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Film
”In devastation there is opportunity.” - Carlton Brown, Commodities Trader

We’re all doomed. No, honestly, we are. If it’s not bad enough that world leaders are causing trouble the world over, it seems that people in the background are exerting their influence and ultimately affecting the world we live in. I’m not talking about the First Ladies (or Men) of the world either—what we have to worry about is that insidious entity known as the Corporation.

Corporation, The
The Human Being has long been a greedy so-and-so, and this documentary tries to show us that it doesn’t look like changing any day soon. Borne of a need to protect the individuals that create and own a company, the Corporation is now legally a person in its own right; albeit one that doesn’t have a moral obligation or a conscience. Living by the adage that there is never enough profit, some of them take things to extremes in not allowing pesky things such as the possibility of human harm get in the way of the big bucks, while there are others that do ecological damage but attempt to repair what they have done.

Using examples both past and present this film explores the history and development of the modern-day Corporation, with input from the academic community and those such as Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky and author Howard Zinn who have put themselves in the public eye to battle ‘The Man’.

Perhaps surprisingly given the objectives of the film, many C.E.O.s also get the chance to put in their two cents—only one of which seems to be seeking redemption. Ray Anderson’s company is the largest manufacturer of carpets in the world (I won’t give them free advertising then!), but after years of paying no attention to what he was doing to the environment an epiphany has changed his views. However, most of the others on show are unabashedly cold in their standing.

Some of the shadier characters in the background of big business appear to muddy the waters even more, with corporate espionage just an every day occurrence, and disasters both natural and manmade just helping to push up the price of commodities. From the devious ways in which products are sold to children, to the disturbing revelation that it is apparently not against the law to distort the news (at least in America), the film spends its two hours and twenty-four minute runtime telling it like it is. One minor qualm is that the illustrations predominantly use American examples, although the Corporation is a global phenomenon. Apparently Joel Bakan’s companion book (i.e. it is not word-for-word a book of the film) The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit & Power redresses this balance somewhat.

Winning the Audience Awards at both the Sundance and Philadelphia Film Festivals in 2004, this Canadian film dares to expose those who seek to control the wealth and power in the world and does so in a fairly entertaining fashion. It does border on ‘fact overload’ from time to time but if awareness is the goal then it succeeds, and I have only touched on the many points that are put across.

Corporation, The
Video
Presented in Anamorphic Widescreen at a ratio of around 1.78:1, this is a bit of a hard one to give a score for.

With the film being a mix of new interview footage and of clips from anything up to fifty years ago and beyond, there can be a large shift in the quality of what is shown on screen. That being said, everything is reproduced faithfully—even with the limitations of some of the source material. Detail in the new material is good, even given a relatively low average bit-rate of 5.54Mb/sec, but then since a lot of the film comprises people talking against a black background there isn’t as much to show when compared to a Hollywood blockbuster.

Where there is colour the palette is accurate, but the only minor point I would make is that although the blacks are nice and deep there can be a tendency for people’s clothing and hair to merge with the background in some of the ‘talking heads’ parts. Aside from that, and the lack of smoothness in some of the panning shots (NTSC sourced transfer anyone?), there isn’t really anything to gripe about here.

Finishing with my usual couple of points, the layer change is nicely hidden in a fade-to-black at 01:29:33, at the start of chapter seventeen. The subtitles are fairly clear but could be better—some seem like they’ve been done with a worn down typewriter, and also the timing seems slightly off with some overlaying of on-screen text. Nothing major in the problem department, though.

Audio
Contrary to the listings on some web retailers’ sites, we are not furnished with a multi-channel surround track for the main feature. For a film of this type, however, the Dolby Digital Stereo track we do get is more than adequate. Vocals and music are clear, and that’s all that really matters so I don’t have any complaints.

Also provided is a ‘Video Descriptive’ track—again in Dolby Digital Stereo—featuring narration as to the goings on on-screen. Thankfully this does not get in the way of the main narrator, or indeed the interview footage, and it does allow access to the wealth of information for the partially-sighted or blind so it is a commendable inclusion. Nothing spectacular, but both tracks do their jobs well.

Extras
With 144 minutes of film crammed onto disc one, there is apparently still plenty of room to give a bit of ‘Added Value’. All material is presented in Dolby Digital Stereo, but sadly without any subtitles.

Corporation, The
Q’s and A’s is a collection of clips from various press junkets and appearances by the film’s makers. The eight categories in the menu can be selected individually or you can ‘Play All’, and what you get is 27m17s of insight into such things as why the film was made, where the money came from, and how the heck they got C.E.O.s on camera even when they knew what the film was about.

