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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Selma

May 4th, 2015

Selma - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

Selma Selma is the latest film about African-American history that I've reviewed in the past few years. Twelve Years a Slave and The Book of Negroes where both about slavery, while Selma is about the civil rights movement. The change of setting will be nice and I'm hoping the film will be just as good without being as difficult to watch.

The Movie

We are introduced to Martin Luther King, Jr. getting ready to give a speech while accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace. He's there with his wife, Coretta, and he's complaining that he shouldn't be there. He should be back home helping the cause. While he gives his speech, we see four young African-American girls walking down some stairs in a church. They are talking about an upcoming ceremony when a bomb goes off and all of them are killed.

The next scene is Annie Lee Cooper trying to register to vote. The voter registrar double-checks her form, then asks her to recite the preamble to the constitution. When she gets that right, he asks her how many state judges there are. When she gets that right, he asks her to name all of them. When she can't she's rejected. It is incidences like this that made Martin Luther King, Jr. want to meet with President Lyndon B. Johnson to get federal legislation ensuring blacks have the right to vote. Unfortunately, while Johnson says he wants civil rights he is not willing to help. He claims to have more important priorities and that completing desegregation is more important and then he's got a War on Poverty that he says will help everyone. This is the kind of answer that sounds good on the surface, but since having a political voice would help African-Americans get the rest of their rights sooner, it is really more like posturing than actually moving forward.

Instead Martin Luther King, Jr. knows he will have to go to Selma, Alabama to deal with this injustice in person. Not all of his closest compadres think this is a wise idea. Abernathy even thinks it might be a place where they will finally die. He might not be wrong. Dr. King doesn't even get through registering at the hotel before he is assaulted.

Meanwhile, we find out that President Johnson isn't just an apathetic ally of Dr. King. He's barely an ally. He is merely supporting Dr. King, because he doesn't want more extreme civil rights leaders like Malcolm X to take his place. However, he's working with J. Edgar Hoover to make sure they keep Dr. King in check. Hoover's plan is to attack King's family unit by getting to his wife. Classy. It might actually work, because Coretta is worried about what might happen to her husband in Selma, but he knows he has to go.

At this point, we are getting into spoilers. I think. When a movie is based on real life events, it is harder to tell when something is a spoiler or not. But at this point, the film has just gotten ready to start the action in Selma, so I think that's a good place to end the plot summary.

Robbed. Selma was robbed during Awards Season. It earned just one Oscar, and that was for Best Original Song, but it was only nominated for one other Oscar. How? How did this happen? This film should have been among the top films when it comes to Oscar nominations. David Oyelowo absolutely deserved an Oscar nomination at the very least. He arguably should have won for Best Lead Actor. The movie should have also earned nominations for Carmen Ejogo for Best Supporting Actress, Ava Duvernay for Best Director, and others. It is arguably the best movie I've seen from 2014 and I loved Birdman.

As for my worries that it would be yet another hard movie to watch, there are certainly some difficult scenes, mostly around police brutality. That said, this film has a more positive tone throughout. It doesn't feel like an endurance test like Twelve Years a Slave was. If I were with friends and they wanted to watch Selma, I would do so. If they wanted to watch Twelve Years a Slave, I would like them borrow the Blu-ray, but I don't want to go through that again.

The Extras

The extras on the DVD are weak with a short featurette on the donors that helped 300,000 students see the film for free and a longer featurette on the voting rights act. Combined they run just under 11 minutes. That's not a lot, but the movie itself makes the DVD worth picking up. On the other hand, there are plenty of extras on the Blu-ray, starting with two audio commentary tracks, one that deals with the historical story and the other that deals with the technical filmmaking aspects. This makes it an instant must have and we are not even halfway done the Blu-ray exclusives. There are also two making of featurettes with a combined running time of 40 minutes. Up next are 30 minutes of deleted and extended scenes. Some of these are cast improvisations of the testimony scenes. There is a music video for the Oscar-winning song, "Glory". The extras wrap up with some historical information and what feels like a teacher's guide for the film.

The technical presentation is good, but not great. The film cost $20 million to make, which is a lot for a limited release, but less than half of what the average Hollywood film costs. Also, the film is stylized in ways that meant it was never going to be a showy visual experience. I didn't notice any compression issues or digital artifacts. The audio is clear, but uncomplicated. The dialogue is never muddled and there's enough ambient sounds and music from the surround sound speakers. On the other hand, there are no directional effects and the bass is mostly absent.

The Blu-ray combo pack costs $20, which is $3 or 18% more than the DVD. That's an excellent deal.

The Verdict

Selma is arguably the best movie from 2014 and the Blu-ray Combo Pack is loaded with extras. It is easily worth picking up and a contender for Pick of the Week.

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Filed under: Video Review, Selma, The Book of Negroes, Dylan Baker, Carmen Ejogo, Tom Wilkinson, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Ava Duvernay, Colman Domingo, Nigel Thatch