Waiting for 'Superman' – Blu-ray Review
By Frankie Dees Feb 14, 2011, 14:49 GMT
Every DVD and Blu-ray copy of Waiting for “Superman” includes a $25 gift card good towards funding any local classroom project listed with the DonorsChoose.org.From the Academy Award-winning Director of An Inconvenient Truth comes the groundbreaking feature film that provides an engaging and inspiring look at public education in the United States. Waiting For “Superman” has helped launch a movement to achieve a real and lasting change through the compelling ...more
The latest from the Oscar-winning director of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, Davis Guggenheim now turns his attention to the absolutely perplexing state of the American education system.
Following a cross-section of mostly inner-city kids who strive for a good education but can’t find it, Guggenheim reveals some sobering facts about how whole lives can be dictated by an educational lottery.
Guggenheim has a knack for making documentaries more entertaining than the subject might suggest (which also include ‘It Might Get Loud’ and ‘A First Year’) possibly because he also knows his way around fiction filmmaking (i.e. directing eps of ‘Deadwood’, ‘Alias’ and ‘24’) and knows how to sustain tension and pace. So even if we’re dealing with Al Gore talking about the weather or a bunch of talking kid heads, you get a sense of narrative progression.
Although you may not want to progress much with the simply pathetic facts that Guggenheim shows us. What stuck out most to me is the frustrating discovery that the government spends more money to put somebody in prison for four years than it would take to send that same person all the way through private school.
The idea being that if even a little of the justice system money was siphoned off into education, those school graduates would probably not end up in prison.
Another surprising fact is that once teachers reach tenure in two years, it’s almost impossible to get fired (and yes, not all teachers have the skills to shape young minds) with statistics showing that in Illinois 1 in every 57 doctors lose their medical license, 1 in 97 lawyers lose their law license but only 1 in every 2,500 teachers lose their teaching credentials.
This can only mean that either angels are the only ones going for an education degree or something screwy is going on with the American Federation of Teachers.
So while the film throws out depressing facts like the above, we pull in on some inner-city kids from L.A., D.C., the Bronx and Harlem. All children personally wanting a real education or driven by parents that care.
And the public school system ruled by convoluted logic and bureaucratic corruption is not an option so they all vie for a spot in the respective area’s charter schools - which accept kids through a lottery (as they legally must).
These charter schools are seen as a very real solution to the apathy of most inner-city public schools and maintain a system of educators who are better paid and constantly motivated to generate real results.
What these schools have proven is that even the most underprivileged children can and will want to learn. And while this all may sound like a bad Sam Jackson inspirational teacher movie, the film is heartbreaking in showing real kids wanting a real life. And that real life being a lottery ball away.
The film takes its name from Geoffrey Canada, a Harlem educator who started the Harlem Children’s Zone, and who gives us a story of his youth when he thought that George Reeves Superman would rescue him from his South Bronx existence.
When he was told that Superman didn’t exist, he was crushed and realized he would have to take his fate in his own hands.
And that he did by proving, along with other educational reformers the film focuses on like D.C. school superintendent Michelle Rhee, that the system can be saved by removing the entanglements of varying city, state and government rules and simply focusing on the individual and making sure educators, y’know, educate.
The Blu-ray is presented with a 1.85:1 AVC encode that services the film as well as could be expected. It’s a documentary about the education system after all. The DTS-HD Master Aud track does its job in presenting a steady stream of dialogue as cleanly as possible.
Special Features start off with a commentary from Guggenheim and producer Lesley Chilcott that’s fine if a bit dry in spots. I can see how some people might want to check this out but I generally find a doc commentary a bit exhausting.
You’re basically listening to someone talk about someone else talking. Anywho, a half-hour of deleted scenes are presented which are actually worth watching and focus on some deserving individuals.
The ‘Making of Shine’ is a quick featurette on the John Legend song that closes the film and some of Legend’s own memories from childhood. ‘The Future is in Our Classrooms’ is quick trailer for the film and ‘A Conversation with Davis Guggenheim’ is a couple minute look at some of Guggenheim’s school influences.
For doc watchers, Waiting for 'Superman' is one of the best of the year despite curiously missing out on an Oscar nomination. Entertaining, eye-opening, and despite being a bit of a tear-jerker, ultimately hopeful, this comes highly recommended.
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