Whether Republican or Democrat, one has to admire the accomplishments of former United States President Ronald Reagan, and had to feel a little sorrow at his passing. NBC News cashes in... er, pays tribute to the former leader of the free world with this DVD release.
The hour long biography has been brought not only to an exact science by A&E, but has also become an art form. Regardless of who the subject is, or your personal feelings on them, A&E’s “Biography” has a method of telling their story that is so captivating it can draw you in for hours. The series is so successful, it spawned its own channel, spinning off from A&E itself. Alas, NBC Presents Ronald Reagan is not up to the A&E level of quality. The 41 minute tribute tells the story of Ronald Reagan, from his youth to his career in Hollywood, to his accomplishments as president, and finally to the onset of Alzheimer's. That takes less then 10 minutes, and the rest of the time is filled with repetitive soundbytes (we hear his “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall” no less then three times) and complimentary talk of the former president that really tells you nothing about him.
Hosted by NBC newsman Stone Phillips, the tribute is divided in sections, each obviously put together by a different reporter and most likely divided up by commercial breaks when it aired on television. Without those commercial breaks it becomes all to obvious that there was no coordination between the reporters who overlap each other’s subject matter, video clips, and soundbytes. It’s really incredible that the footage of a president who served two terms that spanned most of the eighties is so limited that the same video would have to be used over and over. The only segment that truly stands out focuses on Reagan’s Hollywood career. Using footage from his movies along with some interesting anecdotes, they tell how Reagan was as an actor, what his career was like, and why many people felt his transition to politics would fail. It’s a stand out piece in a tribute that seems unorganized and chaotic.
I know that television is all about ratings and selling commercial time, and that the creation of this tribute was probably done quickly to capture the public mourning of Reagan’s death. I don’t mean to be callous, but Reagan’s illness and pending death wasn’t exactly a state secret. Since most of this piece focuses on Reagan’s past, surely more time could have been spent putting it together making it a true tribute worthy of the man who accomplished so much.
Although the primary feature of this release is weak, the DVD does manage to make up for it with its extras. Partially comprised of moments of history during Reagan’s administration, the extras are a nice look back for those who are interested in that period, specifically his Inaugural Address, his Farewell Address, and his “Tear Down This Wall” speech.
Starting off with “A Day with President Reagan”, a news special from the early Reagan era, several of the features included are news segments. The David Brinkley hosted special looks at 14 hours NBC news spent around Reagan - how he interacted with his Cabinet, what he was like both as a politician and a person, and just what his day was like in general. In “Love Letters to Nancy” and “Dear Ron - Correspondence with a lifelong pen pal” you get a feeling of the more mundane side of Ronnie - what he was like as a romantic and friend. An interview with both Ronald and Nancy on their “Golden Anniversary” also humanizes the former president, showing more of his relationship with his wife.
While the historical moments can be a bit dry and uninteresting for those who aren’t politically minded or keen on learning more about the Reagan era, the news specials are a bit more captivating. For me the best of the extras doesn’t fit into either of those categories - one of Reagan’s performances from “The General Electric Theater”. All of these extras are more interesting and better assembled then the main feature though, which says maybe those who report news should stick to reporting the news, and leave biographies to those who do biographies. None of the extras have been remastered so if nothing else the disk is an interesting view of how the quality of television has changed over the years.
In the end, this DVD release is primarily going to interest people who already know most of what’s on the disk. Nothing presented here is going to be a surprise to fans of the Gipper, and people who didn’t care much for Reagan will have little interest in the release at all.