The Corporation Review

The Film

The Corporation is a solid documentary which took as its inspiration the book ‘The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power’ – which should give a clear indication of its subject matter. The film looks at various aspects of corporate power as well as the corporate body in general and how often it operates against the environment, public interest and anything beyond the pursuit of money for its shareholders. It’s not a documentary in the style of Michael Moore or even Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me); there’s little humour interspersed with the facts – instead the presentation takes the form of anecdotes, interviews and footage with a voice-over narration presenting factual information to the viewer. The film has won 24 international awards, 10 of which were audience choice awards… including the Audience Award for Documentary in World Cinema at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

This documentary was made by a team of three people: Joel Bakan (who wrote the book), Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbot. They spent no less than eight years working on the project. The Corporation uses its 2 hour 25 minute running length to work its way through an analysis of the personality of a corporation, using the World Health Organisation’s definition of a psychopath as a metaphor. As might be expected, it’s a pretty grim tale which examines aspects as diverse as marketing, animal welfare, environmental concerns, legality of corporate structures and stakeholder interests. Obviously there’s a great deal of content bearing upon ethics and morality as well. There’s also plenty of archive footage, but the weightiest parts of the documentary are in fact the interviews with various big names in the field, such as Milton Friedman, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore (of course) and Naomi Klein (who wrote ‘No Logo’).

A very striking feature of this film is that it makes no pretence about its message or purpose; there’s no inclusion of populist humour in an attempt to jostle you along into agreement with the documentary makers. The problem is, it’s hard to imagine anyone watching this documentary who isn’t already sympathetic with its message, and much of the time it makes for pretty dry viewing. That said, it remains enjoyable in the sense of it being a work that makes no apologies and interleaves the extensive research that’s been carried out with intriguing interviews and excellent archive footage to back up the main message of the documentary. As many viewers have already observed, the interviews are really the jewel in the crown of this particular documentary… from the CEO of Interface who makes a remarkably candid assessment of corporate environmental concerns, to the stock exchange trader who seemed to have very little ethical concern for how his work fitted into the larger picture. There’s also the head of Pfizer trying to convince the cameras just how much good his company is doing for the community, as well as the CEO of Shell frankly discussing a protest that took place at his house a long while back. (In this last case, the filmmakers state in the commentary that some of the footage included on this segment was from one of the activists involved and is probably the only yet-extant proof of the anecdote – but they also got the information separately verified.)

Frankly there’s a lot to take in, and one of the only real criticisms is that the length and diversity of the information provided here may engender a sense of overload in the audience. Personally I found that it held my attention quite well, but I could definitely see how it might make other viewers flag a little. The film-makers did a great job in securing interviews with all of the contributors in question and in presenting this mountain of information in a cohesive manner. However, while the film sits together very well (despite its somewhat unwieldy length), it unquestionably makes for quite depressing viewing.


The thing with documentaries is that the picture quality will never quite achieve the status of a precise art, as the oft-used archive footage is generally quite grainy and even more recently-recorded segments can come from a variety of sources, not all of which are necessarily going to have been filmed with top-of-the-line equipment. This common issue is evident in The Corporation as well, though it’s not so much of a ‘problem’ as something that underlines the film’s documentary nature and imparts it a very realistic and at times gritty feel… which is a good thing, as a hyper-polished presentation would have borne some resemblance to the PR pieces which this film justifiably criticises. There’s quite a variation in picture quality throughout, and even some of the newly-shot pieces aren’t especially magnificent quality-wise. That said, this DVD has been given the a modern treatment, with an anamorphic widescreen print.


The Dolby soundtrack does a respectable job of presenting both music and dialogue clearly. Moreover, the background music is used quite cleverly to imbue interviews and narration with either a humorous tone or (decidedly more often) a vaguely sinister atmosphere. There’s quite a bit of voice-over work but it fits in genuinely well. Even the archive footage manages crisp sound. Interestingly, however, for the visually impaired the film contains an unusual feature – a ‘descriptive audio track’ which reads out the names of interviewees and other on-screen text to help give a fuller picture for those either not paying full attention or who need this extra descriptive layer.

Menus & Extras

It would be remiss of me not to mention the superb design exhibited by this release. The disc menus are not merely aesthetically-pleasing, but incredibly well thought-out and demonstrate that the attention to detail found in the documentary itself was carried on even through the final authoring stages of this DVD. All modern features are present, from visually-appealing full-screen motion menus, background music, transitions, animated chapter menus, etc. Even more critical to a documentary DVD release, the wealth of additional information on these two discs has been organised and presented in such a way to make navigation very painless. A fantastic job all around.

