In 10 Words or Less
NFL Films at 1000 frames per second is pretty cool
Loves: Super slow-motion footage
Hates: When sports are taken too seriously
Without a doubt, NFL Films, with that classic John Facenda narration and up-close camerawork, has single-handedly served to elevate the game of football to a status far higher than it has ever deserved. Using flowery language, dramatic music and inside-the-game audio and video the programs created by NFL Films are not unlike the epic poems of ancient Greece, making larger-than-life heroes out of the millionaire seasonal workers of pro football. If you're a fan, you can buy right into this enhancement of the game's natural drama, while it comes off as way over-the-top if you're at all cynical about sport's place in our society.
The special, which mixes together bits and pieces from the 2009 NFL season, is built around the super slow-motion footage produced by the Phantom camera, which shoots 1000 frames per second, which allows for incredibly sharp and detailed slow-motion footage, capturing phenomenon that is basically imperceptible in real time, or even standard slow motion, like the way muscles move or dirt kicks up off the ground. If you've ever watched those slow-motion camera shows on the Discovery Channel, you're likely aware of the special-effect feel that such technology lends, and applying it to the super-popular world of the NFL is only natural, making great highlights that much greater.
Perhaps though, this was not a concept to let NFL Films do, as they can't help themselves to not build an epic tale out of what should have just been cool, unique footage. You have their "a week in the life of the NFL," looking at Week 11 of 2009 season, when every team played; a gameday focus on the Saints' Reggie Bush, a playoff match-up between Arizona and Green Bay, and finally Super Bowl XLIV, and its ready-made team of destiny in New Orleans. None of these go together particularly well, as a cohesive program, and there's nothing I haven't seen before, with the exception of the awesome super slow-motion clips. But when you sit down and watch, that footage us only a small percentage of the overall package. When you've got something this cool and this unique, something you know people will watch, why dilute it with a bunch of regular old NFL Films footage you could watch on any other NFL Films DVD?
If anything illustrates how over-the-top NFL Films can get (and there's plenty here in the narration, including references to Salvador Dali and philosophical musings on the limitations of humanity against the forces of time and space), it's a look at the "Physics of Football" section of this DVD, where just about every element of the game is broken down with the scientific precision of a grad-level physics course, complete with on-screen formulas for each concept, while showing in-game examples on-screen. If there were more examples utilizing the super slow-motion footage, this would have been fine, as the level of detail would truly highlight the physics at work (like the freaky way Tom Brady's arm moves on a pass) but most of what you see is representative of NFL Films' usual fine work, so you've just got another entry in this special's hodge-podge construction.
Ultimate NFL arrives on a single DVD, which arrives in a white standard-width keepcase, which itself comes in a shiny foil-cover slipcase. The disc has a static, anamorphic widescreen menu, with options to play the special, select scenes, check out the extras and adjust the set-up. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are available in English, in addition to closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer is a bit of a mix, as you might expect from a special pulled together from a vast number of cameras and settings, including two distinctly different set-ups, but overall it all looks quite nice, with solid color and a pretty high level of detail, more-so in the special set-ups than the regular gameplay, which can look slightly soft in places. When it's good though, like any of the Phantom camera footage, it looks fantastic, to the point where it almost looks 3-D. Two shots pop to mind immediately, one of Drew Brees in a confetti storm and the other of a rifle being fired, and both are absolutely gorgeous. There are no issues with dirt, damage or digital artifacts.
The audio is presented via a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is strong and well mixed, putting the narration dead center and letting the music and sound effect wander to the surround speakers, with some impressive effects, like when a squadron of jets fly overhead, buzzing your home theater via panning. This disc brings a really strong presentation overall.
The Bottom Line
It's not every disc where the extra is a bigger draw than the main feature, but that's very possibly the case here, as NFL Films may have looked at their 47-minute special and thought, "We need to beef this DVD up a bit." So they tossed in a nearly 38-minute behind-the-scenes tour of NFL Films, which is at least as interesting as the material in the special, even if this seems like an afterthought, especially since NFL President Steve Sabol refers to it as a Blu-Ray feature in his introduction. The work week at NFL Films, where they archive every NFL game and produce footage and programs throughout the season, is time sensitive and intense, and this special highlights every element of the process, which is catnip for any media geek or fan of NFL Films' trademark coverage. It's incredible that despite the time-constraints on them, they continue to shoot on film, which requires massive processing efforts, all of which are on display in this great insider peek.
The visuals offered through the slow-motion cameras used for this special are otherworldly, as muscles flex and fabric ripples, but these real-life special effects are used like punctuation, rather than as the meat of the special, which instead focuses on the kind of epic stories that are NFL Films' bread and butter. This special, which looks and sounds great, not only skimps on the special clips, it skimps overall with a short run-time, however it makes up for it with a fantastic extra that's probably more enjoyable than the main show. If it was all super slow-motion in addition to the behind the scenes films, it would be a must-see, but for now, it's just another NFL DVD with some cool scenes.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.