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Orwell Rolls in His Grave
One of the best things about writing for DVD Talk is having an editor that trusts his staff of writers. We are never stifled, influenced, or told what to say about a particular title simply to cater to a certain studio or DVD release. Having this kind of freedom is what allows us to be extremely honest and not follow any bandwagon buzz about a highly anticipated disc. That being said, I think what we have here at DVD Talk is probably pretty rare in the grand scheme of the media (be it TV, radio, Internet, etc) world. And while may people might think the Internet is the last truly free medium, I'd wager to say that there's plenty of dishonesty and manipulation afoot there as well. It may not be on as quite a large scale as television, but the next few years will probably prove crucial in determining just how "free" the Internet stays.
All this might just sound like so much soap-boxing, but these are precisely the issues that Robert Kane Pappas chooses to tackle in his eye-opening documentary Orwell Rolls in His Grave. He uses George Orwell's classic novel 1984 as the backdrop for the film, inserting quotes and anecdotes throughout the feature. The claim Pappas attempts to make is that we are beginning to exist in an Orwellian world of doublespeak, lies, conglomeration, and monopolies. His real point, however, is that free media is paying the price of this Orwellian existence.
Pappas uses many different examples and arguments throughout his film, but much of the attention in Orwell Rolls in His Grave is given to the 2000 election, the war in Iraq, and George W. Bush in general. He mainly focuses on how the media perceives these events and how this same media chooses to portray the events to the American public. What Pappas uncovers is not only surprising, but also disturbing and frightening in a way that few people probably realize. His arguments may seem trite or minor now, but the ultimate ramifications of the policies and practices that Pappas reveals will, most likely, prove to have a lasting effect on the way Americans receive and process their daily news and other programming. Whether it be media conglomeration, government control of the airwaves, or unanswered questions and unaired news segments, Orwell Rolls in His Grave shows an America that is slowly having its notions of democracy usurped by a government spoon-feeding its citizens their own form of sanctioned media. A frightening suggestion, indeed.
In addition to the use of news stories and stock footage, Pappas employs the help of several media experts, an ex-60 Minutes producer, a United States Congressman, and even a few famous faces to show how the mixing of business, politics, and ideology are creating this Orwellian world. Tim Robbins makes a brief appearance – in the form of a press conference clip – but Pappas's main celebrity selling point is some footage of filmmaker Michael Moore. The problem with this footage, however, is that it consists mostly of Moore cracking jokes and doesn't necessarily further the film's argument. It's almost as if Pappas had this footage and decided to insert it in his film because it would give him a "name" to sell the film. It's scary to think this might be the case with a film about truth and honesty in media, but unfortunately, that's the impression I got from the Moore footage.
Pappas, nevertheless, does an adequate job of presenting his subject and getting his point across. Orwell Rolls in His Grave does go in circles a bit and despite the intelligence of his interviewees, they don't prove to be all that exciting or interesting. The film is, essentially, a series of "talking head" interviews and, for that technique to fully succeed, the participants need to be incredibly charismatic or have something really groundbreaking to say. Unfortunately, the interviews in Pappas's film often drag on too long and become muddled in too much jargon and not enough easily understandable concepts. I mean, this is a documentary about media being truthfully and understandably conveyed to the masses, right?
The film also seems to have come a little late, as the American public has seen so many of these incendiary documentaries in the last few years. Michael Moore, for better or worse, has made an entire career off this type of film. Pappas, ultimately, proves to know what he's doing with his film, but it may just prove to be too little, too late. Still, Orwell Rolls in His Grave is an important film that does an adequate job of opening one's eyes to the frightening prospect of a government-sanctioned media world where we might never really know what's the truth and what's just spin.
Orwell Rolls in His Grave is presented in a 1.33:1 full frame format that looks pretty much like you'd expect it to look. Aside from a few minor problems, this documentary looks just fine. The interviews are all clearly detailed and color saturation is good. Flesh tones are accurate and, aside from a few washed out images (that are obviously a result of older source material), the stock footage and stills all look excellent. This isn't exactly a very stylistic film, so don't expect to see lavish colors and tricky camerawork, but the various interviews and news footage is presented well. The only major problems I could find are some slight flicker, a noticeable layer change, and one instance of some jumpy pixelation. Otherwise, this visual presentation manages to get the job done without bringing much attention to itself.
The audio on this disc is presented in a Dolby 2.0 stereo format that does exactly what it intends. It provides crystal clear dialogue and narration, and doesn't allow the cheesy music or few sound effects to overwhelm the rest of the soundtrack. This film consists of mostly "talking head" interviews, and they always come across as clear, crisp, and distinct. Don't expect to hear anything particularly spectacular from this track and you won't be disappointed.
Although it's split up into thirteen different segments on the disc's menu, the only real extra feature on this disc is the inclusion of a little over an hour of bonus footage. There are more interviews, outtakes from several of the film's speeches, and even the experts offering up some solutions to the problem. While it's nice to have these extra bits of footage included here, most of the information is pretty bland and longwinded, and it soon becomes clear why these scenes were left out of the film.
Robert Kane Pappas might be treading familiar ground with his documentary Orwell Rolls in His Grave, but he does prove to bring a fresh approach to the table. His film is often surprising in its honesty and blunt portrayal of a media world that appears to be slowly transforming into a heaping dose of Orwellian doublespeak, conglomeration, and government-controlled images. While the film may be incredibly dry at time and might appear to be a case of too little, too late, Pappas still manages to create an intriguing and important film that deserves to be seen. Go Kart Films has done a fine job of providing a serviceable audio-visual presentation and a nice collection of bonus footage, but the film is easily the main attraction of this recommended disc.