JFK: A Masterpiece of American Myth-Making Hits 4K

Oliver Stone’s conspiracy epic receives a reverential UHD Collector’s Edition from Shout! Studios

When I first watched JFK at 15, I immediately thought it was the best-edited film in history. 

Oliver Stone’s docu-drama tracks the investigation of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) into the existence of a conspiracy that led to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; in doing so, Stone blends thousands of hours of interviews, archival footage, fastidious recreations, and decades of historical revelation and hindsight into a breathless three-and-a-half hours of gripping cinema. Garrison’s obsessive pursuit of the truth confronts him down countless dead ends and half-truths–and through his eyes, Stone directly interrogates and rejects a historical narrative perpetuated for decades. 

While the obfuscation of who was behind the Kennedy Assassination becomes a point in and of itself during JFK’s lengthy runtime, the most remarkable quality of Stone’s film is how it forges a startlingly coherent narrative out of its vast, chaotically conflicting perspectives. Recreations and archival footage blend to color in the overarching narrative of Garrison’s investigation, teasing out the hidden truths behind the source elements we might take at face value. Similar to Oppenheimer and Zodiac’s later use of star power as cultural shorthand for its real-life characters, JFK employs a murderer’s row of stars and character actors to meticulously build its case for the impactful truths it hopes to reveal. With the help of everyone including Gary Oldman, Laurie Metcalf, Joe Pesci, John Candy, and both halves of The Odd Couple, Stone and Costner distill the overwhelming complexities of assassination conspiracy theories into a straightforward battle for justice and truth, deftly balancing its abilities to both inform and entertain the audience. The final sequence, essentially a 40-minute powerhouse of a monologue by Costner, is also the film’s bookending showcase of bravura editing–tying 200 minutes’ worth of frantic crosscutting into a singular emotional punch–one made all the more potent by Garrison’s failure to prosecute those he thinks had a key hand in Kennedy’s killing. 

It’s a staggering conclusion that urges its audience to continue Garrison and Stone’s quest for truth. Admittedly, it was my first viewing of JFK that pushed me to visit Dealey Plaza for the first time, to stand behind the fence at the Grassy Knoll and feel like I was peering behind the veil of a pivotal point in American history. I partially credit JFK with inspiring my own investigative spirit, and for pushing me into researching some fascinating pieces of history and crime across my professional career–even including, in a full circle moment, a work shoot at Dealey Plaza itself.

In later viewings, I realized that the truly brilliant aspect of JFK and its editing lies in how the film’s relentless interrogation of the truth eventually encouraged me to subject Stone’s film to the same scrutiny it champions. It’s dangerous how convincingly Stone depicts the events of November 1963–crosscutting real footage of the assassination taken from various perspectives with an omniscient perspective featuring actors playing these real-life figures. By meticulously re-creating the assassination in Dealey Plaza to support the idea of multiple gunmen, on location no less, and cross-cutting it with authentic footage, Stone invites us to accept both on the same level of believability. The usage of pointed re-creation to fill in the gaps of reality infuses Stone’s fictional footage with the raw power of the evidence he’s employing, simultaneously providing a context to the real-life footage that now seems inseparable from Stone’s intended impact. 

With this in mind, Stone’s depiction of Garrison’s investigation becomes as much of a theme park ride as it is an earnest pursuit of the truth behind the Kennedy Assassination. However thrilling the investigation may be, the construction of JFK as a narrative film is one that deliberately blends reality and fiction to force its audience to arrive at the conclusion Stone wants us to come to. At the same time, though, the deliberately contradictory staging of JFK’s flashbacks from multiple perspectives highlights just how limited Garrison’s–and Stone’s–perspectives really are, and the near futility of trying to come to an objective truth behind such a fractured yet impactful moment in time.