The eight deleted scenes can also be selected individually or played together. Totalling 16m46s and ranging from minor inserts of around thirty seconds, to extended versions of scenes and the excised original introduction to the Psycho Therapies chapter (9m38s), only the latter has any real meat to it. Like the main feature, these are presented in anamorphic widescreen at around 1.78:1.

Majority Report Interview with Joel Bakan (39m16s, 4:3) sees the author of the book and the film involved in a lengthy discussion on Janeane Garofalo’s radio show. A lot of the information is available in the main feature and the Q’s and A’s, but it is a decent effort and gets down to the basics of the film.

Katherine Dodds on Grassroots Marketing (6m58s, 4:3, no subtitles) is a look at the way the film was marketed going up to release. It is all glossed over fairly quickly, but you get the gist of what was involved.

Next up are a couple of Trailers—one for The Corporation itself (1m54s, Anamorphic 1.78:1), and the other for Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick’s Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (2m39s, 4:3).

Shown right at the end of the film, and also accessible from the Special Features menu, are the DVD Credits.

Finishing off disc one are two commentary tracks. The first is a joint commentary with Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, although the latter was recorded separately and snippets are dropped in at opportune moments. There are large moments of silence, with comments mainly around editing choices (Jennifer mostly) and content choices, with a bit of expansion on the material. It all stays mostly to the point of what is going on on-screen, but the gaps can leave you wondering when they are coming back.

Corporation, The
The second features author and film co-creator Joel Bakan, and this goes much deeper into the theories on show. Using scenes in the film as a jumping off point, a lot of what is said is not specific to what you are seeing but relevant nonetheless, and I found myself closing my eyes so as not to get distracted from what he was saying. Definitely the better of the two tracks and well worth a listen if this is your cup of tea.

And all that is before we even put disc two into the machine. What we get there—unless my sums are completely wrong—is around five and a half hours of additional interview footage and text updates. All of it is in English Dolby Digital Stereo and presented in 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, but with no available subtitles.

There are two ways of accessing the footage. The first—Hear More From...—allows you to view the interviews by person, choosing from forty headshots. Each selection brings up brief details on the person (or persons) in question along with a link to a list of related web resources (more on that later). The interviews are listed under sub-headings to give you an idea of what the subject matter is, and there is an option to ‘Play All’ the interviews if you don’t want to select them individually.

Topical Paradise takes the same footage and organises it alphabetically into twenty-two subjects, each taking you to a list of interviewees and allowing you to select individual scenes or ‘Play All’. There is an additional category here as well. Related Film Resources contains yet more trailers for (deep breath) McLibel, Outfoxed, What Barry Says, The Take, Culture Jam, Confessions of a Burning Man, Scared Sacred, The Future of Food, Fourth World War, Surplus, Civilizing the Economy, Battle’s Poison Cloud, Friendship Village and Wal-Town. There’s just over half an hour of extra material there alone.

Lastly (!) if you insert the DVD into a DVD-ROM drive you can get direct access to the web resources mentioned earlier (via the same headshots screens as above, which take you to a particular participants’ clickable link list), an ‘Activist Toolkit’—which is basically the marketing materials for the film—and additional links to an online store and The Corporation’s mailing list sign-up page (although the latter link is missing the .com and doesn’t work!).

All in all this is a supreme effort in terms of minutes of stuff to let into your brain, both on the part of the makers and for the poor sap that tries to get through it all. Content-wise almost all of it is worthwhile as well, which is no mean feat.

Corporation, The
Overall
This set takes the film and expands on it greatly; even with the additional footage on disc two only being a shadow of the material available in what was first assembled as a thirty-three hour cut! The picture and sound quality are adequate for the contents, and anyone interested in this sort of thing will no doubt lap it up.

Personally, I usually prefer to escape reality when sitting in front of the old picture box—documentaries and the like are not my ‘thing’. Having said that, I had no problem sitting through the film and I did find many aspects of it interesting. I just don’t know if the replay factor is high, although it will take a fair while to get through all of the material offered.

There is no easy solution. We need the Corporations and they know it, and—if you’ll forgive the sci-fi analogies—it would seem from the tales told here that we have a long way to go before the ‘perfect’ Earth society portrayed in Star Trek is a reality. The way things are going we may just end up with a Weyland Yutani controlling everything instead, but this film may at least open the eyes of a few.


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