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Shout Factory presents
Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election (2004)

"Although we may never know with certainty the identity of the winner of this year's presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
- Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, in his dissent from the majority opinion in Bush v. Gore

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: July 06, 2004

Stars: George W. Bush, Katherine Harris, Al Gore, Jeb Bush, Warren Christopher, James A. Baker III
Other Stars: Peter Coyote, Danny Glover
Director: Richard Ray Pérez, Joan Sekler

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 00h:57m:00s
Release Date: July 06, 2004
UPC: 826663911695
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-B-B- B-

DVD Review

"Get over it." You can probably still hear that Republican refrain, when the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in late in December 2000, stopped the Florida recount in the Presidential election, and assured that George W. Bush would be inaugurated as the next President of the United States. Al Gore was gracious in bowing out, after weeks and months of partisan rancor; soon the Texas Governor was being referred to as the President-elect, and the transition was underway. Bush was sworn in; Gore faded away; the U.S. was attacked on September 11th; Florida became a distant memory. But some people continued to ask the right question: What the hell happened? Was this Presidential election stolen, or determined by judicial fiat, or otherwise taken away from the American people? Unprecedented is a re-examination of that tortuous process, and if you're one of the like minded, it's likely to get your blood boiling all over again.

In the interests of full disclosure: my grandparents are alive and well and living in Palm Beach, and God bless them, but they've got a variety of health-related issues, among them waning eyesight. I don't have independent confirmation of this, but both they and I suspect that they were among those who, intending to vote for Gore, punched their infamous butterfly ballots for Pat Buchanan instead. I still love you, Grandma and Grandpa, but I really don't want to hear another word about my music or my clothes or the young people today with their crazy ideas, because you gave us the Bush Administration.

Unprecedented brings us back to the wonderful world of the hanging chad, the dimpled chad, of Katherine Harris and brother Jeb—the recipe for corruption could hardly have been more perfect, with the brother of the Republican Presidential candidate in the Governor's mansion, and the candidate's state campaign chair the validating authority for the election returns. You'll remember that a bunch of the old timers got hauled out for this, notably Warren Christopher, for Gore, and the odious James A. Baker III, to go to bat for Poppy's boy. Goodness knows there was plenty of blame to go around—not just the Republicans (the film smartly identifies a rabid bunch of election protesters by name—they're Republican congressional staffers), but also the Democrats (the Gore camp's decision to ask for a hand recount in only four disputed counties, and not statewide, may have been the single hugest tactical blunder) and especially the media, who covered this all as if it were a football game. It's a sign of the bankruptcy of American political coverage that the reporter doing the most investigating of these issues, Greg Palast, could only get his pieces published in British newspapers. So what if our President was wrongly elected? That's yesterday's news. The film points up no shortage of savage ironies, too, the most pungent of which may be that the model law for recounting statewide elections was passed in Texas; it was very liberal in allowing local election authorities to try their best to determine voter intent, and insisted that a hand recount was the preferred and most accurate method. Baker and the Republican argued against just about every tenet of that statute; it was signed into law in the Lone Star State by Governor George W. Bush.

As with Fahrenheit 9/11, one of the issues with a film like this is that its audience is self-selecting; it's very much preaching to the choir, and I can't imagine that legions of dittoheads are running out to track down a copy of this DVD. But still, lots of the stuff here is horribly disturbing, ranging from the Supreme Court's inexplicable and indefensible decision, to the corruption inherent in touch-screen voting, designed to computerize the electoral process, but a system that's ripe for hacking and mischief. A notable instance: when U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, was running for re-election, the company that counted the votes in his home state was one of which Hagel himself had served as chairman and CEO. This documentary lays out the facts pretty well, and spoonfeeds its conclusions; but if you're not outraged by what happened in Florida, by the disenfranchisement of thousands of our fellow citizens, you're either apathetic or ignorant, or both—and there's no excuse for either—or your last name is Bush.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Culled from various sources, the clips vary in video quality, but the transfer to DVD looks fair enough, though a lot of it is too contrasty.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Danny Glover introduces and Peter Coyote narrates the film, and their dulcet tones smooth over many of the rough patches; the audio quality generally is about what you'll find at any given time on C-SPAN.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
1 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Flexbox
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The feature was produced in 2002, and five more recently produced documentary pieces provide context and updates. The Voter Purge (15m:33s) discusses Florida's Confederate past, and the raw deal that African Americans have received in that state for centuries; Florida remains the only state in the union that set about doing these voter roll purges with private companies. Media Malfeasance (12m:06s) discusses how badly the networks botched it on Election Night 2000—not only was Florida called for Bush at Fox News by John Ellis, George W. Bush's first cousin, but there's also a discussion of former G.E. Chairman Jack Welch putting his meaty and powerful hand on the shoulder of the appropriate staffer at the NBC newsroom, "encouraging" him to call the election for Bush. Response to a Stolen Election (04m:40s) is about efforts in the Sunshine State to mobilize minority voters, in response to Bush shenanigans; Critical Perspectives (04m:27s) gives heavy hitters like Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky an opportunity to weigh in; and Rise of Corporate Dominance (03m:34s) is a history lesson from Thom Hartmann, an expert in the field.

Now stop reading this review and go out and register to vote.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

A piece of muckraking journalism in the best tradition, Unprecedented shows us an electoral circus that would be nothing but farcical if the stakes weren't so high. They are counting on our apathy; if we let this happen again, we'll only be living up to all of their expectations.


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