Biography: Barack Obama:
Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce two-time Grammy winner, Barack Obama! Betcha didn't know that, did ya? That's just one of the interesting tidbits (perhaps the only truly interesting tidbit) in The Biography Channel's circa 2005 45 minute look at the Senator from Illinois. As with the biography of John McCain, the cable-TV channel has seen to re-release this piece with a few minutes of 2008 updates to coincide with the election that is right on top of us (unless you're reading this on or after November 5th, 2008 - how's that for shelf-life?)
Taking the usual birth-to-present-day path of biography, our sources outline Obama's birth in Hawaii, early years moving all over the place, (including a long stint in Indonesia) his relationship to both his parents and grandparents, and eventual launch from Harvard Law School to the US Senate. Not surprisingly, much of this information is by now almost doctrinaire, or at least a soggy mass of well-known talking points. But perhaps since his life-story is relatively brief compared to your usual Biography honoree, the material delves a little deeper into the man's itinerant childhood and adult motivations.
Thought (mostly guided by Obama's own reflections) is given to how a multi-racial upbringing filled with experiences spanning broad swaths of economic class has forged his character. The man is nothing if not ambitious, it seems, but even he had a wild, experimental side, and what biography would be complete without looking at the dark side? For Obama, high school indulgences included drinking, smoking pot, and even doing cocaine - not to mention the attendant rebellious slip in grades. For an intelligent young man with the ability to skate through school, the potential to slack off and do what he felt he needed to find his true self (or whatever) was an irresistible temptation.
Of course there's plenty more, the rest of which tracks Obama's move into politics, which is there for you to discover on your own. Broad and easy-to-grasp terms describe his moves, motivations and political propensities - plus we're reminded of hot old Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine to you Trekkers). But overall, we're delivered a pretty decent, centrist trajectory for the inspiring orator. Even though Obama -through words and actions - has always painted himself as a populist, (community outreach efforts etc.) to go any deeper than this tenth-grade-ready look dares would appeal only to policy wonks. As with the McCain biography, this is a fine primer. The elder senator certainly has a more interesting life-story to date, but if you're interested to know a little bit more of Obama than speech sound-bites, this is as good (and low-impact) a place to start as any. At least you'll learn how Obama garnered those Grammys.
Presented in the original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1, (fullscreen) the Barack Obama biography looks perfectly fine, though not outstanding. Combining the usual Ken Burns-style floating still shots with archival footage and contemporary stuff, the overall look is one of a decent digital television broadcast. There's nothing special or outstanding, but neither are there any glaring compression artifacts.
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.
Extras are of the zilch-variety. However, there are at least Scene Selections.
For a relatively young man, Barack Obama has an interesting life-story to tell. But after the compelling childhood part, the preponderance of mostly smooth-sailing politics makes this a biography that only reinforces the at-times negative stereotype that Obama is 'just' a politician. And to that point, this is 'just' a biography of a politician, however for obvious reasons it's quite relevant today, and should be a good Rent It choice (along with John McCain's biography) for those still on the fence.
- 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