Although he only served less than 3 years as President of the United States, John F. Kennedy has become one of the 20th Century's most distinguishable and fascinating historical figures. In that short span of time, the second youngest man to serve in the highest elected office had accomplished more and confronted more dangerously taxing challenges than most have done serving two terms. The public's fascination with Kennedy has as much to do with his triumphs, failures and the legacy he left behind as a few others' almost obsessive preoccupation with his untimely and rather mysterious death. It truly is a remarkable historical point in geopolitics, foreign affairs and U.S. government when seen from the scope of such a brief span of time in one man's Presidency.
This is the primary focus of 'JFK: A New World Order,' an eight-part documentary series with each episode clocking in at just under a half hour. Starting with a brief look at the history of the Kennedy family, the filmmakers attempt to make an extensively detailed exposé of the 35th President, charting his very public persona and time in office along with the lesser-known facts about his private life and health issues. The first episode makes the case for Kennedy's desire to hold public office being related to family pressure and some unfortunate tragedies. However, what really brought him into the limelight, and perhaps notoriety, was during his time as Senator when his book Profiles in Courage won him the Pulitzer Prize and he questioned teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa on television during the Committee Labor hearings of 1957.
Going into the second episode, it's explained these points in his political career made him a favorite to win the 1960 presidential race against Richard Nixon, in spite of Kennedy's Roman Catholicism. It also didn't hurt that the public knew of Kennedy's war-hero story when he commanded the PT-109 during World War II and that he looked more comfortable in front of the camera than Nixon. Interestingly, the documentary doesn't continue in a linear fashion, opting instead for the third chapter to discuss Kennedy's contributions to the nation and his legacy. Few remember one of his first presidential acts was to create the Peace Corps, but many more remember him as a staunch supporter of NASA and the space program that eventually saw the first manned spacecraft successfully land on the Moon.
Arguably more interesting in the remainder of the doc is hearing that Kennedy's first 24 hours as President were already riddled with challenges. An immediate threat to his Commander in Chief position was Eisenhower informing him of a secret operation to invade Cuba ("The Bay of Pigs Invasion"). Taking an objectively critical look at those events, meaning Kennedy's decisions are likely the reasons for the invasion's failure, the documentary prefers to see how the conflict ultimately led to a showdown between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. ("The Cuban Missile Crisis"). A growing alarm over Vietnam was beginning to loom. And all the while, the country faced a war within as concerns with the Civil Rights Movement created violent tensions and added further stress upon the Presidency.
It's amazing to think that Kennedy tackled these deeply serious issues in such a short but historic-making period with much of his efforts simply laying down the groundwork for future administration. The filmmakers include interviews with Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman and history instructor Tim Rosenfield, and they share not only knowledge and other tidbits but also memories and anecdotes from Kennedy's years as President. For the most part, the documentary is interesting and terrifically informative, but much of it presented in a rather bland and humdrum manner, almost as if made for classroom instruction. Nevertheless, history buffs and those curious for more on Kennedy will want to give 'JFK: A New World Order' a look.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Mill Creek Entertainment brings the documentary to Blu-ray as a three-disc combo pack. The Region Free, BD50 disc contains the entire series while a DVD-9 on the opposing panel comes with a nice collection of bonus videos, and a DVD-9 copy of the documentary sits in the middle panel. Viewers are directly taken to a static menu screen at startup with the option to watch the entire series or select a specific episode.
Presented in 1080i/60, the documentary arrives on Blu-ray looking pretty much as one would expect from a televised series shot on HD cameras. The interviews with historians and professors are detailed and revealing, exposing every wrinkle on faces, every thread and stitch in clothing, and the tiniest object in the background. Colors are bold and accurately rendered though the palette doesn't appear very extensive, yet flesh tones appear healthy with natural lifelike textures in the complexions. Blacks are also spot-on but nothing that truly impresses. Contrast is comfortably bright but also bland, giving the video a generic TV appearance that's rather boring. Vintage, black-and-white footage is understandably in rougher shape, showing a variety of scratches, dirt and some aliasing. Nonetheless, they look good in HD, all things considered, making this a pleasing enough AVC-encoded transfer (1.78:1) but also a bit on the boring side.
The commemorative doc also debuts with a stereo Dolby Digital legacy codec that not surprisingly offers very little for listeners to enjoy. Dialogue is actually clean and clear in the center, so no complaints there. However, the rest of the soundstage feels dry, mundane and basically lifeless, which even for a documentary is rather disappointing. Music spreads into the other two channels, expanding the soundfield pleasantly enough, but it ultimately falls flat and tightly uniform. Essentially, the highs are noticeably limited and the lows are practically non-existent, restricting much of the sound design. It's not completely terrible considering it origins, but it's not quite up to the standards we've come to expect of Blu-ray.
All supplemental material can be found on the third DVD.
The primary focus of the eight-part documentary series entitled 'JFK: A New World Order' is on the impact and legacy made by John F. Kennedy during his short span of time as the 35th President of the United States. Although a bit on the dull and generic side, the series is fairly informative and educational, which history buffs might well enjoy. The Blu-ray arrives with good picture quality but a rather disappointing audio presentation. On the other hand, the package comes with an attractive set of supplements, making the whole thing worth a look for the curious.