Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters arrives on DVD on May 13th in a two-disc collector’s edition, which, coincidentally enough, recently arrived in my mailbox. I’m pretty sure Bob and Harvey Weinstein personally wanted me to review this DVD.
The movie itself was pretty good, despite looking like a dozen other inspirational teacher stories. With good acting from the young cast, as well as Denzel and Forest Whitaker (how often do you get to see those two together?), The Great Debaters entertains and educates simultaneously. While you can tell plenty of elements are dramatized for the sake of storytelling, Denzel does a good job of diving into the era and setting, depicting racism, relationships and family in a very authentic way. The Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture was a bit overkill, but The Great Debaters was one of the better movies of 2007. You can read my full Great Debaters movie review here.
Thankfully, The Weinstein Co. has given The Great Debaters pretty good DVD treatment. There are enough special features that some are actually included on the first disc; usually, bonus features are relegated solely to the second. Anyway, the DVD offers a wide array of featurettes that examine various aspects of the production, from the historical relevance to the score, costume design, production design and more. All of the featurettes are interesting in their own right, and thankfully are just the right length; they aren’t promotional and they aren’t ridiculously long, either. Several feature interviews with living people who are portrayed in the film.
The best of the featurettes is a behind-the-scenes look at debate camp. Apparently, Denzel wanted his actors to be authentic in the art of debate, so he stuck them all into a real debate class. The featurette is fun because you get to see the actors out of their element, getting critiqued and so on and so forth.
Other special features include an examination of Forest Whitaker (which contains a lot of, “Oh, Forest is so great!” remarks), some deleted scenes and a couple of music videos.
If you like behind-the-scenes videos, The Great Debaters provides some pretty good insight into the production of the film. It doesn’t given you director’s commentary, strangely enough, but if you want to get the low down on the film without spending several hours of your time, this one is definitely a worthy purchase.