Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Jefferson DVD Review

Thomas Jefferson is one of our nation’s most important and least understood Presidents despite being the most researched and quoted of all of them.  He was a man of many contradictions and this DVD attempts to provide the viewers of an overview of Jefferson’s life and offers a closer look at his inconsistent nature. 

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

Thomas Jefferson is one of our most famous founding fathers and rightfully so.  He is the primary author of our nation’s Declaration of Independence, negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, and was responsible for enabling the Lewis and Clark Expedition which opened up the west.  Jefferson served as the Governor of Virginia, he was our first Secretary of State, and also served as Vice-President  to John Adams before becoming President of the United States himself in 1801.
Born into a wealthy aristocratic family in West Virginia, Jefferson lived a fairly solitary life in the country which contributed to his love of books.  An avid reader and student, Jefferson absorbed as much knowledge as he could on a variety of subjects.  Despite having the knowledge and the skill to be proficient in various professions, Jefferson decided to become a lawyer where he represented many slaves who were attempting to become free through the court system.  He worked those cases for free and did all he could to help his clients while he himself was a slave owner.
After deciding that he would rather pursue politics which become his true passion, Jefferson slowly worked his way up the ranks until by chance he was invited to participate in the Second Continental Congress after one of the Virginia delegates had to withdrawal.  He was appointed to a five man committee to draft a declaration that was to accompany a passed resolution of independence. The resulting document, The Declaration of Independence unequivocally served notice to England that the thirteen American colonies were no longer part of the British Empire.
He returned to Virginia and become a state legislator and wrote many progressive bills including one that established freedom of religion and he also streamlined the judicial system and more.  He was elected Governor of Virginia in 1779 but he wasn’t a popular Governor, especially when he abandoned his office to escape the advancing British troops without making command contingencies.  When he wasn’t re-elected he threw himself into the continuous construction of his home called Monticello that he constantly modified throughout his later life.
The pull of politics was too strong to avoid, and Jefferson was elected to Congress and then later went on to become Minister to France where despite his vaunted love of country life, he fell in love with the bustling cosmopolitan city of Paris and bought many items to be shipped back to his home.  He also studied the Parisian architecture which he would later draw upon for future additions to Monticello.
Back in America, he became the first Secretary of State but clashed with Alexander Hamilton over which direction the national fiscal policy should go and how to pay the war debt.  Their arguments grew more personal and public that Jefferson in the end resigned once he accepted that he wouldn’t be able to convince Washington to adopt his plan.  Returning home, he went back to adding wings to Monticello and added some modifications based on his observations he made while in France.
It wasn’t too long before he was called back into service to serve as Vice-President to John Adams and later became President himself after an electoral brawl with Aaron Burr after they tied for first place in the Electoral College.  Thanks in part to his old foe Alexander Hamilton who argued that Jefferson was the lesser evil of the two, the House of Representatives (who had the final say) voted to make Jefferson President and Burr Vice-President.  As President, Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France which was an extremely shrewd move as it doubled the size of the United States and would later be much more valuable.
Jefferson’s many contradictions make him a difficult person to understand.  He represented slaves in court, and wrote the Declaration of Independence that stated , “All men are created equal…” but owned slaves and in fact even had a long time relationship with one of them that produced children.  He was a proponent of fiscal responsibility but spent most of his life in personal debt.  He called himself a “man of the people,” but was born into an aristocratic family and lived in a custom built home on a mountain that was so remote that slaves had to travel down the hill to bring water up from the river.  Jefferson was also a shy man who somehow overcame his reservations to be a public servant for most of his life all the way to becoming the President of the United States.

Video(4 out of 5 stars) 

This full screen transfer is above average for a DVD.  Colors pop nicely with all of the various outfits, and detail is excellent both in close ups and for distant objects.  Black levels are about as good as DVD can get and flesh tones are consistent and natural.  The re-enactments are done well and look pretty sharp.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars) 

The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix that is acceptable and works for the documentary.  This is a dialogue driven documentary so it doesn’t require a lot.  Dialogue and music and clear and never overshadow the other.  Sound effects work well within the mix as well.

Special Features (0 out of 5 stars) 

There are no special features.

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars) 

It’s unfortunate that no special features are offered, but the rest of the movie is excellent.  While we will most likely never understand the unique genius and personal makeup of Thomas Jefferson, this DVD offers a nice overview of the man’s life and career.  The documentary also delves into his relationship towards his slaves and the continual construction of Monticello which I’ve always found interesting.  For all of his faults, his contributions to this country cannot be overstated.
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