I AM ALI
Review by Gordon Justesen
Audio: DTS HD 5.1Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: November 11, 2014
ďHe was more than just a great boxer, he was a great man." - George Foreman
Michael Mannís 2001 biopic Ali (which needs to come to Blu-ray some time this century) seemed to have gotten a mostly mixed response when released. I personally found it to be one of the best movies of that year, but then again Mann is a filmmaker whose work always seems to deliver a strong effect on me. Those who felt otherwise about that film might find the new documentary I Am Ali more appealing, even though it does cover a lot of what was depicted in Mannís film (even a few of the songs featured in that film resurface here).
Muhammed Ali is such a larger than life figure, and therefore is deserving of a much lengthier documentary, perhaps in 8 to 10 parts and in a PBS style. Having said that, filmmaker Clare Lewins compacts enough compelling material in just under two hours. Several key figures connected to Aliís life are featured in testimonial segments, including a couple who Iíd never thought I hear say positive things about the man.
Intercut with the interviews are intriguing and touching audio recordings and home movie footage that reveal the manís sweet natured side. If thereís one advantage Iíll give this documentary over Michael Mannís film, itís in these portions. Me speaking of them wonít do any justice in terms of describing the insight they give, but they are truly short and sweet.
In terms of the interview segments, the most potent include Marvis Frazier, son of Joe Frazier. If you know anything about Ali, then youíre well aware of his longtime rivalry with Frazier, which escalated beyond the ring. Thereís an most interesting and heartfelt turn when Marvis reveals how their intense battle effected him, and what Ali did when learning of it.
The second one comes from none other than George Foreman, who fought Ali in the legendary Rumble in the Jungle fight. Because Iíve never had a chance to hear Foremanís opinion on Ali nor did I ever see the acclaimed documentary When We Were Kings, I found what he said about the man he lost to truly surprising and fascinating. I suppose thatís a result of me not following the boxing world.
Though this is nowhere near the level of a ďgroundbreakingĒ documentary, and I still find Michael Mannís film to be an overall stronger achievement, thereís enough strong material in I Am Ali to warrant a recommendation. Itís those personal touches and various interview segments that make this a must see for Ali fans everywhere, even though you arenít likely to learn anything new outside of that.
Because this, like any documentary on a real life figure, features a good deal of grainy archival video footage spread out through the presentation, thereís no question that the talking head segments look extremely crisp and lively. But even the scratchy and grainy footage doesnít look too bad. So when balanced with the exceedingly terrific quality of the interview pieces, which had to have been shot with an HD source, this results in a overall solid Blu-ray offering from Universal.
Even on Blu-ray, you shouldnít ever expect a striking level of sound to emerge from a documentary beyond what the front channels deliver. But we are supplied with a DTS HD mix for this one, and the spoken words from the interview segments are delivered as crisp and clear as possible, and the various song choices that pop up here and there provide some nice playback as well.
Included on this Universal Blu-ray release are four extended interview segments, each running about three to four minutes, as well as a featurette titled ďThe Music: Telling the StoryĒ.
Though it wonít offer much of anything new to Muhammed Ali enthusiasts, I Am Ali is an intriguing watch thanks to a number of striking interview segments and a neat personal approach.