The original documentary, "Manufacturing Consent," (on Disc 1) was useful in introducing certain aspects of Professor Noam Chomsky's views on the media. However, it suffers from choppy editing that makes it very difficult to follow Dr. Chomsky's expressed train of thought on a given subject.
In trying to make the documentary's subject matter more accessible, the film-makers resort to irritating techniques meant to bring levity and relief through various unnecessary segues and supposedly humorous or ironic illustrations of its examples. So, when Dr. Chomsky talks about his theory of how the human brain learns language, the film cuts to showing a small child reading aloud a transcript excerpt of the linguist explaining the said theory. Much more annoying are numerous occasions in which the film makers waste money inputting special effects to make it seem that Dr. Chomsky's talks against corporations and consumerism are being projected on some big screen in a mall or seem that his dismissal of competitive sports as irrational jingoism is being projected on a football stadium screen.
I sympathize with the film makers' desire to compromise with an audience not normally interested in heady discussion. However, the result makes the film less entertaining and -- most importantly -- less accessible than a more forthright version might have been, not more. The decision to constantly supplement what Dr. Chomsky was trying to explain with a superficial layer of visual and auditory stimulation actually works against the film's message by distracting from and interfering with a full understanding of the nuances of the information.
This is not helped by the fact that the film includes no subtitles -- unless translating into English from some foreign language -- or properly-working closed captioning. Another technical issue is that the DVD was clumsily authored. Sometimes, when one presses "menu" during the film, it doesn't navigate to the menu selection, but just stops. It's impossible to skip from Chapter 13 to 14 without having to scan through or go to the main menu; there's also a bit of artifacting, which occurs when digital information is compressed. Yet these are minor quibbles with what's mostly an educational film that shouldn't depend on the highest possible production standards that might have caused the DVD to cost more anyway.
For all its choppiness, the film settles on some specific topics long enough to get more than the general gist of what Dr. Chomsky is saying. A little over an hour into the documentary, the East Timor genocide of the late 1970s is fascinatingly explored; the topic builds upon already sketched theories about the media and why this story was censored in countries responsible for its occurrence. This is powerful stuff. I wish the film had more of such moments, since the scope of Dr. Chomsky's controversial work has surely supplied ample cases of similarly thought-provoking value. Yet, this one alone is enough to save the documentary from simply being a hagiography of its star intellectual, as it often comes across.
Indeed, a major criticism of the film is that the viewer need be very much acquainted with the subjects discussed to be able to understand the hodge-podge references and sound-bytes to which Mr. Chomsky's complicated views on numerous subjects are reduced; the quick summary, edited style of the film actually has the effect of oddly cheerleading this humble protagonist with a slightly propagandistic drumbeat of ridicule toward every critic of his; mostly through media clips, it's inferred such detractors are either corrupt or unreasonable without showing us exactly why by providing the full context. Even if some, such as The New York Times' representatives, are given their fair say, most are dismissively (though sometimes fairly) exposed for their shrill intolerance in contrast to our hero's respectful calm. It's ironic that a film correctly criticizing the mainstream media so heavily for its brevity and bias is caught up in the same problem.
Perhaps, this is why Disc 2 is so welcome and worth 5 stars. Some of the interview segments used in the film with criminal brevity and without needed context are provided in full here: a half hour 1969 episode of "Firing Line" with William Buckley, Jr. discussing various Cold War issues, a 16-minute WGBH interview from 1986 with Dr. Chomsky and the President of Boston University, John Silber, and a half-hour debate with Michel Foucault from 1971, for which there are unfortunately no English subtitles for Mr. Foucault's French; for anyone with a reasonable understanding of French, it might not be too much of a problem, though, and Mr. Chomsky speaks in English. Perhaps most precious are: the 2007 41-minute interview by the film makers of Dr. Chomsky on the relevance of the film and an update of its subject matter, including East Timor; and the hour and a half 2005 Harvard University debate between the pro-Israeli celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz and Dr. Chomsky, who argues for a humanizing, fairer view of Palestinians.
I wish the film makers had included another disc's worth of material referenced in the documentary, such as the 11-minute "McNeil/Lehrer Newshour" interview from 1991. It's these longer primary sources that allow for greater understanding of the subtleties of Noam Chomsky's views and it's why Disc 2 easily makes this DVD worth the purchase. If anything, even the documentary sparked enough of my curiosity to make me want to know even more about Noam Chomsky's views than what's presented here, and that was probably the whole point.