100 YEARS OF WARNER BROS.
August 6, 2023 / Hollywood Suite
Narration By: Morgan Freeman
Directed By: Leslie Iwerks
Exploring the impact of Warner Bros. on art, commerce, and culture, these four documentary specials tell the unprecedented story of the fabled entertainment studio on its 100th anniversary. Featuring insights from directors, actors, executives, journalists, and historians, the specials trace Warner Bros.’ underdog origins – from its founding in the early 1920s by four brothers from an immigrant family to the historic mergers of the 2000s that transformed the company into a global entertainment powerhouse. With narration by Morgan Freeman and clips from iconic films and hit TV series, 100 Years of Warner Bros. offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into the indelible stories that have spoken to audiences around the world for generations.
Review By Darren
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
100 Years of Warner Bros. chronicles the history of Warner Bros. from its beginning under the management of the four Warner brothers to the modern age, and while it is an interesting history, the documentary takes a very one sided view of the studio’s history that polishes the story and feels more like a marketing reel rather than an insightful look at one of Hollywood’s most formidable film studios.
Casablanca. Superman: The Movie. The Exorcist. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Bonnie and Clyde. The Dark Knight. The Color Purple. Argo. These are just a handful of the unforgettable films that Warner Bros. has released over its one hundred year history that helped shape the studio as the daring, boundary pushing champion of cinematic integrity it has become known for. But the studio’s beginnings trace back to four immigrant brother’s with a desire to create movies, their desire to deliver real stories and give audiences what they deserve, which helped birth one of Hollywood’s most prominent studios.
Over the course of four parts, the documentary tells the story of Warner Bros. from its inception by Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack Warner, their big success with the talkies, and through all of the multiple regime changes leading up to the present day. Each part focuses on a different time period and stage in the company’s history, starting back in the 1920s. What the documentary does well is highlighting the values that Warner Bros. was built on: telling authentic, relatable stories that connect with audiences despite what other studios were doing and what was the perceived safe move. They dedicated themselves to relationships from the 1970s onwards, championing talent to help create the studio we know today, so seeing these relationships explored with Hollywood legends like Clint Eastwood, Patty Jenkins, Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, and George Clooney is very interesting. It provides insight into what those who work in the industry think of Warner Bros. and their professional relationship, all guided with the calm and authoritative narration from screen legend Morgan Freeman.
There are some truly fascinating tidbits of history divulged in the documentary, such as moments shared from the filming of Casablanca or the first reaction to Aaron Sorkin’s writing of The West Wing. But beyond the films, the documentary tracks the different corporate structures of Warner Bros. over the years, as well as giving a social context to the different era of cinema and the effects of their films on society. Of course, the documentary touches on the backlash to Oliver Stone’s JFK being made, but then also the profound effect the film had on helping to declassify information surrounding Kennedy’s assassination. And this Harry Potter fan loved seeing the impact that film had on the studio, and it being given a good amount of coverage in the last part of the documentary.
While the two episodes feel objective, touching upon some of the dated and problematic films that were released under the Warner brothers and the changes coming out of the Golden Age studio system, as the documentary progresses it begins to feel like a marketing product for the company. As the documentary nears the present day, especially in the part covering the 2010s and 2020s, a very polished tale is told. The films that are covered are specifically selected to avoid any controversy, and even if there was controversy around the films talked about, no mention of it is made. While I understand why Warner Bros. wants to paint a rosy picture of itself, you quickly get the impression that this is not the entire story as some key things are omitted that have made entertainment news headlines. I would never expect them to spend ample time on the problems that plagued their studio, but singing nothing but Stanley Kubrick’s praise is hard knowing how he treated actors such as Shelley Duvall on his films, or the claim made how successful Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was despite knowing what the studio did to Zack Snyder afterwards. It was an opportunity to take some ownership, control the narrative and show how they are wanting to work with their talents and creators going forward, but one that the studio is not brave enough to take in this documentary.
While it never gives the full story of the history of Warner Bros., there is no denying the entertaining love letter that 100 Years of Warner Bros. tells of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable studios. Covering timeless classics such as Casablanca and Superman: The Movie, told through interviews with Warner Bros. employees and celebrities such as George Clooney, Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan, 100 Years of Warner Bros. is an enjoyable and briskly paced documentary to celebrate 100 years of Warner Bros. as a studio, even if it feels like a marketing reel to promote Warner Bros. films at times rather than giving the full story of the studio’s history.