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The Great Debaters (SE)
DVD disk
May 29, 2008 By: Quigles
The Great Debaters (SE) order
Director:
Denzel Washington

Actors:
Denzel Washington
Forest Whitaker
Nate Parker

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A true story about a professor who led a debate team to be the first African Americans to debate Harvard in the national championship.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
THE GREAT DEBATERS, much like AKEELAH THE BEE (another movie that deals with race, academia, and competition), is plagued by the very same clichs that all rousing dramas of this sort commonly seem to be. The goal is to be inspirational, clearly, but seeing as how it fits the formula of several dozen other films it's not always effective. I mean, lets be honestwinning a debate isnt that hard when youre always arguing for the side thats clearly in the right. Constructing a strong argument for why racism is bad is about on par with proving that your hands are useful for picking things up. As is such with this film as a whole: it may have a good message backing it, but its preaching to the choir, and worse still, its a choir thats already been preached the message repeatedly from other movies.

The formulaic aspects of the film dont end there either. Take for example a speech that the respected and tough professor (played by Washington) forces the students to reiterate during their training. Queue the end of the film, and suddenly the trio is in need of inspiration to keep them together and working as a team. What do they do? Recite the speech. Stuff like this is littered through the movie, making it hard to focus on what was currently happening in the storyline, instead compelling the viewer to focus on what was going to happen next (at one point I started keeping score to see if I could predict how every subplot would play out). The example I listed is a minor one, but there are several dozen others apparent at any given time during the film that it can quickly become overbearing for anybody paying enough attention to notice.

For those who arent as bothered by such trite and obvious storytelling (which admittedly will only seem trite to those that watch films as often as both I and a large majority of the JoBlo.com schmoes do, since the filmmaking itself is pretty much fantastic), THE GREAT DEBATERS will assuredly find a way into your hearts, as it offers everything youd expect and hope for from an Oprah movie. Depending on who you are, that could either be a good or bad thing, but with commanding performances that can only be delivered by the likes of Denzel Washington and Forrest Whitaker, even the less Oprah-inclined are likely to find something to appreciate here. And, with the minor exception of the youngest male lead (who has almost no personality and never appears to rise to debating greatness like hes intended to), the younger cast is very strong as well. You may not find any surprises in THE GREAT DEBATERS, but its a well-meaning and easily accessible film that should leave many moviegoers riveted. I just wasnt one of them.
THE EXTRAS
This 2-Disc Collectors Edition is loaded with special features, but a good amount of it is of the pat-yourself-on-the-back variety.

DISC 1

The Great Debaters: An Historical Perspective (23:09): A look at the true story behind the film, with a lot in the way of actor/filmmaker interview contributions.

Deleted Scenes (4:52): There are three, none of which add much value to the film.

Also included are Music Videos ("That's What My Baby Likes" and "My Soul Is a Witness") and Previews.

DISC 2

The Great Debaters: A Heritage of Music (11:58): Insight into the use of music in the film.

Scoring The Great Debaters with James Newton Howard and Peter Golub (10:45): Further insight into the music of the film, this time from a technical standpoint.

Learning the Art: Our Young Actors Go to Debate Camp (21:55): Exactly what the title describes. The young actors are given extensive training at debate camp.

A New Generation of Actors (9:44): Looks at the three young protagonists.

Forest Whitaker on Becoming James Farmer Sr. (3:58): Whitaker is great and all, but this is a needless piece.

The 1930's Wardrobe of Sharen Davis (5:28): Explores the clothing.

The Production Design of David J. Bomba (8:56): Self explanatory.

Also included are two pieces of text from The Poetry of Melvin B. Tolson.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Im sure Im in the minority here, but THE GREAT DEBATERS didnt capture me like it seems to have others. As well made and acted as it is, there are far too many clichs and predictable turns from the plot to simply overlook. For me, anyway. Others apparently dont have that problem, so if youre the type of person thats easily capable of shrugging past recycled themes and plot points, theres not much here to dislike.
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