and I'm sure Annapolis would have done me a hell of a lot more good than that of my particular path).
But, in light of his achievements since, the story would have been interesting enough. However, a little five-and-a-half year stint as a POW, tortured and eventually forced to fraudulently confess to war crimes at the Hanoi Hilton (a notorious POW camp) during the Vietnam War, further complicates McCain's character. After being shot down from his fighter plane and breaking both arms, McCain became an early video cause celebre - used as a political pawn by his captors. It's perhaps only natural that he went on to become a politician with the inclination to speak truth to power. From the Senate to Congress, he's never been afraid to ruffle feathers when his particular missions didn't jibe with his Republican party. Mention is made of his (purportedly brief) return to womanizing and boozing - acts that lead to a new wife and family, his quick and stinging temper, and the Keating Five scandal, the last of which, after many months of hearings, lead to his eventual exoneration. Accused of trying to block investigation of a savings and loan collapse, McCain was essentially told he wasn't being smart to associate with the guilty party.
So, there you have it. It's a bit difficult to review a biography without parroting what you've just heard. Biography does a fine job hitting all the hot spots in McCain's life, and as such an essentially glancing look, the information presented isn't much more than a matter of public record. It's a good précis of the man that is McCain, but (in its capsulated look, that doesn't focus on anything terribly pertinent to the current election) likely won't sway voters in 2008, whose minds are probably made up by now. (A post-credits addendum talks super-briefly about McCain's 2008 bid.) As a global view of a fascinating man, it's a great place to start your investigation.
John McCain's biography comes in its original television broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 fullscreen. Combining archival footage from the Navy, smoothly weaved together with early stills of McCain, and plenty of later news footage from the '70s, '80s, '90s and beyond, we get a mixed bag of fidelity. Obviously most of the pre'-90s footage is not great (by DVD standards) and even some of the interview sequences look bad - especially those of McCain's first wife. For this type of work, these things are secondary however, and aside from some aliasing and heavy noise reduction during early black-and-white footage, there's nothing to complain about.
Dolby 2.0 Stereo Audio is perfectly adequate. Ultra-biography fans who look to this type of DVD release to test their home theater systems are probably barking up the wrong tree, the rest of us will be pleased but not overwhelmed with joy.
No extras are included on this release.
The Biography Channel's look at the life of Senator John McCain is plenty decent viewing for people looking for a brief and briefly informative examination of the storied politician and serviceman. It's also something that would be fabulous curriculum in whole for school-kids and used in conjunction with other materials for older students. It's not muckraking or terribly in-depth, so those looking for a deep examination should consider it a starting point only. At only 45 minutes and without any extras, we'll let you know that if you're interested, you can't go wrong to Rent It.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com