Anyway, when this DVD mentions ‘special features’ it really means it; we’re talking over seven hours of extra material to wade through here. While this may sound a little over-the-top for a documentary, it’s all extremely fascinating in its own right and really fleshes out what footage made it into the final film (believe it or not, those 2 1/2 hours were whittled down from an original pool of over 450!). It may not be desirable to go through every little extra here, so I’ll mainly stick to describing some of the biggest additions.

First of all I have to mention the two audio commentaries, unfortunately neither of which is subtitled. The first edits together commentary from director/editor Jennifer Abbot and Mark Achbar. It’s cut together remarkably well, so that I actually forgot the two tracks were recorded separately until I sat down to write this up. It’s interesting to listen to and describes how they managed to land certain interviews, how the various companies felt about their specific portrayals in the piece and other insightful anecdotes. There’s a mine of background information to take in, but they also refer regularly to the technical side of making the film, especially the editing process which obviously took a goodly long time (again can I say, 450 hours of initial footage!). The second commentary is just as intriguing, if not more so, and is presented by writer/co-creator, Joel Bakan on his own. Bakan examines some of the key differences between the book and the film in quite explicit detail, the principal one being that the book is more prescriptive, while the film mostly places the information out there and allows the audience to take some time to let it seep in. This commentary is also full of vivid anecdotes which make it very easy to listen to, and I enjoyed it more than I perhaps thought I would.

There’s also footage of eight Q & A sessions between the media and the film’s creators. The first isn’t especially engaging, and I continued in trepidation for a while but they actually grew more and more interesting as the creators were questioned on their motives, inspiration and goals behind the film (as well as other aspects, of course). These sessions last about 18 minutes in total and serve to illustrate just how articulate those behind the creation of the film are, even when handed some tricky questions to answer. The main point of interest here is that many of the questions a viewer may have asked themselves while watching the film are presented and dealt with immediately, which is actually quite a satisfying experience.

Joel Bakan features again on the Majority Report interview, a radio programme presented by Janeane Garofalo where the film and the book are both discussed at some length. The programme is around 40 minutes long and goes into a lot of depth about the politics and the theories behind the film, and credit must be given to the radio host for having clearly done quite a bit of research herself prior to bringing Bakan on the air. Again it provides more information about the writer and his assertions and fills inevitable gaps left from the film due to the editing process and the sheer bulk of information that had to be conveyed. It’s a lively discussion also between people who seem genuinely keen to really get to grips with the concepts behind corporate interest and behaviour (compared with stakeholder interest) from the whole spectrum of society.

The first disc features are rounded out by Katharine Dodds’ look at the grassroots marketing that helped to propel the film to a wider audience, the original theatrical trailer, eight deleted scenes (most of which are short, and several of which are in fact merely extended versions of scenes already in the film) and the Managing Consent trailer.

Onto the second disc, which is packed with even more material to absorb and ponder. There’s a selection of promotional material from posters to marketing items and links to various informational and activist websites (including The Corporation’s homepage, of course). But the main feature of disc 2 is a fantastic selection of subject matter omitted from the documentary, mostly taking the form of additional interview material from over forty professionals who figured prominently in the film itself. You can search through this mass of information either by interviewee or by topic. You can easily pass over five hours of time watching the rest of what the interviewees had to say (or, at least, that’s as much of it as could be squeezed onto this second disc)... which gives you some idea of just how much commitment the producers had to showing you the material that didn’t quite make the final cut. But more important than simply being thorough, this section is also extremely engaging in its own right, containing much material that you can imagine must have been downright painful for the creators when they made the hard choice to edit it out.


I thoroughly enjoyed The Corporation and learned a great deal regarding certain aspects of corporate behaviour… even though it’s an area I’ve had to personally research in the course of my previous work. The film is incisive and well-presented, if a trifle too long to hold my complete attention throughout. However, it’s definitely not a documentary for everyone, even though it won’t (nor deserves to) garner the sort of criticism Michael Moore’s efforts often do. Hopefully it will have the desired effect of driving the audience to learn more for themselves from whichever sources they consider to be reliable. The special features provided with the film are truly exemplary (I would give them a score of 11 if I could) and leave very few questions about the documentary unanswered. Though I wouldn’t recommend watching them all in a day, there’s very little fluff to be found (and I’m down to calling a trailer ‘fluff’ here!), so it’s a highly educational and informative experience that demonstrates just how much preparation and hard work had to go into creating a documentary as wide-ranging and thoughtful as this one.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 09:49:33

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