Guggenheim, an accomplished television (and now documentary) director, knows how to paint a visually striking portrait. More importantly, he is deft at threading a gripping narrative that feels absolutely sprawling, as a film should feel when telling a story about an entire nation. The effort feels both epic, as he follows dozens of parents, teachers, officials and others, and intimate, as he profiles several young children struggling arduously to get for themselves the best free education they can.
Along the way, the statistics Guggenheim drops on us (he also narrates) are beyond eye-opening, illuminating just how inconceivably dire the American public school education system has become. I was scratching my head early; wondering how the heck this all could have happened and anxious for Guggenheim to get to the cause, and in turn, the solution...but therein lies my only criticism with the film.
The cause and solution (like Superman himself) never arrived. Sure, there were morsels of "why", hints at potential causes for the problems and broad, overly simplified suggestions for solutions, but this shortcoming may not be anyone's fault. Afterall, if the problem was so easily pinpointed, the solution (of which there really is almost none) would be easy to achieve.
One thing Guggenheim does make beautifully clear however, is that the problem affecting America's children, can be blamed squarely on the adults.
The Future Is In Our Classroom (2:06) - Sort of similar to the one above, except this one is a fun animation, and I'm pretty sure it's narrated by Natalie Portman, which of course, makes this awesome by default.
Deleted Scenes (31:15) 4 of them here, but as you can see by the length, they're more like stories than traditional scenes. The first two of which are hugely inspirational, and I wish they could have included them in the film.
The Making of 'Shine' (7:02) You may be asking why we would need to see the making of a John Legend song, and you would be on the same page as the filmmakers. We don't get but ten seconds of Legend recording the song, instead most of it is him driving around his hometown recalling his education. Kinda boring.
A Conversation With Davis Guggenheim (1:44): Another animated call-to-arms, telling you to support great teachers.
You also get a Commentary Track with writer/director Davis Guggenheim and Producer Lesley Chilcott, and a brief Update on what's changed since the film has been released.
**If you're on the fence about purchasing this film, allow me to add that the Blu-ray comes with a $25 "Donors Choose" gift card that you can donate to the public school project of your choice. You will then receive a personal thank you from the students and teacher you donate to! That alone seems like it's worth the price of purchase to me.