None of this is a slight against Stone’s film at all. In fact, revisiting JFK for Shout! Studios’ new 4K restoration reinforces my belief that JFK is truly the best-edited film of all time. It’s not just a film that does the near-impossible in synthesizing so many contradictory viewpoints into over three hours of engaging cinema–it’s a film equally fascinated with how the control of information forms our perspectives and beliefs from an early age. Beyond its technical brilliance, JFK compels its audience to question the film’s own position of authority and encourages them to conduct their own relentless investigations, fostering a sense of personal authority and awareness as a result.

This extensively put-together Collector’s Edition may be the most reverent home video treatment of Stone’s conspiracy epic, as it not only provides a vibrant remaster of the widely available 205-minute Director’s Cut but also utilizes the same remaster as a source for a presentation of the original 188-minute Theatrical Cut, which hasn’t been released on home video in the United States since 1992. 

While some have expressed frustration with the fact that this cut isn’t also in 4K UHD, Stone himself has been candid on social media about the budgetary limitations preventing the restoration of both cuts–and that the director’s cut was chosen to give home audiences “more” with the longer cut in 4K. I’m partial to the Director’s Cut not just because it’s the only version I had access to growing up, but the sequences altered or excised from the longer cut results in what does feel like a more truncated experience. What’s more, in an age where any cut of a film may vanish without warning at the whim of the powers that be (studios, political forces, etc.), any attempt at preserving multiple cuts is something to be celebrated–especially if one cut has previously been unavailable for over thirty years. 

Shout! Studios has also been diligent about collecting a wealth of special features for this release, porting over nearly all of the previous special features available on the previous 2001 DVD release and 2008 Blu-ray release by Warner Brothers. For completists, a previous 1992 feature-length documentary, “Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy,” is absent from this release, along with other feature films and documentaries that were available on the 5-disc commemorative edition by Warner Brothers in 2013.

However, any missing special features are more than made up for with Shout’s newly-produced interviews on this set’s fourth disc, with nearly an hour’s worth of new discussions with JFK’s legendary primary creatives–including Stone, cinematographer Robert Richardson, and co-editor Hank Corwin. One particular interview I was fascinated by was with locations manager Patty Doherty Hess, who was responsible for securing and coordinating logistics for JFK’s on-location filming in Dealey Plaza, which was restored to 1963 period accuracy for over a week to re-create the Kennedy assassination from multiple perspectives. 

In working with Oliver Stone to collect both cuts of JFK as well as an extensive assembly of new and archival special features, Shout! Studios has effectively preserved a work of American cinema that is no less controversial and essential as it was upon its original 1991 release, and this set deserves to be a cornerstone of any home video collection. 


Shout! Select presents the Director’s Cut and Theatrical Cut of JFK in a new remaster scanned from the original camera negative and presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The Director’s Cut is presented in 2160p 4K on the UHD disc and in 1080p HD on the accompanying Blu-ray. The Theatrical Cut is only presented in 1080p HD on its own Blu-ray. A 5.1-channel surround track and original theatrical 2.0-channel stereo audio track are provided for both cuts, as well as SDH subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for the feature.

JFK’s dizzying blend of archival, narrative, and re-creation utilizes multiple different film stocks and sources, inevitably posing a significant challenge when it comes to restoring the film as a whole. This new restoration rises to the occasion, retaining the filmic look of Robert Richardson’s cinematography (with occasional frame jitters on title cards and optical overlays) while pushing the clarity of each type of film stock used to their functional limits. 

While presented in 2.39:1, the film shifts between many different aspect ratios–before expanding to its full ratio with Richardson’s narrative sections, much of the jaw-dropping opening montage pulling from 16mm Presidential addresses, stock footage, and other Kennedy archival is presented in a smaller ratio that emphasizes the window-boxing around the image; similar sequences throughout the film utilize this centered image approach, allowing for more natural presentation of the material, rather than blowing up the image to more immediate boundaries–thus drawing more attention to shifting aspect ratios.

