The American Film Institute (AFI)'s The Directors series offers "profiles of today's most acclaimed Hollywood directors." The German director Wolfgang Petersen is an interesting candidate for profiling, being part of Hollywood by adoption rather than birth, so to speak. The Directors: Wolfgang Petersen is a 60-minute piece that profiles the main phase of Petersen's career through interview clips with Petersen himself as well as other actors who have worked with him over the years.
The piece begins with a very quick summary of Petersen's entry into the world of film, as an actor, a drama student, and a director first of theater and then German television programs. It was with the WWII submarine epic Das Boot that Petersen shot to fame, and this is where the Directors program picks up the main thread of his career. The program is liberally interspersed with clips from the movies in question, which does give a frame of reference to what the interviewers are discussing, but at the cost of diluting the actual documentary content.
Probably the most interesting aspect of the feature is its treatment of all of Petersen's feature films, both the commercially or artistically successful (such as Das Boot, The Neverending Story, and Air Force One) and the unsuccessful (Enemy Mine, Outbreak). Petersen is fairly honest about what went right or wrong in each case, presenting what's probably a fairly accurate picture of a typical director: with his own interests and artistic vision, but willing to give in to Hollywood pressure when push comes to shove, as Petersen explains that he did with taking on Outbreak even knowing that it lacked a workable script.
One pertinent question that remains unanswered is who, exactly, is the intended audience of this DVD? It doesn't really offer much of substance beyond the surface facts surrounding the making of each movie; a serious fan of Petersen's work would likely be familiar with this information already. But why would viewers who aren't familiar with Petersen's work pick up this DVD to begin with? I fell into the middle range, having seen several of Petersen's films but being unfamiliar with his oeuvre as a whole. From that point of view, the DVD was in fact reasonably interesting.
In the end, did The Directors: Wolfgang Petersen leave me feeling that I'd learned anything of substance about its title figure? In all honesty, not really. Though it's entertaining and watchable, it only skims the surface of the story behind Petersen's films. It would make a great documentary featurette for a DVD edition of one of Petersen's movies, but that's the key: featurette, not feature. It's not really substantial enough to stand alone.
The Directors: Wolfgang Petersen is presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which appears to be the original aspect ratio. Pleasingly, the clips from Petersen's movies are letterboxed at their own original aspect ratios. The image quality of the interview pieces with Petersen and the actors is quite high, with a clean, fairly sharp image. The movie clips tend to be lackluster in comparison, often grainy-looking and a bit noisy, though.
The focus of The Directors: Wolfgang Petersen is on the interviewees' voices, not on any special effects, so the Dolby 2.0 track is reasonably well-suited to the task. It's not always as clear as I'd like it to be, so I'd give it only average marks.
The Directors: Wolfgang Petersen is really a stand-alone special feature as it is; it's not terribly surprising that it's not loaded with extras. There's a text filmography for Petersen, and if the DVD is inserted in a computer DVD-ROM drive, the viewer can click on two weblinks to find further information.
The Directors: Wolfgang Petersen is an oddity: a DVD that I awarded a reasonably high "movie" score to, but still only recommend renting. This is because while I found the DVD to be mildly enjoyable when considered by itself, it doesn't really merit production as a stand-alone feature: there's just not enough depth or substance on the disc to merit a purchase.