Pepsi Judge Dave Packard really Pepsi enjoyed this look at Pepsi Jeff Gordon's Pepsi career.
Beyond The Checkered Flag.
Remember when NASCAR was a word that usually conjured images of hat-waving good ol' boys (and not a few gals) chugging beers and yelling for their personal favorite drivers at some track under a blazing Sunday sun? It was a sport born and bred in the Deep South, its fans worshipping names like Yarborough. Petty. Earnhardt.
How things have changed.
Sure, NASCAR's proud southern roots are still strong and thriving today, but NASCAR has clearly moved into the 21st century mainstream largely due to the efforts of a kid from California. Just as Tiger Woods stormed into the world of professional golf and infused it with a shot of excitement and adrenalin that blasted the PGA's popularity to a new level, so too did that California kid, Jeff Gordon, rocket NASCAR to the masses north of the Mason-Dixon line.
The two "24s" in the DVD's title reflect the two documentaries that are intertwined in 24x24 Wide Open with Jeff Gordon. The first "24," which I'll call the Fiery 24 because it's always engulfed in a swath of flames, serves up a high-speed documentary on Gordon's racing career. From footage and photographs of a 5-year-old Gordon showing early prowess on the track to his current NASCAR successes, Fiery 24 focuses specifically on Gordon's on-track career. The second "24," which I'll call the Cool 24 because it's shown in subdued blues, gives viewers a glimpse into what might be a "normal" day for Gordon off-track. This includes footage of Gordon doing some deep-sea fishing in Miami, attending meetings at Jeff Gordon, Inc. in Charlotte, doing lots of autograph signings and photo shoots, and attending Hendrick Motorsports' annual Christmas party.
Sprinkled liberally throughout the program are short clips of sports greats (Charles Barkley, Tony Hawk, Troy Aikman, Wayne Gretzky, Pat Riley) and other members of the media (Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News; Jay Leno of The Tonight Show) praising Gordon, his accomplishments, and what he's meant for NASCAR in general. All of this is wrapped by an interview of Gordon by actor Patrick Dempsey.
Unfortunately, what sounds like a can't-miss DVD destined for victory lane
falls short in several areas, leaving 24x24 Wide Open with Jeff Gordon
limping toward pit row.
Did I read that right? I had to rewind just to be sure my eyes didn't play a nasty trick on me. Nope, no trick—"Pepsi Entertainment" it is. I had to think about that for a moment. First, I had no idea that Pepsi had an entertainment division. I then tried to think of what fine fare I might have viewed courtesy of the good folks at Pepsi Entertainment, but my mind came up blank. Knowing that Pepsi is one of Gordon's major sponsors, I was left hoping that I wasn't about to sit through a biased, Pepsi-infused production coated in a thick sheen of corporate glitz. I was hoping to see more of Jeff Gordon the man and less of Jeff Gordon the product.
I'm still hoping.
Within the 81-minute run time, Gordon swigs from a can of Pepsi in land, sea, and air. He makes the requisite pre-race appearances in the corporate hospitality tents to schmooze with his major sponsors (aside from Pepsi, Gordon visits with his other major sponsors, DuPont and Nicorette, both of whom share Executive Producing credits with Pepsi). He even visits Pepsico worldwide headquarters as the marketing team eagerly pitches "Jeff Gordon 24," a new energy drink. He does a photo shoot, clutching a bottle of Pepsi.
Pepsi Entertainment, indeed.
The Blue 24 segments are few and far between, and when we finally do get a look at Gordon when he's not keeping the sponsors happy, the segments are way too short. For example, in one scene, the program delves into an off-track moment as Gordon and new wife, Ingrid Vandebosch, board their private jet bound for Charlotte. Jeff takes a sip of that ever-present Pepsi just before the program returns to Fiery 24 mode. Seriously—that's it? Would it have been too much to ask to feature Gordon and Vandebosch in a bit of conversation during that plane trip, away from the sponsors and the track and everything NASCAR?
