Flying Is Hard. Landing Is Harder.
Don't think of Ultimate X as a movie. Think of it as a multimedia extravaganza about the X Games and extreme sports. The movie part takes up less than an hour, and the rest is a veritable library of extras. The menu is indecipherable and quality is hit or miss, but if you like the X Games, this is a good title to own. This is truly a case of judging a DVD by its cover, because the DVD delivers exactly what it promises.
Facts of the Case
This docu-infomercial details the insane exploits of athletes like Tony Hawk, Travis Pastrana, and Dave Mirra. The feature is 90% gloss and 10% substance. The gloss is impressive, with crystal clear images of high flying daredevils set to pounding popular music. The substance essentially says "these guys are nuts and risk nasty debilitation or death."
The DVD takes us through the stunts, personalities, and medal moments of street luge, BMX, skating, motorcycle madness, and other extreme sports of the X Games. Oscillating between frenetic cuts and slo-mo, the camera artistically captures the athleticism and majesty of each sport. If you want to know what the X Games are all about, this sampler will give you plenty of information.
It is easy to determine what the filmmakers got right in Ultimate X: the sights, the sounds, and the stunts. Ultimate X was originally an IMAX feature, and the high quality has been captured in the DVD.
The image quality in the main feature is superb. The colors are varied and vibrant, from tattoos to neon beards. The Mountain Dew glows with unearthly green luminescence. The fuchsia and chartreuse uniforms radiate their bright energy. No bleeding to mar the purity of color. The blacks are deep and flesh tones are accurate. There is detail and resolution to spare.
The audio is even better. The soundtrack is a pounding ménage of hardcore hits. The gravelly whir of wheels on pavement is subtle, while motorcycle engines throb and roar.
The filmmakers took an unexpectedly classical approach to the documentary. There is a lot of talk interspersed throughout the extended MTV-like footage. The stars of extreme sports give their thoughts on fun, camaraderie, thrill, and fear. The stunts are shown in delicate slow motion, revealing the finesse of the athletes.
If you like this genre of sport, you'll find plenty of thrilling moments here.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is equally easy to determine what went wrong. The biggest culprit is navigation. Set aside a few hours if you want to experience the extras: an hour or so to watch, a couple hours to figure out how to find them. Trekkies may recall episodes where the crew is confronted with an alien interface that they needed to learn to save the starship Enterprise. That is how I felt trying to navigate the indecipherable hieroglyphics of this DVD. It is so complex and non-intuitive that they had to provide a help menu to show you how to use the DVD. Unfortunately, I found the help menu after an hour or so of dorking around with the DVD (getting mighty frustrated in the process).
A couple more perps are the image and sound quality of the extras. Considering that "extras" make up the bulk of the DVD, it is a shame to find such spotty audio-visuals. In contrast to the main feature, the extras are noticeably weak. However, one has to appreciate the breadth of extra footage included.
My final gripe is more subtle. The filmmakers spend most of the time arguing that the X Games are a legitimate sport and that the stars are athletes. The camera shows it, but the content does not. They give us medal moments, but I'm confused about what those medals are and how they are awarded. At one point they allude to a scoring system. What is it? Why, in all the extras, is there no explanation of how each sport is scored, by whom, on what criteria? Even that isn't the real issue. The real issue is how little the inherent danger is discussed. We get a brief discussion of injuries, but even that is almost laughed off.
Fans of extreme sports will no doubt be entertained by this DVD. The stars are well represented, with glossy footage to boot. In the realm of DVD titles, sports DVDs are a niche, and Ultimate X is a niche within a niche. I can only say: fans have at it, others look elsewhere to spend your DVD dollars.
Bruce Hendricks, you are commended for such a maturely handled look into extreme sports. His honor wishes a little more reality had been applied, or at least some irony. Buena Vista, I sentence you to drive a motorcycle through a minefield with this DVD menu as your controls. See you on the other side.
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