Guyana Tragedy: The Jim Jones Story (1980)

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Released 21-Nov-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1980
Running Time 189:16 (Case: 183)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By William A. Graham
Telepictures Corp
Warner Vision
Starring Powers Boothe
Ned Beatty
Irene Cara
Veronica Cartwright
Rosalind Cash
Brad Dourif
Meg Foster
Michael C. Gwynne
Albert Hall
Linda Haynes
Diane Ladd
Ron O'Neal
Randy Quaid
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music Elmer Bernstein

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    In November 1978, over 900 people committed suicide in a settlement cut out of the Guyanese jungle on the northern coast of South America.

    As the days passed, it was revealed that the deceased, more than a quarter of whom were children, belonged to a religious sect called the People's Temple. This sect was headed by the charismatic Reverend James Warren Jones. Jim Jones was an ordained minister of an established Christian church in Indiana who, disenchanted with that church, formed his own congregation. Investigations by authorities into the activities of Jones and his church forced the congregation to move first to California and then to Guyana in the mid-1970s.

    Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones is a made-for-TV film screened in two parts. The film sets out to tell the life story of Jones and the events leading up to the tragedy. Part One starts with Jones' childhood, and takes in the first part of his career as a preacher, including the start of the People's Temple. The second part deals with the investigation by Congressman Leo Ryan (Ned Beatty) and the personal stories of several of Jones' disciples, leading up to the tragedy.

    This was one of two treatments of this story produced in 1980, and is much better than the cinema release Guyana: Cult of the Damned. The first half of the TV film is episodic and not very compelling, and does not really give much insight into the man and the reasons why he became what he became. The second half, which deals with the specific events leading up to the mass suicide, is much better and the last 10 minutes are quite harrowing, having been based on an audio recording Jones made of his farewell speech to his disciples as they took their lives.

    The little-known actor Powers Boothe was an inspired choice to play Jones: not only does he physically resemble the cult leader, he puts in a tour de force performance, especially in Part Two. Boothe would win an Emmy for this portrayal, but his career since has been less impressive. The film also benefits from the appearance of a number of familiar faces, such as Veronica Cartwright, Randy Quaid, Meg Foster, Brenda Vaccaro, LeVar Burton and James Earl Jones. The direction by William A Graham is professional, but apart from the use of handheld cameras to heighten the documentary style of the movie, not especially noteworthy.

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Transfer Quality


    This disc suffers from very poor video quality, partly due to the use of poor source materials.

    The film is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

    The transfer is not sharp at all. Instead of edges, most objects have noise instead. Noise is present throughout the entire film, one of the worst examples being at 4:26. Shadow detail is adequate, as most scenes are well lit, even the night scenes.

    This transfer has the look of 1970s video material, with drab and faded colours. Generally the colour registration is satisfactory. There is colour bleeding from time to time, such as at 40:15. Black levels are poor, with some blacks appearing blue or yellow.

    The transfer seems to have been taken from a video master, although the original source material was a film print. There are slight Analogue Tape Tracking Errors throughout, such as at 48:09, where there is a slight ripple down the screen distorting the image slightly. Most people will see this as a slight wobble. There is also a major tracking error lasting a couple of seconds at 182:52. If that was not enough, the video continuously moves up and down slightly, similar to the horizontal Telecine Wobble effect.

    No attempt seems to have been made to clean up the film elements. film artefacts abound, but are mainly limited to small flecks, scratches and dirt, and reel change marks (for example at 14:52).

    This is a dual layered disc, with each of the two parts being contained on a single layer. The chapter cueing is less than generous, with only 7 chapters being marked over more than three hours of film.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    This is an average audio transfer considering the source materials.

    There is only one audio track, in English Dolby Digital 2.0.

    Dialogue was generally clear and easy to understand. There was some hiss present but not sufficient to be distracting. Audio sync was occasionally an issue, with the source material being briefly out of sync due to missing frames. Some audio was also missing where frames were lost, such as at 13:20. Some distortion of the audio was present at 3:10.

    The music score is by the veteran Elmer Bernstein. While not up to his usual standards, the music score is effective in that it does not draw attention to itself.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    A minimal selection of extras are available.


    Menus were static and were limited to four options: Play All, Part One, Part Two, and Gallery. The menu background is a photograph of Powers Boothe.


    This consists of nine colour and black and white photographs of the actors taken during the production. These were only of minor interest.


    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     As far as I can tell, this film has not been released on DVD in any other region.


    This is an interesting and well-acted telemovie, with a powerful central performance, presented on a bare bones disc.

    The video quality is very poor.

    The audio quality is adequate.

    The extras are of little consequence.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Monday, January 05, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony KV-XS29M33 68cm Trinitron Wega. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Sod this: watch Guyana: Crime of the Century instead. -
Rotten transfers - Brian Muhling