Warner Bros. // 2004 // 922 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 1st, 2004
I believe I can fly!
There was a moment, somewhere around 1993, when it looked as though basketball would finally eclipse football as the national pastime. Having lost the title in the '80s to the gridiron gladiatorial spectacle, baseball just kept digging itself into a deeper and more strike-scarred hole. Under heavy pressure from the union and agents, NFL players finally found the unrestricted free agency they had long looked for, threatening to break up dynasty organizations and hometown favorites along the way. So, thanks to an unprecedented interest level by the up-and-coming hip-hop subculture and a superlative squad of superstar athletes, the old peach bushel barnburner was finally breaking out into the mainstream. And no one lit up the marquee better and more boldly than Michael Jordan. A star player for the North Carolina Tarheels, Jordan was drafted and joined the Chicago Bulls in 1984, immediately boosting the team to playoff status. They would come very close to a championship over the next few years, reaching the second and third rounds. But they never made the Finals. In 1991, however, the team started a championship run unprecedented in professional basketball history.
NBA Dynasty Series: The Chicago Bulls -- The 1990s is complete wish fulfillment for the sports fan. This four-disc set, encompassing the Bulls' remarkable streak from 1991's first championship to 1998's second three-peat, contains so much information and insight into Chicago's several seasons of glory that it's hard to take it in all at one time. We get over seven hours of historical and archival footage, as well as new interviews from players and coaches all offering their take on what made these particular teams and seasons so special. And there's more. Discs Two through Four each have an entire NBA Finals game on them (one per side for a total of six), each representing a stellar or exceptional moment in the series. Along with the single-season documentaries (including the historic overview, seven in total) there are nearly 16 hours of Chicago Bulls goodness in this package. Individually, the games featured are:
* 1991 NBA Finals, Game 5 (vs. the Los Angeles Lakers)
Michael meets Magic as the Bulls win their first title, 4 games to 1.
* 1992 NBA Finals, Game 1 (vs. the Portland Trail Blazers)
In one of his most stellar performances in a Final, Michael scores 353 points in the first half.
* 1993 NBA Finals, Game 6 (vs. the Phoenix Suns)
The Bulls make it three in a row as they defeat Phoenix and join the ranks of NBA royalty.
* 1996 NBA Finals, Game 6 (vs. the Seattle Supersonics)
After two years of playoff losses, the Bulls return to the Finals, and begin another run at multiple titles.
* 1997 NBA Finals, Game 5 (vs. the Utah Jazz)
Sick with the flu, Michael Jordan leads his team to another victory with a stellar personal performance.
* 1998 NBA Finals, Game 6 (vs. the Utah Jazz)
Doing something no other NBA team has ever accomplished, the Bulls make it three in a row...again.
It's hard to deny the appeal of this title. For all the plaudits and pontifications, there is one clear truth: Michael Jordan's skills as a basketball player are an unnatural phenomenon of mammoth proportions. To watch him work the ball, to move along the lane and toss up a targeted strike (or a specialized pass), is to witness the near-perfect combination of agility, athletic grace, and supernatural skill, all in one magnificent magician. And since this is a highlight reel, not a full-fledged fact-based documentary, we only get the good parts, the incredible moments and mind-blowing baskets that cause the soul to soar and the spirit to somersault.
But there is also an ample amount of the anticlimactic in this set. Since we know who will win each of these dynamic match-ups, the suspense becomes game to game, not series to series, and whenever we sense some apprehension, the title remind us of the outcome. Also, unlike NFL Films, which tries to tell an overall narrative of every important high and low, the NBA tends to present its "plots" in a roller coaster cause-and-effect fashion. After every assertion or positive circumstance, there is bound to be a "but" somewhere along the way. This makes much of the narration seem superfluous, as anything good is bound to be undermined in a moment by a negative attribute...and visa versa.
Still, watching the group interaction between the various players and seeing the crowd respond to perfectly executed plays is mesmerizing, no matter which teams are participating and who their stars are. It's easy to get caught up in the mania of the moment, and the presentation by NBA Entertainment really focuses on the action and athletic aspects. Your average basketball game is a fast-paced frenzy of runs and guns, slams and jams. But condensed into sound bite samples on these sets, the fury becomes even more amazing. The gravity-defying exploits and the come-from-behind rallies make for incredible distractions. But a lot of the game's nuances are lost in the grandeur of the greatness. Strategy and scouting are scantily addressed. The way a successful team prepares for the playoffs is also glossed over. While we witness a few of the practice sessions (playing like behind-the-scenes sequences compared to the big show of game day), it would have been nice to get into the non-publicity piece head space of the actual participants. Indeed, the interviews are very puffy, never once giving us real insight into the psyche and/or soul of a seasoned professional sportsman. Also, basketball supposedly has plays, but you'd never know it from this set. All we see are coaches discussing certain planned options, not actually diagramming the procedures for us. Still, if all you want is nonstop thrills mixed with the unbelievable skills of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, this DVD set will be a welcome memento of past glory.
Since it's mostly a collection from the modern medium, the videotape facets of the NBA Dynasty Series are exceptional. Colors are vibrant, contrasts are clear and the action footage leaps off the screen. While there are times when the games themselves look less than stellar, the 1.33:1 full screen transfer is fantastic. The same can be said for the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 soundtrack. The excitement of the contests, the clarity of the interviews, and the audience participation ambiance of an arena is captured authentically on these discs. Since the six Finals games are considered bonus material, their inclusion makes this package spectacular. But if you view them as necessary to understanding the Bulls' appeal and skill, then there is nothing more to this set than the documentaries and the competitions. Warner could have upped the added value even further by presenting some ancillary moments in the Bulls' career. Some of the All-Star Game's individual contests would have been nice. And while we witness snippets of the Chicago parades and celebrations, some full-length looks would have helped us understand the impact on the city these ceremonies -- and this team -- had.
Michael Jordan will arguably go down in the record books as the best, most spectacular basketball player in the history of the game. The dynasty he and his Chicago Bulls created will mark the moment in the maturation of the sport when it cemented its place as marketable mainstream entertainment. Some of that luster may have dulled since MJ retired and the Bulls became an NBA joke, but the fact remains that Jordan is a one-of-a-kind athlete, and the '90s Bulls were a one-of-a-kind team.
NBA Dynasty Series: The Chicago Bulls -- The 1990s is a great, if rather superficial, souvenir of their greatness, and one of the reasons hoop dreams are, today, so hot among the sports fanatics.
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 922 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Six Complete NBA Finals Games from 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, and 1998 on Three Discs
* The National Basketball Association