Judge Bill Gibron wonders if this delightful DVD presentation will beat the point spread.
Are You Ready for Some Football…Recap!
As with any journey to a pro sports championship, the pathway is typically paved with interesting stories, discussions of what could have been meshed with the often startling realities of what actually happened. When the 2008 NFL season started, no one could have predicted that the Pittsburgh Steelers would pick up their record sixth Lombardi Trophy, defeating first time big dance participants, the Arizona Cardinals, in one of the closest, most compelling contests in years. Instead, as Run for the Championship (the latest hour long overview from those purveyors of timeless athletic memories, NFL Films) argues, fate flummoxed a few of the usual suspects—the New England Patriots, the New York Giants—while some noble newcomers—the San Diego Chargers, the Tennessee Titans—controlled, and then corrupted, their own chances at victory.
Divided by AFC and NFC, and then division, Run for the Championship does what NFL Films does best—boils down dozens of complicated scenarios, big money moves, and examples of pampered player hubris with insights into coaches, match-ups, cities, and situations. They basically turn each and every week into a themed drive toward Tampa (where Super Bowl XLIII was played). In the NFC South, for example, the Carolina Panthers are portrayed as easing their way toward the play-offs, while the far more compelling story of the Atlanta Falcons' "worst to first" rebirth sans Michael Vick is reserved for a last act "compare and contrast" with the equally phoenix-like Miami Dolphins. The NFC Central is barely mentioned, while all four AFC divisions are minded for intriguing information. We enjoy the segments focusing on Payton Manning and his equally accomplished brother Eli, even if such star power takes away from aspects of 2008 that were far more discerning.
Indeed, what's clear about Run to the Championship is that NFL Films has a hard time dealing with the week-to-week reversals of fortune that plague professional football. The "un-retirement" of Brett Farve (and his eventual semi-resurrection of the long suffering New York Jets) was clearly a boon for their season-long study. But when the aging quarterback fell apart at the end, failing to lead his team to the promised land of post season play, he takes the entire narrative with him. Similarly, the implosion of the Tennessee Titans in their first playoff game after the by-week undermines their previous near perfect run. As a result, NFL Films treats said terrific regular season stretch as an afterthought. It's not the fault of the photography. More so than any other professional sport, the National Football League's official documenter consistently offers some of the most spectacular camerawork possible. Each and every year, NFL Films captures the images that make the memories for millions of pigskin fanatics.
But the writing remains weak, the voice-over narration filled with half-baked metaphors (the entire project starts out with a reference to the recent economic meltdown—and then completely drops said symbolism almost immediately) and standard combat clichés. Granted, it's hard to come up with new ways of describing a monumental touchdown or a blown tackle. Heroics are still valiant and self-destruction still seems arrogant and foolish. But the staff employed by NFL Films occasionally muffs the expositional assignment—and the production company still needs to learn that, sometimes, no words are necessary. Indeed, there are times when the talking takes away from a visually stunning situation. Still, for a broad overview of 32 teams, 17 weeks, 16 games, three rounds of play-offs and one sensational Super Bowl, Run for the Championship is excellent. It has its flaws, but thanks to the visuals captured, it always finds a way to overcome them.
As an official product of NFL Films, distributed by Warner Brothers, the DVD quality here is amazing. The image, while not fully high definition (one wonders when the league will dive into the beauty of Blu-ray) is loaded with details. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is colorful and crisp, and thanks to the access available to the cameramen, the visuals often defy description. On the sound side of things, the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 fails to fully immerse us in each and every down, but overall, we get lots of discernible on-field chatter and a great sense of sports spectacle. As for added content, Run for the Championship offers up four short featurettes—"Coaches Wired, ""Players Wired," "Gravitas," and "Shots of the Year." Oddly enough, the DVD case mentions subjects like "Punt Returns," "Football Cards," and "Strahan/Runyan" that are not part of the package.
With training camps just starting and every fanbase optimistic about their team's chances, Run for the Championship reminds us that what looks promising in September has a way of going completely askew come January. For many, the road to the Super Bowl may be a short, unsuccessful stretch. For those who do make it, NFL Films will be there to immortalize you. That's what they do best.
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