Blu-ray Review: Selma

SelmaBluSTUDIO: Paramount | DIRECTOR: Ava DuVernay | CAST: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Giovanni Ribisi, Carmen Ejobo, Lorraine Toussaint
RELEASE DATE: 5/5/2015 | PRICE: Blu-ray/DVD Combo $39.99 DVD $29.99
BONUSES: featurettes, commentaries, deleted scenes, newsreels, music video
SPECS: R| 129 min. | Drama | 2.35:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/Dolby Digital 5.1 |  English with English, French and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

 

David Oyelowo (Intersellar), who plays the civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. in the drama Selma, notes in one of the featurettes on the Blu-ray that while most movie sets are abuzz with concerns about box office, budget, and the like, on the Selma set there was just a palpable sense of service, to those who fought the battle for voting equality. That said, in Selma, no characters were composites; each actor portrayed a real individual in Dr. King’s orbit. Nor did screenwriter Paul Webb have to fabricate much; almost all of the scenes we see of MLK in public settings actually occurred.

While the events depicted in the movie are well-trodden, it’s the little moments (such as Dr. King and his wife verbally sparring in their kitchen) and the canny direction of Ava DuVernay–who draws earnest, often sublime performances from her cast–that make Selma an achievement. Here, Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth, Pulp Fiction) isn’t a one-note villain. He is steeped in a segregationist upbringing, forced by circumstances to begrudgingly acknowledge a rapidly changing tableau in the country. And Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson, The Grand Budapest Hotel), although portrayed here as much more blasé about negro voting rights than was the reality, wants to enforce Federal law and support a peaceful man like King, but is mindful of political realities.

But this is Oyelowo’s movie, and he brings considerable grace to the role that will likely define his career. His King isn’t simply a speechifying minister rallying his flock, or even a nation, but a human being capable of enjoying light moments, being intimate with his wife, and appearing visibly burdened by the consequences his actions will bring to his brothers and sisters in Alabama.

David Oyelowo is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma

David Oyelowo is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma

The Blu-ray disc is top-rate in both video and audio; black actors in dark rooms–a significant challenge photographically, according to DuVernay–are never difficult to discern, and convey all the intended drama. Every word of dialogue is easily distinguished, even in many scenes with competing voices, or rising musical flourishes. And the aural impact of one early scene will test both your speakers and your wits.

The combo pack delivers a pair of short featurettes, “The Road to Selma” and the lengthier, more compelling “Recreating Selma,” and between them they include interviews with all the principals on the story, and a look at the characters and production design. Co-star Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) states she almost turned down the role of Annie Lee Cooper because she didn’t want to be typecast as punching someone in every movie she does…but eventually became executive producer.

We also get two director commentaries, one with Oyelowo and the other with cinematographer Bradford Young and editor Spencer Averick. They’re both worth your time, but I found the former to be more interesting, simply because Selma is so character-driven , and because Oyelowo is so classy and easy to listen to in his delivery.

Rounding out the extras is a handful of deleted/extended scenes, the music video of the haunting and inspirational Oscar-winner “Glory” by John Legend and Common, and original newsreel footage and stills of the events in Selma. Those are particularly worthwhile as this movie is fated to become a teaching tool; Paramount is offering a free Blu-ray and 72-page curriculum guide to every high school in the United States. That move earns high marks in my book.

Some stories have such drama built-into them they’re naturals on the big screen. But it never hurts to have a writer, director and cast and crew at the top of their game, as is the case here. Selma is an accomplishment.

 

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About Gary

Gary Frisch has been contributing laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray reviews to Video Business magazine, Home Theater Magazine, Home Theater Buyer’s Guide, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and the DVD Guide for more than 14 years. He still has a collection of more than 40 laserdiscs, along with a working auto-reverse LD player, but thinks Blu-ray is da bomb and anxiously awaits the original Star Wars trilogy so he can buy it for the fifth time.