Plot: What’s it about?
There are few people, let alone athletes who can even be mentioned in the same sentence as Muhammad Ali. The self-proclaimed "Greatest", it’s hard not to associate Ali with several different subjects. Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali went onto become one of the greatest (if not the greatest) fighter the world has ever seen. Turning pro after his Gold medal victory in the 1960 Olympics, it was simple—Ali didn’t lose. Aside from his loud mouth, he really was a great and graceful fighter. He spoke in a sense of poetry, often rhyming his sentences. I found it clever, but some found it annoying. One thing can be said, though, he was someone who could actually back up what he was saying with actions in the ring. While it’s terribly sad to see him these days, suffering from the effects of Parkinson’s disease, this brand new documentary takes a look (via his family, friends and collogues) at perhaps the most influential sports figure ever to grace the stage.
As most documentaries start out, at the beginning, so does this. Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) got into boxing when someone stole his bicycle. He was so angered that he told his father that if he found out who it was, he would pound them. His father, being concerned, asked him if he knew how to fight and when the answer was "No"; he took him to the gym and so was born a boxer. It took, obviously, and before long it was a well-known fact that Clay was going to be the next big thing in the world of boxing. We all know of Ali’s troubles, both past and present, and this documentary does a fine job at detailing the path of his life through the people who know him the best. Ranging from Billy Crystal to Billy Connolly (who sports a bright red mustache throughout his segments) to his wives and daughter, we get a very genuine insight into the world that was Ali’s. While not that much boxing is actually shown, just highlights from some of his matches, we get a more detailed look at his personal life and an insight into the man that was. His protest against the Vietnam War (excuse me…conflict) to his conversion to the Muslim faith. It’s all summarized here in just under two hours. How else can Sports Illustrated’s Man of the Century be recognized? Ali would be the one to tell you that!
Video: How does it look?
Surprisingly presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer, the video looks amazing! While the footage of Ali’s childhood and fights leaves a lot to be desired, the segments in which the interviews are conducted look almost three-dimensional. There is nary an artifact or any blemish to be seen or found. Sure there are errors with the older fights, but it’s not a fault of the transfer here. It is a bit hard to judge how this appears and to assign it a score, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better way to present "The Greatest" than in anamorphic widescreen. Top notch.
Audio: How does it sound?
A Dolby Digital "Processed" 5.1 sound mix is how the audio is presented on this disc. While the majority of the disc is purely audio-driven, there are a few spots where the ambiance does get a moment or two to shine. Surrounds are almost non-existent and that might be for the best. While documentaries are rarely (if ever) known for their sound, this is no exception. The center channel does most of the work here and the voices used for the interviews are very clean and crisp. Some of the older clips that feature Ali are a bit harsh to listen to and have his muddled voice, but it’s the best that this can sound. All in all, it won’t light up your system, but it does sound the best for what they have. Not a bad mix, but then again, this wasn’t made for sound.
Supplements: What are the extras?
I was not expecting any extras here, but Universal has put a few supplements on the disc and it makes it that much better to watch. A theatrical trailer is shown to promote the disc, presented in anamorphic widescreen. Some deleted interviews with Billy Crystal, Billy Connolley and others are shown, most are just a minute or so, but I see no reason why they weren’t in the main feature. They’re worth taking a look at though, as some are very funny (especially Crystal’s). A music video is also included as is a stills gallery with many LeRoy Nieman paintings of the champ. A fight chronology is also included which has some video highlights of his major fights, and shows his rise to fame. Lastly, there is a promotional spot for the Ali Center (in Louisville, Kentucky) that shows what it will be when completed and what it’s all about. All in all, this is one of the better (if not the best) documentary on Muhammad Ali, and certainly worth checking out.