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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/24/03

ESPN's Ultimate X: The Movie
2002 (2003) - ESPN/Touchstone (Buena Vista)

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround THX-certified

ESPN's Ultimate X: The Movie Film Rating: C-

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B+/B

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A

Specs and Features

39 mins, PG, full frame (1.33:1), keep case packaging, single-sided, dual-layered disc (no layer switch - separate layers for original theatrical version and "Ultimate Interactive" version), athlete profiles and "medal moments" (for Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist, Bucky Lasek, Travis Pastrana, Brian Deegan, Carey Hart, Cory Nastazio, T.J. Lavin, Ryan Nyquist, Stephen Murray and Dave Mirra), BMX-tras (2001 Downhill finals run, BMX Dirt Stunt, BMX Legends), X-Gallery Mega Mix music videos, Old School featurette, Girls of the Games featurette, Hits & Misses featurette, Broken Bones featurette, sneak peek trailers (for Reign of Fire and Bad Company), THX Optimizer, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (8 chapters), languages: English (DD & DTS 5.1), subtitles: English, French & Spanish, Closed Captioned

If you've read my reviews of movies like L'Avventura and The Decalogue, it might come as quite a shock to discover that I'm not a big action sports aficionado. However, I do live in southern California, so I have a lot of friends who are extremely into skateboarding and surfing. None of these people enjoy the X Games. The games are too corporate, too homogenized, and too organized to have anything to do with the spirit of rebellion and anarchy embodied by real, hardcore street skaters. I've seen these guys in action and believe me, it's pretty impressive what the best of them can do. Hell, even the least of them can perform feats of coordination and athleticism that would land my out-of-shape, thirtysomething body in the emergency room.

Knowing all this, I sat down to watch ESPN's Ultimate X: The Movie. Quite honestly, I have no idea who the audience for this thing is supposed to be. Originally released to IMAX theatres last year, I'd assumed the big draw would be sequences that put you on the bike or board, hurtling down half-pipes and over dirt mounds in an unsafe-at-any-speed, subjective-camera whirlwind. And there is a little bit of that kind of thing. But primarily, this is X Games 101, interviewing athletes, commentators and event organizers, while giving a sketchy overview of the main events: BMX, motocross freestyle, street luge, and, of course, skateboarding. At just 39 minutes, it seems designed to win over as many new fans as possible.

Well, it didn't work on me and I can guarantee Ultimate X will not turn any of my friends into lifetime members of the X Games fan club. I suspect the target demographic for Ultimate X is the traditional sports fan, guys who follow football, baseball, and basketball but don't know anything about "extreme" sports. Indeed, some of the footage here might convince these armchair quarterbacks that yes, a degree of athleticism and skill is required to participate in these events. But the movie fails to answer what I suspect their bigger question is: namely, what's the point? Traditional sports have objects and goals that are clearly defined and understandable. You want to win the game. You do that by scoring points. A touchdown will give you six, after which you can try for an extra point. But with the exception of the street luge, which is clearly a race, it remains unclear how exactly you "win" at skateboarding. Don't fall off, I guess.

If you're already an X Games fan, maybe you'll enjoy this more but I have my doubts. Watching IMAX movies on video has always seemed like a losing proposition to me and this is no exception. The infrequent subjective camera moves were probably exhilarating on the jumbo screen but at home, they lose a lot of their punch. I'll admit I don't have the biggest TV in the world but unless yours is three stories tall, you'll probably feel the same way. Much of the remaining action footage is in slow motion, presumably to better appreciate the balletic moves of the freestyle athletes. But when you slow the action down, you take away the one thing that makes these events truly heart-stopping: the ridiculous speeds that these guys are moving at. Still, with such a brief running time I was never really bored watching Ultimate X. There's at least one very impressive skateboarding sequence with Bob Burnquist. Plus, I enjoyed a big laugh at freestylist Brian Deegan's expense, as he un-ironically declares that "if" his sport goes corporate, he wants to be remembered as the guy who "kept it hardcore". This while he's standing in front of a giant ESPN billboard and ads for Motorola and Taco Bell.

So much for the movie. As for the disc itself, the video quality is pretty good, though not up to the standards of other IMAX-transferred DVDs. There's a fair amount of footage from earlier X Games and this is just regular old broadcast video transferred to the large-screen format, bringing with it all the limitations you'd expect. However, all the original footage looks fine. Both the DTS and Dolby Digital audio options are top-notch... well, technically, anyway. Sorry kids, but 90% of your bands these days suck and just about all of them are on this soundtrack. There's some Black Sabbath and Janis Joplin too but they just help prove how wretched bands like P.O.D. and Incubus are in comparison.

There's a ton of extras on here but frankly, I didn't watch most of them. This disc boasts some of the worst menu design I've ever seen. Everything is accessible through vague picture icons, I guess because symbols are more "extreme" than text. There's a help screen on the main menu but nowhere where it might actually be useful, like deep in the special features where the icons multiply like bunnies. Most of the extra stuff is viewable in two ways. Either on its own or via the Ultimate Interactive version of the movie, which allows you to branch off into featurettes profiling athletes and their achievements. Either way, you're stuck with those confusing icons. What I did see seemed in keeping with the rest of the movie, though. More interview footage and more footage of the athletes in action. I'm giving the extras a "B" just because of sheer volume and because if you like the X Games, you'll probably like the extras as much or more than the movie itself. But you'll need to be a lot more patient than I am to get through them and somehow, I don't think patience is a virtue associated with folks who watch the X Games.

If you love the X Games, there's probably nothing I can say or do that'll make you not want to pick up ESPN's Ultimate X: The Movie. And that's fine. Knock yourself out. I hope you enjoy it more than I did. But if you really want to see what skateboarding's all about, pick up an issue of Big Brother magazine and check out some of the underground videos they talk about. Yeah, it'll be a crummy VHS tape. But skateboarding is supposed to be raw and ragged, not a highly-polished Disney distributed DVD.

Adam Jahnke
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