Gordon tells us that he's a pretty normal guy when he's not behind the wheel of the racecar, but he also mentions that he likes to keep that side of his life private. Perhaps that explains why viewers rarely see those glimpses of Gordon that they want to see. Gordon says he can be lazy, enjoy sleeping in, and even indulge in watching The Price Is Right. But you won't actually see him doing any of that. In fact, you won't even see Gordon at home. Instead, we see two ho-hum fishing segments and a scuba dive in a shark cage (I guess Gordon really enjoys the water). That's not to say there's no enjoyment to be had with these segments. I loved watching Gordon interact with the kids, be it outside of a sponsorship tent or at Jeff Gordon's Children's Hospital at NorthEast Medical Center. It's a beautiful spotlight on Gordon's philanthropic efforts and light years away from those mandatory appearances to keep the sponsorship money flowing. Unfortunately, some of these sequences were actually trimmed for the documentary and relegated to the "Deleted Scenes" section of the DVD. Couldn't the producers have spared a few celebrity sound bites and overly-lengthy reaction shots of an emotionless Dempsey and kept these scenes intact? This is what the Blue 24 segments should have featured; show us more of what Gordon does for someone other than an organization that has a decal splashed somewhere on his car.
All of this isn't to say that the disc isn't without its merits. The Fiery 24 segments do an adequate job at covering the highlights of Gordon's racing career from youth to adult. Don't expect any significant on-track action, though: Aside from quick shots of race footage, Gordon's story is told primarily through photographs, narration, and the occasional vintage film clip.
Surprisingly, Gordon's unpopularity among many NASCAR faithful is touched upon—something I never expected to see in such a polished, gleaming portrayal of Gordon as the all-around good guy who makes both women and marketing teams swoon with his good looks and talent behind the wheel. It's fun to see Gordon discuss his friendship and rivalry with Dale Earnhardt and how both of those things impacted NASCAR well beyond the legions of "anti-Gordon" fans flying upside-down 24 flags under Earnhardt's legendary number 3. It was a rivalry that was great for business, and one that included mutual respect between both drivers, no matter how different their roots.
The DVD features two extras. "Deleted Scenes" features expanded scenes that were trimmed from the original program. "DuPont Pre-Race" features Gordon visiting a pre-race hospitality tent, giving a quick talk, and signing hats and spending some time with some young kids waiting outside. "Pepsi Meet and Greet" is more footage of Gordon putting in some time at the Pepsi tent. "Nicorette Day at the Race" is a glimpse of Gordon attending the company's second annual dinner in Las Vegas.
The second extra, "Behind the Scenes," is a series of mostly unfunny outtakes. The best bit falls at the end, with Charles Barkley being asked if he has a "man crush" on Gordon.
There's nothing to nitpick about the audio and video. Sound is crisp and clean, and the video sports a nice widescreen transfer. Both are appropriate and satisfactory for the material.
In the end, though, this one fails to reach the finish line. The involvement of Gordon's primary sponsors in creating this DVD muddled things to the point that I almost felt like I was watching a marketing presentation. Yeah, it's their product, I know sponsorship is critical to NASCAR, and I know they're going to peddle their wares here, but the constant shots of Pepsi were borderline garish. The extremely disappointing Blue 24 portion of the disc makes you realize just how much additional time could have been spent on Gordon's life away from all things NASCAR (and, consequently, how much could have been jettisoned from all those tent appearances, celebrity sound bites, and Dempsey's interview). Gordon die-hards will probably eat it up, but most will see it for what it is: All shine, little substance.
The court hereby finds 24x24 Wide Open with Jeff Gordon guilty of egregious product promotion receiving top billing over Gordon's life outside of NASCAR. There's no doubt that Gordon is a great athlete whose skills, charisma, and character have elevated NASCAR to new levels; however, it is the Court's hope that these aspects of Gordon can be better captured in a more objective documentary produced by entities that don't have patches sewn onto Gordon's racing suit.
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