There’s something disturbing about watching concerned parents sitting in a room waiting for a lottery ball to drop that could determine their child’s future. They react with tears of joy and sorrow as numbers are drawn, representing a kid who has a better chance.
Those children whom had their number drawn are going to a better school, one created through the willingness of people who see a problem and have a solution. These individuals have found resolutions to almost every problem scenario, rich or poor, broken home, low income, high income, attention disorders, you name it. There’s a possibility behind them all, but putting those concepts into actual working environments is nigh impossible.
Waiting for Superman isn’t necessarily impartial. It tosses plenty of statistics about the effects of uncaring educators, decaying comprehension levels in various districts, and those awful teachers who are forever stuck in a system that allows them to be because of tenure.
The good becomes the possibilities, like the eye-opening methods educators have discovered to reach these kids, ways to bring them into the school system, not push them away from it. There are problems all around, from poverty to single parent households, even down to those kids shuffled into their grandparents home. They can succeed because the methods are there, the ideas in place, but it grinds to a halt because change is hard.
Waiting focuses on a select number of kids, each in a situation their caregivers are trying to get them out of. They are headed for those lotteries because the system as it is situated has become completely inefficient, wrapped up in red tape, government policies, and no strict adherence to any curriculum.
The film points fingers and in no way hides which direction it may be pointing. It’s focused, tightly edited, and even hopeless in how it portrays what used to be the best system in the world. It was designed for a country post World War II, not a modern day society with varied, wider reaching problems that require specific needs. These kids are shuffled ahead because teachers are frustrated, and the teachers are shuffled because the higher-ups are frustrated. It’s an endless cycle, something Waiting for Superman wants to put an end too. The material has the power to do so.
Focusing just on the main documentary footage itself and ignoring the various snippets, Waiting for Superman’s AVC encode looks great. The digital source is provided firm, natural color saturation. Flesh tones are pure, and the bright primaries that dominate most schools look fantastic. Black levels are outstanding, even under conditions where light is nearly void.
Detail is wonderful too, the close-ups constant and almost always resolving exquisite detail. Sharpness does not falter, the clarity afforded by the digital in full effect. It carries only a minimal layer of that unnatural, digital sheen, so inoffensive most will barely notice. From city streets to school interiors, the dimensionality is held without fault. Source noise is barely worth a mention it’s so rarely a problem.
Waiting is not just a bunch of talking heads though. Interspersed throughout are various animation interludes to showcase statistics. These tend to suffer from flicker and aliasing, what appears to be a problem of these being created at a lower resolution. They still maintain the clarity factor, and suffer no abhorrent compression issues. Light aliasing, flicker, and ringing can be spotted on a minimalist level within the live action footage too.
Between those layers is footage culled from director Davis Guggenheim’s previous school-related work, The First Year. Along with many other clips, this looks to have been shot on tape. Former presidents were captured on a variety of formats, from clean 16mm film to garish, bleeding tape. These are the ups and downs any documentary will sadly deal with focusing on past events, and at the very least, the encode doesn’t appear to introduce any additional layers of problems.
Paramount offers a DTS-HD mix that offers dialogue and not much else. The surrounds remain quiet, leaving the light score to come through the stereo channels naturally. There is no attempt to ensure vehicles pass through the surrounds or even split the fronts. It’s all very contained.
All interviews were conducted under what seem to be perfect conditions, free of outside noise. It leaves the dialogue clean without any echo or other anomaly. Fidelity is fine and natural. It’s all perfectly suited to this material.
A commentary is led by director Davis Guggenheim and producer Lesley Chilcott, followed by a PSA called Changing the Odds. A very short text update section barely provides any info at all, leading interested parties to the film’s website. A Conversation with Davis Guggenheim is just a brief animated piece as he discusses teachers.
The Future is in Our Classrooms is another PSA piece, followed by the making of John Legend’s song “Shine.” Four deleted scenes run 31-minutes.