This review is sponsored by

Details At A Glance

Category Drama Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1991 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 181:06 minutes Other Extras None
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (87:00)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2, 4 Director Oliver Stone

Warner Home Video
Starring Kevin Costner
Kevin Bacon
Tommy Lee Jones
Laurie Metcalf
Gary Oldman
Michael Rooker
Jay O Sanders
Sissy Spacek
RRP $34.95 Music John Williams

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 2.0
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes? Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    The dramatization of the greatest conspiracy of all time finally makes it onto Region 4 DVD. If you need to know the plot, then where have you been since November 22, 1963? Probably no single event of human history has been the subject of so much intense speculation and investigation for so little public tangible result than the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Broadly speaking, Oliver Stone has approached the conspiracy from the aspect of the real investigations of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) who to this day remains the only person to bring a case against any person involved in the conspiracy or assassination - this being the charging of Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones). Whilst the outcome is obviously known from the start as it is an historical fact, that has not prevented a very powerful statement from Oliver Stone.

    Okay, so I have never believed the official line that Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) acted alone in the assassination, for the simple reason that there are so many inconsistencies in that official line. Just about every single one of those inconsistencies has been ruthlessly exposed by Oliver Stone, utilizing whatever actual evidence is available, combined with a lot of supposition. Whilst the intent here is not to tell you who did assassinate John F. Kennedy, it is doubtful that anyone watching the film could not at least rethink what is presented here. Was it a conspiracy hatched in the highest echelons of the government and the military and kept very quiet until long after the participants will be dead - I for one have always believed so, and this film certainly provides the explanation for why, if not the who. Does it matter? That is the precise point of the film - if we cannot have the fortitude to face the truth no matter how bitter the taste, then what hope is there for any belief in the underlying principals of democracy. Unfortunately, this is a film that makes no apologies (and nor should it) for confronting in a very direct way these thoughts. Oliver Stone created a masterpiece that in no small way should be remembered come 2029 (or later) when, under the current laws of the United States, the official documents relating to the Kennedy assassination will (should?) start to be released into the public domain - and when we all hopefully finally learn the truth.

    In creating the masterpiece, Stone has brought together a quite distinguished ensemble cast led by Kevin Costner that wrings just about everything it possibly can out of a quite superb script. Making great use of available public material blended with new film material, this film is a stunning, albeit somewhat controversial, poke at what the Warren Report (the official investigation of the assassination) so obviously glossed over. A important film that you need to see at least once if only to think again about what we have obviously never been told - the truth of what really happened to culminate in that fateful afternoon of November 22, 1963.

Transfer Quality


    It needs to be remembered that portions of this film are actual archival film material taken during that day, and some of this is of quite marginal quality - and in black and white.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, but it is not 16x9 enhanced. The archival film used at the start of the film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

    Ignoring the archival material, the transfer is quite sharp and pretty well defined throughout. At times it is not especially clear, but this may be a conscious effort to blend the archival material into the new film material. Shadow detail is generally quite acceptable, although not in the league of more recent transfers.

    Colours are quite muted and are not overly vibrant in general, although outdoors shots certainly are treated to a more vibrant palette of colours. The colours are consistently rendered and there did not seem to be any oversaturation at all. It would seem that there has been a general effort to keep the colours reasonably well muted to suit the time period of the film.

    There were some small hints of MPEG artefacts during some panning sequences, the most noticeable being a loss of image stability in an upward panning shot at 7:10. Unfortunately, the lack of anamorphic enhancement is clearly demonstrated in the numerous and consistent minor video artefacts throughout the film: Jim Garrison's glasses are especially noticeable in this regard throughout, but some of the extremely noticeable problems are at 7:48 (rooftop edges) and 9:08 (sharp edges of cars). Mostly these are reasonably minor annoyances, but their consistency throughout the film is a distraction: this simply cries out for an anamorphic transfer which would have cured most of the problems I would have thought. Film artefacts were not a significant problem during the film, and were not a distraction to the film.


    There are three audio tracks on the DVD, all being Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded tracks: the default English, French and Italian. I listened to the default English soundtrack.

    Dialogue was generally clear and easy to understand throughout.

    There did not seem to be any audio sync problems with the transfer.

    The music score comes from the best in the business currently in John Williams and a decidedly evocative soundtrack it is, that backs up the film very well indeed.

    There is not a lot of use of the surround channels in the soundtrack, but what there is is well balanced and natural sounding. Since the film is so much dialogue dependent, the lack of huge surround effects is not unduly noticed. The dialogue does come out a little front and centre, but otherwise it is a quite decent sound picture. There is no use made of the bass channel.  Hardly an audio highlight then, but you will not be bothered too much by that.


    Extras? What extras would you like? Well you do not get them.


    Yes, it has one.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on:     The Director's Cut adds about 17 minutes of additional footage to the film, which would be enough to tip the scales in favour of the Region 1 release normally, but it is a flipper so I would have to say stick with the Region 4 version.
[Ed. I don't believe I am writing this, and favouring a flipper, but I have to disagree, and would consider that the Director's Cut version is the version of choice because of the subject matter of this film. This is truly a disc where there is no clear answer as to the best version of this disc, and it must be left up to you as the reader of this review to make up your own mind on this issue once you are familiar with the pros and cons of the two different versions available.]
[Ed. The R1 version is definitely not 16x9 Enhanced, either, contrary to some reports.]


    JFK is a masterpiece of a film, that attacks the whole conspiracy better than any film before or since. It is an essential view for anyone even remotely interested in the conspiracy theory of government in general, and the Kennedy assassination in particular. But why oh why has this not been blessed with some extras - most notably an audio commentary track from Oliver Stone? [Ed. The military covered it up...]

    Overall video quality is acceptable for a non-anamorphic transfer.

    Overall audio quality is acceptable.

    Extras - sit down and cry for what we really needed but did not get.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
26th October 1999

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL