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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Overcoming
Overcoming
World Cycling Productions // Unrated // November 1, 2005 // Region 0
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Worldcycling]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted January 31, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Professional road cycling is an exciting sport, but one that's sometimes hard to explain to non-fans. The drama plays out over the course of hours, days, or weeks, rather than in just an hour or so, like other sports. There's a lot of tactical maneuvering and strategy involved, as well as mental discipline and pure physical strength and endurance, but the nuances sometimes take a while to see. It's tough to capture the essence of bike racing on film, but it's a worthwhile challenge, since once you get hooked on watching racing, it's a uniquely entertaining sport to follow. Among the films that do attempt to convey the world of cycle racing, A Sunday in Hell has legendary status for capturing the essence of the Paris-Roubaix race, while the recent Hell on Wheels excels in showing us the Tour de France from the inside. Where does the Danish documentary Overcoming fit into this category?

Overcoming follows the Danish racing team CSC through one grueling season, leading up to the 2004 Tour de France. Helmed by former Tour champion Bjarne Riis, the CSC squad contains a number of talented riders, most notably Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre, Jens Voigt, and U.S. rider Bobby Julich. The film attempts to show what it's like for the riders, who are under intense pressure to do well in training and in the three-week race itself, and to capture the unique feel of the Tour de France, which is the largest sporting event in the world. It's great material, but Overcoming doesn't work nearly as well as it could have, largely due to poor choices in the editing and structure of the film.

The film gets off to a rocky start with an introduction that feels jumbled and disconnected; it's hard to see where the film is headed, and it certainly doesn't feel sustainable. Eventually we see the title of the film, so in retrospect what we just saw was a lengthy opening sequence rather than part of the film per se, but it serves more to confuse than to engage the viewer. After that, the film still feels somewhat disorganized. Scenes from different training activities and the race itself are interspersed, with no clear indication of where any particular scene falls on the timeline of the season. It was quite confusing to me, and I'm a serious bike racing fan with solid background on the sport; I suspect that for viewers who aren't familiar with the sport, it would have been a complete blur. The problem, I think, is that the filmmakers seem to have prioritized an artistic "look and feel" over conveying the actual events and topics clearly. A film that is committed to presenting its material with maximum clarity can still do very interesting things with the presentation, so we're not looking at an either-or situation; with Overcoming, I think that the filmmakers simply assumed that viewers would "get it" and didn't make any particular effort to make sure that the connection actually got made.

So far I've been pretty hard on Overcoming, but in truth the film does shape up around the mid-point. Here, the jumbled artistic feel settles down, and it becomes clear that the film really centers on the personal and professional struggles of Ivan Basso and Carlos Sastre. Once that focus is evident, the film as a whole makes a lot more sense, and I could settle down and appreciate what Overcoming shows about the real life of these elite cyclists. More than the simple daily details of the race, Overcoming documents the emotional life of the CSC team, and the mental challenges of being a professional rider.

In the end, Overcoming is worth watching, and I'm glad I put up with the poor presentation of the early part of the film to get to the more substantial, focused content later on. However, I'd certainly characterize it as a film primarily for viewers who are already fans of bicycle racing. If you're primarily interested in a glimpse into pro racing in general and the Tour de France in particular, you're better off watching Hell on Wheels. On the other hand, if you know who Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre, and Bobby Julich are, and especially if you're a fan of the CSC team in general, you'll find Overcoming to be interesting.

The DVD

Overcoming is a two-disc set, packaged in a single keepcase.

Video

Overcoming appears in a generally attractive widescreen transfer, and is anamorphically enhanced. The transfer is at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but I'm not entirely sure that this is the original ratio: when text appears on the upper part of the screen, it often shows slight cropping at the top of the image.

The image quality does reflect the nature of the footage: the race and behind-the-scenes material is often a bit soft or grainy, and I think that the filmmakers have chosen to exaggerate the grain to create a more "gritty" effect in some scenes. Overall, it looks reasonable, though not outstanding.

Audio

Viewers have a choice of a Dolby 5.1 and a Dolby 2.0 track for the film. The 5.1 is definitely the better track, but it's not the default, so make sure to select it. The sound is clean and full, with a nice use of the surround sound on a number of occasions.

The film features riders and support staff speaking in a variety of languages, all of which get English subtitles.

Extras

Over an hour and a half of additional material is included on the second DVD. These are clearly sections that didn't make the cut to go into the final cut of the film, so they're in the same style as the main film. Some of the scenes are quite interesting, like the section on Jens Voigt, while others are less so. One of the interesting things about seeing this footage is that it highlights how Overcoming is really an assemblage of many short segments, rather than one long, coherent piece; as such, I think that with better choices on what to include and what to omit, and a better job of editing the pieces together, the film could have been a lot more successful overall.

The deleted scenes are "The Mechanics" (11 minutes), "Stage 13" (28 minutes), "The Audience" (2 minutes), "Alpe d'Huez" (13 minutes), "No Help for Claus" (5 minutes), "Carlife" (11 minutes), and "Jens Voigt" (26 minutes). All these scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. Oddly, English subtitles are used for all the dialogue, even when it's in English.

A theatrical trailer is also included.

Final Thoughts

Overcoming is a somewhat frustrating film: it has a great topic and a lot of interesting material, but in terms of the presentation and organization, it thumbs its nose at little things like explaining what's going on or preventing the viewer from getting confused. Even as a seasoned bicycle racing fan, I found the first portion of the film to be muddled and off-putting, but I liked it much more once it settled down and got a bit of focus on the star riders of the team. I'm going to suggest that if you don't know much about pro bike racing, that this isn't the right documentary for you. However, if you're already a fan, it's worthwhile in the end, and I'll give it a mild "recommended" rating.

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