The title sure fooled Judge Diane Wild. She thought this documentary would be about doping scandals, rampant athlete hookups, judging conspiracies, and gridlock.
Quality television or opportunistic marketing?
The Real Olympics is a documentary of the non-Michael Moore style, with well-researched, balanced information presented using talking heads, slightly cheesy recreations of ancient events, and still shots of artifacts and illustrations. Unfortunately, unlike Moore's controversial contributions to the genre, The Real Olympics is not something your coworkers will be talking about at the water cooler any time soon.
The DVD was released before the 2004 Summer Olympics, which marked the Games' return to their Athens birthplace. The Real Olympics explores their origins in ancient Greece, when star athletes were considered representatives of the gods on earth (though it's debatable whether that's really changed over the years), and the modern Olympics, which resumed in 1896. For almost 12 centuries, the Games were held without interruption, only to be stopped by a Christian Roman Emperor's decree in the 4th century AD.
The Real Olympics suffers from padding and repetition, with nothing controversial even in a discussion of the amateur-versus-professional athlete debate. The closest to controversial it gets is in its arguable assertion that full gender equality in the Olympics has been achieved with the 1984 introduction of the women's marathon.
There's no doping scandals to be seen here, but there is some discussion of the Nazi contributions to the Games. The famous five-ring image, for example, was inspired by German archaeologists who planted evidence that a similar ring formation was an ancient symbol of the Olympics. The torch ceremony and much of the pageantry we associate with the Games were also created by Nazi Germany.
But for the most part, The Real Olympics comes across like a puff piece for the then-upcoming Athens Games rather than an in-depth examination of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the world's biggest sporting event.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is fine but not stellar—colors are occasionally muted and the image is a bit soft. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix is adequate for the material, with clear voiceovers and interviews. There are no extras, unless you count a frame with the PBS website listed. No, I didn't think you would.
My lack of enthusiasm for The Real Olympics also hides a bias. Every four years, I vaguely notice there seems to be a flurry of sporting news in August. The city I live in is poised to host the Winter Olympics in 2010, and I'm quite proud that I have actually noticed that. So while I appreciate that the documentary is full of informative anecdotes, my lack of interest in the subject precluded me from gaining much enjoyment out of it. History buffs and Olympic aficionados, however, will find it worth a look, but might be disappointed by its lack of depth. In any case, PBS is guilty of producing a documentary that is more marketing tie-in than must-see DVD.
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