Hmm. Given recent events, shouldn't that title be changed to Penultimate Jordan?
I am not a big fan of the NBA. So, when this two-disc set showed up at my doorstep, with five and a half hours of Michael Jordan video, my first thought was simple: "Please, kill me now." [Editor's Note: Geez…try to be nice to a guy…]
However, as I sat down to watch this collection, I realized something: I like Mike. Honestly, is there anyone who doesn't? Even if one doesn't give a rat's hindquarters about the NBA, one has to admire Jordan for his amazing skill and grace. The man is an artist on the basketball court, with a fiery competitive nature to match. He is, as has been said so often, probably the greatest ever to play the game. In a sport poisoned with hype and populated with prima donnas, he stands alone as the one player who is always able to put his money where his mouth is.
And through all of this he has remained remarkably down-to-earth and humble—or, at least as humble as one can be when he is the most recognized, most loved sports figure in the world for nine or ten years in a row. His personal grace is the equal of his physical grace, and that may be his biggest accomplishment of all.
Facts of the Case
Ultimate Jordan is a compilation of five best-selling Michael Jordan videos. Each of these programs reflects a different era in Jordan's storied career and together form an interesting retrospective of a man who has become a sports legend and cultural phenomenon. The videos included are as follows:
Michael Jordan: Come Fly With Me—This 1989 video is an early look at Jordan's career, as his legend was just beginning to spread. It predates any of his NBA championships with the Bulls and is an interesting glimpse at his early career.
Michael Jordan's Playground—First released in 1991, this program combines game footage and talking head interviews with a melodrama about a kid trying to make his high school team.
Michael Jordan Air Time—By 1993, Jordan had two consecutive NBA championship rings to his credit as well as a second Olympic gold medal. This chapter in his life looks at his winning seasons with the Bulls as well as the glories of the first Dream Team.
Michael Jordan Above and Beyond—This 1996 video is narrated by ER's Eriq LaSalle and tells the story of Michael's growing sense of restlessness in the NBA, his father's death, and his first retirement. After a brief flirtation with professional baseball, Jordan returns to the NBA, ready to rally his beloved Chicago Bulls and surpass even his own previous lofty achievements.
Michael Jordan His Airness—Released in 1999 after Michael's second retirement, this program attempts to summarize Jordan's entire career and his many glories. It has an almost eerie, post-mortem feel to it, which seems premature now that he has come out of retirement yet again.
Together these five programs give as complete a look at Michael Jordan's pre-Wizards career as we are likely to see. By the time you digest all of the material on this disc, you too will qualify as something of an expert of his life and career. It's all here, from "The Shot" that boosted North Carolina over Georgetown for the NCAA title in 1982, through the 1984 and 1992 Olympics, through All-Star games and slam dunk contests and six NBA rings. The programs vary widely in the amount and value of their information. The final program, Michael Jordan His Airness, would probably be sufficient for the non-fan or the casual viewer. As it is, once you have seen all of the other videos, His Airness is almost irritatingly redundant. Overall, however, this DVD set should provide hours of enjoyment for the Jordan faithful.
The programs in this set are presented in their original full-frame aspect ratio. Picture quality is a very mixed bag. The oldest footage is generally the worst; Jordan's college successes from the 1980s look like they could have happened in the 1960s. The older videos, such as Come Fly With Me and Michael Jordan's Playground generally look the worst overall; the screen crawls at times with digital artifacts, and edge enhancement often causes double or triple vision. There is also some very bad aliasing, as the curved three-point lines look like something out of the old "Dr. J. vs. Larry Bird One-on-One" game I used to play on my Apple IIc in the 1980s. As the programs get newer, the overall video quality improves a bit but on balance it is quite poor. At its best, the picture quality approximates broadcast television—definitely not what we expect from DVD.
The audio for these segments has been remixed, and comes in two flavors. There is a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track, and a Dolby 2.0 Surround track. The Dolby 5.1 tracks are surprisingly good given the nature of the material. Spoken words are generally clear and easy to understand, and other incidental sounds seem lifelike and natural. The surround channels are not used very much, except for driving rock music tracks. These tracks come through loud and clear, with surprisingly effective bass that will get your heart pumping. The notable exception is Michael Jordan's Playground, where there is a constant nasty hiss under a lot of the audio, and spoken dialogue often has a hollow, wind-tunnel quality.
There is also a decent menu of special features available with this set. The special features are located on Disc Two. There is a collection of "Top Ten" lists showing clips of important moments from Jordan's career. So, we have Michael's Greatest Moves, Michael's Greatest Clutch Shots, Michael's Greatest Assists, and of course Michael's Greatest Dunks. Each of these Top Ten segments runs for around three and a half minutes.
There is a clip entitled "Great Michael Memories" which features Jordan's opponents from around the NBA sharing their memories of a competitor they feared and admired. There is a musical tribute by Jill Scott, essentially a long highlight reel set to her song "It's Love." A segment entitled "It's Gotta Be the Shoes" is a collection of Michael's most entertaining product endorsements, most of which are Nike commercials featuring such personalities as Mars Blackmon (Spike Lee) and Bugs Bunny. There is a Jordan Career Timeline, with roughly 30-second clips for the greatest events in each year from 1982 to 2000. The final clip, from 2000, shows Michael announcing that he will be joining the Washington Wizards as a part owner and working in the front office.
A collection of Slam Dunk Contest highlights runs for five minutes, and then we move on the last section of the extra content: Michael's Great 8. These are eight of the biggest moments in Jordan's pro career, including his 69 point performance, his first big playoff win against the Celtics, his first NBA title, and continuing on to his last shot of his last game with the Bulls, a single shot that won him his final NBA title (to date). All told, it is an impressive collection of extra material and bonus footage that really adds a lot to this DVD collection.
This DVD also contains what looks to be an impressive amount of DVD-ROM material, including an Upper Deck trading card gallery, comprehensive career stats, a trivia game, photo gallery, and internet links.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
What's left to say? Either you like basketball or you don't, but everyone, deep down, likes Michael Jordan, at least a little bit.
There are two seemingly irrelevant moments from the programs on these DVDs that stand out in my mind. The first is the image of a man in the crowd, watching the Bulls play the Trailblazers in the 1992 finals. His t-shirt bears a silhouette, the ubiquitous image of a man flying through the air with his legs spread-eagled. The difference here is that the silhouetted figure is kind of chubby and seems to have bushy hair. He holds in his outstretched hand not a basketball, but a guitar. The caption on the shirt reads "Air Garcia." That five-second glimpse is probably the most fascinating statement this collection makes about the breadth and depth of Michael Jordan's place in pop culture.
The second moment is a collection of game footage, with play-by-play announcers making comments like "Creativity, thy name is Michael." The contrast is amazing, watching Michael's magical, graceful play juxtaposed with hammy, leaden comments from self-important commentators. Michael Jordan speaks for himself without saying a word; it is foolish for mere observers to try to improve on that. That extends not only to sportscasters, but to DVD critics as well.
Michael Jordan is free to go—no one can stop him anyway.
The Ultimate Jordan set is acquitted as well. There are some audio and video problems, and the lack of subtitles is a big mistake, but overall this should be a satisfactory package for Michael's faithful fans.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: USA Films
• Michael's Greatest Dunks
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