Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
On August 1st in 1966, a man climbed the tower at the University of Texas with multiple weapons and began firing on students and anyone in his line of sight. The shooting lasted for 96 long minutes, which must have seemed like 96 years to the victims of this shooting. At the end of it, 14 people were killed and 31 others injured at the hands of this sole gunman, who just prior to this massacre, killed his own mother and wife. This sure wasn't the first shooting in public for sure, but it was one of the first mass killings to be covered by the media in such a way that sort of foretold the future for the America that we live in now, where there seems to be a mass shooting every other week or more.
Back in 1966, there were no pagers, mobile phones, social media, or internet. People didn't have instant access to information or alerts like we do now. So what was it like to be in this horrible situation in 1966? Filmmaker Keith Maitland sure has an idea, as he tells the story in this documentary in a very unique way, which has garnered that very rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Yes, it's that good.
Going off an oral history account written by Pamela Colloff several years ago and published in Texas Monthly, Maitland uses the rotoscopic animation style, similar to the film 'A Scanner Darkly' to tell the story of what just happened on that horrible day in 1966. With interviews from some of the survivors and people who were there at the scene, Maitland gives us an all too intense view from the victim's perspective of those 96 minutes. Instead of talking head interviews, discussing the events of the day, we see the animated re-enactments, which are terrifying to watch.
One of the focal points here is with victim Claire James Wilson, who actually survived the massacre. Claire and her boyfriend Tom were the first to be gunned down. Tom didn't make it. Claire did survive, but the unborn boy inside her suffered a gunshot and died that day. There is a portion of the film that is devoted to Claire's recount of the events and her emotional state of that day. Many other students, police officers, and people who put themselves in the line of fire to save others tell their own stories, and we see it acted out on screen, which gives us a fearful sense of actually being there.
'Tower' is a fantastic documentary that focuses on the victims and people that were there to help others in need, and not the gunmen, which is an excellent way to tell a story of this subject matter. We all know about this unfortunate day in our nation's history, but we've never seen it told from this perspective before with this amount of care.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Tower' comes with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc from Kino Lorber that is Region A Locked. There is no insert or digital download here. The disc is housed in a hard, blue plastic case.
'Tower' comes with a great 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The animation is bright and bold and looks excellent on all accounts. The detail and textured animation looks exquisite, as well as some of the talking head interviews, which reveal some makeup blemishes and individual hairs.
Colors pop off screen as well and are well saturated. Black levels are deep and inky and the skin tones are natural in this documentary. There is some minor banding, but it doesn't hinder the viewing experience, leaving this video presentation with great marks.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and sounds great. Being a documentary, this track has a little bit of heft to it. The sound effects pack a punch, which can cause your nerves to stand on end. There is some great directionality during the re-enactments as well. Ambient noises sound good from the rear speakers as well. The score and music add to the time period this was set in and never drowns out any other sound aspect.
There is also a great low end as well with some minor bass to give this audio track some depth. The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow, and free of any pops, cracks, hiss, and high shrills. This is mostly a front heavy track, but it has some power to it.
After the Screening Q&A (HD, 12 Mins.) - This has some footage of Q&As after a few film festivals where the filmmakers and survivors talk about revisiting that day and making the film.
Behind the Scenes Animation (HD, 6 Mins.) - There are five different segments where there is a side by side comparison with the live action re-enactments and the rotoscoping animation, which is pretty cool to see.
Character Profiles (HD, 29 Mins.) - There are 10 segments here that feature the history and feelings of the survivors of the massacre, where they discuss what life has been like since that day.
Memorial Dedication (HD, 5 Mins.) - This shows a stone tribute to the deceased on that day where some of the survivors talk about their experiences in that situation.
Trailer (HD, 2 Mins.) - Trailer for the film.
'Tower's is one of those incredible documentaries that comes along once every few years. It's a story we all know, but Keith Maitland tells it in a new and refreshing way and never pays any attention to the killer. Instead, he focuses on the victims and the survivors telling their harrowing experiences, which provides a front seat to the mayhem and sadness for those 96 minutes. The video and audio presentations are both great and the extras provide some more background from the subjects, as well as show how the animation was made. This is a Must-Own documentary.
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