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Selma (2014)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/5/2015

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/29/2015

The lives of many famous (and infamous) people are typically defined by one event. This one great tragedy or triumph is what gets them into the history books and becomes their legacy. However, there is a select group of historical figures whose lives were peppered with many important moments which had great impact. The problem is that as time marches on, only the most significant achievements are remembered. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has becomes synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement in America and quotes such as "I have a dream" and Free at last" are recognized by most. But, his crusade was peppered with milestones and one of those is explored in Selma.

As Selma opens, Dr. King (David Oyelowo) is accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, with is his, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo) at his side. We then see him meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), where King addresses the fact that many states aren't allowing African-Americans to vote, even though this is the law. Johnson is cordial, but dismisses this. King then meets with the fellow members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which includes Andrew Young (Andre Holland), Bayard Rustin (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo), James Orange (Omar J. Dorsey), and James Bevel (Common). The men decide to focus their efforts on the town of Selma, Alabama, which has been notorious for turning away African-American who attempt to register to vote. The plan is to practice King's brand of civil disobedience. But, the powers-that-be in Selma don't like the attention and things turn violent. Can King convince his group to stick with their original plan?

Selma focuses on a tumultuous time in American history and Dr. King's movement was considered controversial by many. The film itself created controversy as well. Not because of the subject matter, but because it was only nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Picture and Best Original Song, with many feeling that Director Ava DuVernay and actor David Oyelowo were snubbed. There were cries of racism over this. Having not seen the film at the time, my response was that despite the fact that the movie addressed a very serious topic, maybe it simply wasn't a good movie and didn't deserve to be nominated.

Now that I've seen Selma, I know that this simply isn't the case. DuVernay has taken the challenge of creating a biopic about a beloved figure has been able to inject some art into it. The opening sequence -- the part following the Nobel Prize scene -- is very well done, as it's both artistic and very shocking. While the movie is very much grounded in reality, there are some great shots here, most notably during the riot sequence, which show that DuVernay is also interested in showing-off her filmmaking chops. As for Oyelowo, his performance is very powerful. Once you get past the fact that he doesn't really look like King, you see that he does a great job portraying a man who kept an outwardly calm appearance, even though he was facing a sea of emotions inside, be it from his political work or with his marriage. Oyelowo certainly does King's legacy justice during his speeches, bringing a level of power which commands respect without ever losing poise.

The movie also works well as a biopic. Quite often, these films either assume that the viewer already knows the story or only scratch the surface when it comes to dealing with a real-life story. I felt that Selma did a nice job of explaining who most everyone was and why they were doing what they were doing. Again, DuVernay has brought some style to the film and the first scene in which Oprah Winfrey's character is denied her right to vote both propels the plot, but also works well stylistically. The movie may have actually gone too far in its attempts to be thorough, as we are presented with several dialogue-heavy scenes in which King and his group make their plans. I'm sure that what's presented is historically accurate, but these scenes drag and take away from the film's momentum.

The subject matter in Selma often speaks for itself and much of the film will make the viewer how anyone in modern times could have treated their fellow human beings like that. To DuVernay's credit, she allows the facts to speak for themselves and she doesn't let the movie get preachy. Unfortunately, this also robs the movie of some of its emotional power. There are certainly some shocking moments in the film, and the movie doesn't pull any punches in its portrayal of violence, but it also felt very cold to me at times. The one exception is the finale, in which we learn of the legacy of many of those portrayed in the film. That issue aside, Selma is a powerful film which explores an event which many may not remember or be aware of, but which helped to change history.

Selma does not do the state of Alabama any favors on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no intrusive grain or defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good, as we can make out the lines on the actor's faces, and the depth is notable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 28 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is one of those tracks which knows what it is doing and when to do it. As there is a dialogue-heavy drama, most of the audio comes from the front and center channels. But, during the surprise opening or the riot scenes, the track flexes its muscles, unleashing notable surround sound and subwoofer effects, which place us in the middle of these events.

The Selma Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY with DuVernay, Director of Photography Bradford Young, and Editor Spencer Averick. "The Road to Selma" (13 minutes) explores the evolution of the film, looking at how the various members of the creative team and the cast fell into place over several years in order to get the movie made. The challenge of depicting an actual event is examined in "Recreating Selma" (26 minutes), as those involved discuss bringing real characters to life and sticking to the facts, while also making a dramatic film. We also see how some of the real people visited the set. The Disc contains seven DELETED AND EXTENDED SCENES which run about 30 minutes. The MUSIC VIDEO for the award winning song "Glory" is included here. In a very nice touch, we are treated to actual "Newsreels" (5 minutes) and "Images" from the era. "Selma Student Tickets: Donor Appreciation" (3 minutes) shows how companies paid for screenings of the film. We get a tour of the "National Voting Rights Museum and Institute" (8 minutes) in Selma.

Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long