Let's get this out of the way right off the top: I voted for Barack Obama. I had buttons and a T-shirt and even made a couple of (very small) contributions to his campaign. I mention this because it has a fairly direct correlation with my response to 60 Minutes Presents: Obama: All Access- Barack Obama's Road to the White House; had I been a McCain contributor, well, I imagine my reaction would have been somewhat less enthusiastic.
But even if your feelings towards our new president are more indifferent than mine, All Access is a valuable disc, from a historical point of view; in addition to featuring two lengthy 60 Minutes profiles of the Obamas (and some unused clips from them), it compiles several of the key speeches from his historic campaign. Over the course of the two-year race for the White House, the show did seven stories on the candidate, and correspondent Steve Kroft spent a great deal of time with the Obama family and staff.
The first piece is "The 44th President," broadcast on November 16, 2008, less than two weeks after the election. Kroft visits the Obama family in their Chicago home, first sitting down for a one-on-one with the President-elect on current issues (chiefly, the continuing economic woes) and campaign promises. Michelle Obama then joins the two men for a discussion of the victory on a more personal level, and how it has changed (and will change) their family.
The second piece is the more exhaustive "The Road to the White House", broadcast on December 28, 2008. This piece looks back over the entire campaign, utilizing clips from Kroft's reportage throughout. It goes clear back to January of 2007 and his entry into the race from the old Illinois state house in Springfield; numerous interviews from throughout the two-year period are included, from not only the Obamas but campaign staffers David Axelrod and David Plouffe, who provide introspective thoughts on their successes and mistakes.
The piece also gives us a fairly detailed blow-by-blow of the extended primary battle against Hillary Clinton. Kroft was with Axelrod and, later, the Obama family on Super Tuesday; that footage is fascinating, as is the campaign staff's reflections on the Reverend Wright controversy. Kroft was also backstage after Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, and sat down with Obama and Vice President Biden the following day, immediately after McCain announced his running mate, Sarah Palin. Kroft catches up with Obama as he campaigns in the battleground states, with the piece wrapping up on that historic election night.
As is expected from the highly-regarded program, these 60 Minutes profiles are expertly produced, compelling viewing; Kroft is an easygoing presence but not a softball interviewer, though his rapport with the candidate is palpable. The correspondent also gets some fascinating byplay between the President and the First Lady; their dual interviews are remarkably candid and spotlight a relationship that seems (in public, anyway) to combine genuine affection with good-natured ribbing. In his solo interviews, Obama shows why he captured the hearts and minds of so many across the nation--he is cool, composed, thoughtful, and ruthlessly intelligent. His television-friendly persona and captivating story, along with Kroft's solid reporting and the top-notch work of the 60 Minutes crew, make these stories worth the effort of this DVD release.
The disc arrives with a fair-to-middling full-frame transfer; it's a real disappointment, since 60 Minutes switched over to HD in September of 2008 and both stories were presumably broadcast in that format (though much of the older material in the second story would have been full-frame). I'm not sure if Paramount Home Video thought that viewers would be confused by the switches from full-frame to widescreen, but it was certainly a miscalculation. The 4:3 image that we get is a little on the soft side; edges are crisp and foregrounds are mostly solid, but the backgrounds are frequently noisy.
We get your standard 2.0 TV news audio mix; nothing to complain about, but nothing to write home about either. Reporter track and interviews are all crystal clear, with no audibility issues.
I'm giving Paramount the benefit of the doubt here; although all of the disc's contents are accessible from the main menu, the remaining elements are clearly bonus features, even though they aren't labeled as such.
First we have the too-brief but still interesting "What You Haven't Seen" (14:11), which is essentially a collection of brief, deleted snippets. We see more of the couple's first interview, in which Michelle talks about his entrance into politics in general and this campaign in particular; we see Barack talk about his readiness and confidence as well as the bravery of his parents. He takes Kroft on a tour of the old Illinois state house, catches up with him a year later, and offers additional reflections on the campaign after its completion.
The blue-ribbon extra, however, is the collection of Obama's Major Speeches. The disc compiles six of his major addresses: his February 2007 candidacy announcement (21:07), his brilliant speech on race from March 2008, in the midst of the Wright controversy (14:47), his address in Berlin in July (16:07), the prime-time acceptance of the Democratic nomination in August (43:15), the election night victory speech (18:48) and, just a month ago, the inaugural address (22:16). Kroft supplies intros to each segment, providing background and context, but he mostly lets the speeches do the talking.
The inclusion of these speeches was a masterstroke, if a bit too selective; I would have liked to have seen the inclusion of his Iowa victory speech, or the wonderful address he gave following the clinching of the nomination in June. But even Obama's critics had to grudgingly admit his gift for oratory. At his best (and we get plenty of his best here), his speeches are inspiring, thoughtful, and hopeful, beautifully written and flawlessly delivered. Having them all collected on one disc (even if, again, only in full-screen format) is a real treat for political wonks like me.
60 Minutes Presents: Obama: All Access- Barack Obama's Road to the White House knows who its audience is: political junkies, history buffs, and Obama's fervent supporters. All should be pleased with the package, which includes some fine reportage and a valuable collection of the President's soaring oratory. The video presentation is disappointing, but the quality of the content and the inherent historical value still rates a recommendation.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their two cats in New York and holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.