Election – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when The Criterion Collection announced it would be bringing Election into its lineup. The company tends to find some of the older works of celebrated directors and it just so happens that this film was one of the best comedies of the 90s. Alexander Payne’s acclaimed comedic satire has landed in the cinematic pantheon of being an acclaimed and popular enough film, and a cult favorite in its own way. Perhaps that has to do with the film’s spirit. There’s a Midwestern charm, but the film’s whole story is rooted in very political ideas that reflect not only one important election, but others as well. All of that and Election still manages to be wickedly funny. Now it has this fantastic Criterion Blu-ray release sure to please many.


Election tells the story of an overachieving high schooler and an irritated (and well-liked) social-studies teacher. Reese Witherspoon is Tracy Flick, a high school junior with all sorts of success in front of her once she gets away from a high school happier to make fun of her. She has all the ambition needed to get ahead in life, and that is starting with her bid to run for class president. This is countered by Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick), who has some personal issues with Tracy and decides to pit popular jock Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) against her. A further turn is taken when Paul’s sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) decides to run as well for her own reasons.

There’s a lot more going on here, and it all has to do with how carefully assembled each of these characters is. Broderick’s cheery narration matched against the poor actions he’s taking allows for so much splendid comedy. Witherspoon is on point in one of her early breakout and most memorable roles. Klein is the perfect lunkhead, with far better comedic timing that people want to give him credit for. Campbell is a fantastic wildcard. We get to see all of these perspectives thanks to the film’s choice to have multiple narrators delivering voiceover.

Payne and his frequent collaborator Jim Taylor adapted an unpublished novel by Tom Perrotta, and the results earned them an Oscar nomination for a good reason. The film is excellent and only gets better as time goes by, easily working as one of the best high school comedies ever made, thanks to a very adult take on the material. The novel took inspiration from the 1992 Presidential election between Clinton, Bush and Ross Perot, which makes plenty of sense when looking at the opponents, but can no doubt be seen in a new light, given a few of the recent elections as well. It’s genuinely uncanny at times when considering the dynamic of the characters we are watching.

MTV Films deserves credit as well. Here’s a film that plays to teenagers and adults, but doesn’t go for the low-brow joke or fill the soundtrack with popular 90s hits. Instead, it’s a smart satire with bountiful visual humor (Payne doesn’t get nearly enough credit as a director) and a healthy dose of Ennio Morricone, of all people, on the soundtrack. While some may point to Varsity Blues, I’d be happier to look at MTV Films for their choice to stand behind films such as this, Hustle & Flow, Better Luck Tomorrow, Murderball and Tupac: Resurrection.

Despite great reviews at the time, Election barely registered at the box office, which is a shame. With more faith and a different marketing campaign, I could easily see this film being a big hit in a year full of modern classics (1999 is a fantastic year for cinema history). It’s very quotable, oddly sincere, full of quirk, and acted to perfection.

The way Broderick completely inverts his Ferris Bueller reputation should have led him to plenty of more acclaimed roles, but I suppose his character actor work and a healthy, award-winning Broadway career isn’t the worst thing either. Witherspoon has gone on to have a stable film career, while Klein has sadly become the butt of the joke for many, despite showing so much early promise. There’s also a robust set of supporting character actors who have been found in other Payne films, let alone other Midwestern-set comedies.

I’ve seen Election countless times at this point, so there’s plenty more I could go into, but it’s basically just a list of great things to praise. The film is fantastic for a variety of reasons and is perhaps Payne’s best attempt at showing just how great he is at mining humor out of the flaws in humanity. Election doesn’t overstay its welcome, features some sharp humor routed in both politics and adult living, and holds onto a sense of tone very effectively. It’s the sort of comedy you hope to see any year, as well as a celebration of how reality and absurdity can collide to yield terrific results.


Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Clarity/Detail: Election’s new 4K digital transfer was supervised and approved by Payne, and I can say right now, this film looks fantastic. It’s a 90s film with no visual effects to consider, so it’s not as if the film would be expected to look bad otherwise, but Criterion has released a transfer that is incredibly clean and full of detail. All the little choices to best reflect a high school environment, while cluing in viewers on some subtle visual jokes, has paid off well for a release that is as clear as can be.

Depth: Many scenes set in hallways of the high school allow for lots of dimensionality. There is never any sense of flatness, and one can easily enjoy the framing thanks to some directorial decisions that benefit this Blu-ray transfer.

Black Levels: Black levels are nice and deep throughout. This is a very bright film, but moments involving shadows and some darkness register nicely.

Color Reproduction: Speaking of bright, there is a considerable amount of color prominently featured throughout this film. Even when considering how dull some of the Midwestern environments are supposedly being portrayed, it’s the pop in Tracy’s outfits, the various high school details and settings, and more that sell prominent colors that come into play.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures all register nicely. One key closeup of a particular teacher early on, as he spouts one memorable line of dialogue, fills you in with how strong this aspect of the transfer is.

Noise/Artifacts: Original film grain is preserved, while the rest of the film has been thoroughly cleaned up. It’s spotless.


Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Election doesn’t feature an aggressive soundtrack, as it’s a quirky character comedy, but this lossless 5.1 track still manages to do the job. Thanks to the use of music and the bounciness of the dialogue, there is plenty to admire in it registers and when the appropriate levels on the volume are raised by the film for greater effect.

Low-Frequency Extension: Some minor moments involving audience applause tries to add to the audio track, but the LFE channel has little to do.

Surround Sound Presentation: A very deliberate score by Rolfe Kent and some atmospheric elements are suitably balanced throughout the film with this superb audio track. The center channel gets the most to do, but the front and rear channels factor in when it counts.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is heard clearly.




How is the alternate ending not included on this disc?! Seriously though (and the theatrical ending is much better anyway), the extras provided here are pretty great. An old commentary track comes with a new, excellent documentary, a newly produced interview with Reese Witherspoon, and the full-length UCLA thesis film directed by Payne.

Features Include:

  • Audio Commentary from 1999 with Director Alexander Payne – An old track with some pauses, but quite informative about the production and more.
  • TruInside: “Election” (HD, 40:37) – A 2016 documentary that features new interviews with the cast and crew, along with various film critics and scholars. There’s a lot of great information here, including thoughts on the film’s impact on society, as well as how it’s affected everyone involved. There’s even brief talk of the alternate ending and the original casting of Thora Birch as Tammy. Any fan of the film will easily find plenty to enjoy here, as it’s a terrific oral history.
  • “Who Cares? I Do” Reese Witherspoon on Election (HD, 10:15) – While absent from the recent documentary, Witherspoon did provide a new interview separately, which has the actress looking back on the film’s impact on her career and its legacy. 
  • The Passion of Martin (HD, 48:53) – Payne’s UCLA thesis film, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival and won him some awards, remastered for this release.
    • Director’s Statement – An image featuring a note by Payne expressing his current feelings on it.
    • Introduction (HD, 10:47) – A really solid interview that tracks Payne’s history as a budding filmmaker at UCLA, before coming up with his 1990 thesis film.
  • Local News (SD, 1:31) – A CBS Omaha affiliate news report from 1997 featuring behind-the-scenes footage of the production.
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:30)
  • PLUS – An essay by critic Dana Stevens



Election is a fantastic comedy that is every bit as hilarious today as it was back in 1999. The performances are stellar, and the story is such a great compression of some big ideas for the sake of a clever high school farce. This Criterion release is terrific as well. The technical presentation is as excellent as one would hope, with a wonderful collection of extras to go with it all. Pick Flick and pick up this Blu-ray.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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