I'm not a big war fan. I don't generally care for it in real life and I don't like most war-themed movies or documentaries on the subject. I had a good feeling about Shooting Robert King before requesting it as a screener, though, and ended up enjoying almost every minute of it. Of course, it's probably because our subject isn't a soldier: he's a photojournalist whose work has graced a number of front pages and magazine covers. He's also a charismatic guy who grew up in a dysfunctional family led by a distant father. Shooting Robert King follows the man from his naïve post-graduate years in the early 1990s to roughly 2007; along the way, he captured amazing photos during three major wars, hit rock bottom in a haze of drug and alcohol abuse, learned to survive in squalor, got married and became a father. It's a remarkable story of growth peppered with a fantastic amount of fly-on-the-wall footage.
The mood changes drastically during its 80-minute running time, but Shooting Robert King flows quite smoothly. It's been stitched together in staggered chronological order, shifting gears between foreign conflicts and recent scenes with Robert's adjustment to domestic life. This, of course, strips away a certain element of danger: we know he's going to make it back home in one piece, at least in a physical sense. Instead, Shooting Robert King looks at where his childhood, family situation and career have left him mentally...and without a doubt, he's a broken man who recognizes and understands this. In one particularly important scene, Robert basically admits that his talent and passion for wartime journalism are a direct result of his dysfunctional family. I'm not sure if he considers it a fair trade.
At its core, Shooting Robert King shows us a young man growing into adulthood under unique and dangerous circumstances. Robert's story is equal parts inspirational drama and cautionary tale; it's told straight from the horse's mouth and has an amazing collection of personal footage to back it up. The 80-minute documentary is completely engaging from start to finish, though sensitive viewers may have trouble digesting some of the graphic wartime images. In any case, the DVD provides plenty of support for the main feature, pairing a decent technical presentation with a great collection of extras.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Documentaries are often all over the map visually, and Shooting Robert King is no exception. The image is enhanced for 16x9 displays, though all of the wartime video is (thankfully) presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. This source material seems to be in uniformly good condition, though the 1993 footage was obviously shot on low-grade videotape and seems more like a second or third-generation dub. The most recent footage exhibits a few strange imperfections, especially in regards to the bright reds on King's hunting jacket: plenty of jagged edges and artifacts can be seen, which makes certain shots look like upscaled YouTube clips. Either way, it's obvious that the actual transfer was treated with care, as the best footage (circa 1997, as well as Robert's still photography) looks great, all things considered.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is a bit more consistent, though mostly in regards to the tasteful post-production work. Dialogue is almost always crisp and easy to understand, except during a handful of muffled scenes where forced subtitles are put to good use. The sparse music cues are generally full and rich without fighting for attention, and at least one sequence benefits from a nice layer of LFE that intensifies the overall mood. Surround activity is limited for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, Closed Captions or full subtitles are not included, aside from the forced ones mentioned above.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the static menu designs are smooth, nicely designed and easy to navigate. The 80-minute main feature has been divided into just over a dozen chapters, a number of sub-menus are present and a somewhat intrusive layer change can be detected above five minutes before the credits roll. This one-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase and includes no inserts of any kind.
The extras are varied and appropriate, leading off with an Audio Commentary
by director Richard Parry and producer Vaughan Smith (who also appears in the film). These two offer an engaging and informative chat, which is a nice change since King's perspective dominates the main feature. Related features include a short-form Behind-the-Scenes Documentary
, a pair of interesting Deleted Scenes
and two Media Segments
related to certain wars seen during the film. A short follow-up Documentary
entitled "Riding with the King" follows the photographer down to Mexico in more recent years, which serves as an excellent coda to the main feature. Overall, this is a satisfying collection of bonus features; the technical presentation is good enough, but once again no subtitles or Closed Captions are provided.
It's not necessarily pleasant or easily-digested, but Shooting Robert King is an important documentary that deserves a wider audience. Our subject bares his emotions for the camera during a staggered fifteen-year period, from his naïve post-college years to adulthood as a sought-after photographer, husband and father. It's a picture composed with care, and the fantastic amount of first and second-person footage along the way proves to be a great asset. This one-disc package is equally effective, pairing a decent technical presentation with a number of appropriate extras. Shooting Robert King is definitely good enough to rent, but documentary fans should consider a purchase. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two in his spare time. Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD-DVDs and writing stuff in third person.