When he was in elementary school Judge David Johnson won three science fairs in a row. That's got to be considered some kind of dynasty, right?
Breaking records. Breaking the establishment.
Between 1964 and 1975, the UCLA Bruins dominated the college basketball scene, establishing a stunner of a dynasty when they reeled off ten championships in twelve years and 88 straight games. At the helm of this remarkable run was legendary coach John Wooden, who had amassed such an arrangement of stratospheric young talent that nearly all teams that attempted to stand toe-to-toe with the Bruins were promptly dismantled.
This 60-minute HBO documentary explores the intricacies of what made the UCLA dynasty such a milestone in the history of American sports. Narrated by Liev Schreiber (The Ten), UCLA Dynasty blends both the sports angle of the Bruins' run and the social turbulence of the times that their basketball experiences were set against.
So there are definitely two angles at work here, and for the most part they gel well enough. Personally, I find the nuts and bolts of the actual basketball mechanics and how the dynasty worked on the court more compelling than the politics and the social issues that the UCLA players involve themselves with. But that's just me. I'm a basketball fan and am less interested in the letter the Bruins drafted to Nixon accusing the government of the genocidal war in Vietnam.
The first part of the documentary focuses squarely on the hardwood action, and about 25 minutes in or so, it shifts gears to examine what was happening on the campuses, from the Black Power movement to the Kent State shootings to the mass war protests that swept the nation. Nifty to hear from the players and how they approached this social upheaval, but for some reason I have to listen to a couple of hippie former students that have no connection to the team. That seemed a bit much, but whatever, the documentary doesn't dwell too long on this aspect and promptly changes direction again to look more closely at Wooden (the non-swearing teacher/coach/motivational speaker) or Lew Alcindor (the most dominant college basketball player of all time) or Bill Walton (the rebellious, gangly, ultra-talented mop-head).
The film is assembled with game footage and numerous interviews with actors, former students and teachers, broadcasters, players and John Wooden himself. My favorite? Bill Walton easily. Anyone familiar with Walton as a sportscaster and a basketball personality knows the guy doesn't have the strongest filter between his mouth and brain and he lets it all hang out here, lamenting his college career as an "embarrassment" or referring to playing good basketball as the "harmonic convergence of the highest order." Excellent!
Lastly, the feature doesn't spend the whole time lauding the Bruins, addressing some of the stains on UCLA's pristine reputation, like Walton's entanglement with the law and the scandal with team booster Sam Gilbert.
All in all, this is a fine documentary, which I would recommend without hesitation to Bruins fans, basketball fans or folks interested in sports set against the backdrop of pivotal moments in the country's history. Good stuff from top to bottom.
The disc arrives with little fanfare. Sporting an attractive 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a 2.0 stereo audio mix and nothing else, the release relies on the substance to carry the day. Luckily, it can.
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