The opening sections of the film feature a slightly blown-out “halo” to the lighting that gives way to more realistic, sharper tones as JFK progresses. Detail could easily be lost or mis-encoded in these opening sequences, yet textures like the wood grain of Garrison’s office or the smoky haze of the bar where Garrison and his associates watch initial news reports of the killing retain their specificity throughout varying levels of overexposure. 

Colors are also significantly brighter and varied in this new presentation compared to the 2008 Blu-ray, reflecting the amount of revived detail in this new restoration. From the more tan/green-colored streets of French Quarter New Orleans to the prison uniform blues in the brown/green swamps of Angola prison, all colors have a comparative “pop” with this new HDR pass. Black and white sequences feature rich amounts of contrast, and any scratches or artifacts present reflect more artistic choices by Stone, Richardson, and company rather than unintentional mistakes or transfer limitations. 

As far as the presented audio mixes, this Shout! set is notable for including the original stereo mixes for both cuts of the film, a mix that hasn’t previously been available on Blu-ray. However, the 5.1-channel surround track is the default for both cuts. Dialogue ranges from sharp to deliberately indistinct, depending on context. John William’s sweeping score, packed with drumlines, woodwinds, and funereal bagpipes, is well-distributed across all channels; however, there are moments when the score overpowers key lines of dialogue. Coupled with the staccato editing, it makes one grateful that SDH subtitles are also provided on both cuts. 

Special Features

Disc One: Director’s Cut (4K UHD) / Disc Two: Director’s Cut (Blu-ray)

  • Audio Commentary with Oliver Stone: An archival track from the 2001 DVD release with writer-director-producer Stone, delving into production logistics and other contextual information about the assassination alluded to by the film. It’s an incredibly intimate track, turning the film into a one-on-one with Stone as he guides you through both Garrison’s and his own beliefs on the machinations behind the assassination, as well as how Stone attempted to communicate them in a cinematically interesting way.

Disc Three: Theatrical Cut (Blu-ray)

  • Audio Commentary with Oliver Stone: This is the same archival commentary track from 2001, edited to conform to the shorter theatrical cut.

Disc Four: Special Features (Blu-ray)

  • One Person Can Make A Difference: a new interview with Oliver Stone, mainly focusing on what drew Stone to the material, the immediate impact of JFK and Stone’s subsequent testimony before Congress on the creation of the Assassination Records Review Board, and the lasting legacy of JFK on Stone’s career.
  • Brave New Worlds: a new interview with editor Hank Corwin, who earned his debut credit as an editor working on JFK.
  • Supporting the Vision: a new interview with co-producer Clayton Townsend, detailing his working relationship with Oliver Stone across multiple films.
  • Re-Creating the Unthinkable: a new interview with SFX makeup artist Gordon J. Smith, who was responsible for the gruesome prosthetics employed on the actor playing President Kennedy in the assassination recreations at Dealey Plaza.
  • Stone Bold: a new interview with cinematographer Robert Richardson, delving into the unique challenges, frustrations, and rewards of working on JFK alongside Stone and crew.
  • The Delicate Hands of Time: a new interview with Dallas location manager Patty Doherty Hess, who had the unenviable position of securing the film’s real-life locations for JFK‘s production, as well as ensuring proper historical preservation protocols were followed during filming.
  • Deleted/Extended Scenes: 12 deleted/extended scenes and an alternate ending totaling nearly an additional hour of runtime, with optional commentary by Oliver Stone.
  • Assassination Updated: A half-hour archival documentary from JFK’s 2001 DVD release delving into the assassination documents declassified by the JFK Assassination Records Review Board in the 1990s.
  • Meet Mr. X: The Personality and Thoughts of Fletcher Prouty: a 2001 featurette about the inspiration for Donald Sutherland’s composite CIA character, ported over from previous home video releases. 
  • Stills Gallery
  • Trailer for JFK’s original theatrical release.

The JFK 4K UHD Collector’s Edition is now available from Shout! Studios.

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