On the morning of November 15, the Washington Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin finds himself in fifth place for goals scored, in a tie for second place in assists and in third place for total points, yet by many fan accounts his game appears to be off or at the very least not what it's been in previous seasons. Perhaps the National Hockey League star is injured, perhaps not, because in his first five seasons in the league his goal scoring and production has been in the rarified air of the sports legends like Gretzky and Lemieux. At 6 foot 2 and more than 230 pounds he is a whirling dervish of activity on the ice, shooting, passing and hitting as many opposing players as possible. Yet for all of the regular season production and the individual recognition (Rookie of the Year in 2006, Most Valuable Player in 2008 and 2009), he's yet to realize similar success in the postseason. In the playoffs, Ovechkin's Caps have been knocked out of the playoffs in disappointing fashion, particularly with a loss in seven games last year to the 8th seeded Montreal Canadians. And oddly enough, it's where this DVD, titled The Gr8 (or Great 8, denoting Ovechkin's jersey number), starts off.
The feature, running just over 45 minutes long, shows Ovechkin's offseason. Most of it is spent in Russia with friends, doing things like swimming, playing with his dogs or spending time with his father and mother, the latter being a former Russian Olympic basketball player. He shows off his cars (of which he has many nice ones), and even spends time with some of the locals when he and his posse go to the local McDonalds and he buys lunch and signs autographs. Interspersed with these scenes are interviews with Ovechkin and his parents, as they help provide glimpses into his life before the NHL, first as a youth who picked up a hockey stick when he was 2 years old, and later when he begged his father not to change the channel on the television from the hockey game. There is some time spent in America during the offseason, first in Las Vegas where Ovechkin attends the NHL Awards Ceremony and using a flip camera interviews fellow award nominees like the Buffalo Sabres' Ryan Miller or the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby. Oh by the way he picked up his third consecutive Ted Lindsay (formerly Lester Pearson) award, voted on by the players for the Most Outstanding Player. He also spent time in Miami shooting a commercial for a brief spell as well.
Past those two trips back over to America however, the disc is different in a couple of ways. First, it is surprisingly, well, Russian. It appears based on the structure of this piece the NHL/Warner Brothers had a couple of Russian-speaking camera operators follow Ovechkin around and interview him and his family during the offseason. This is fine with me, as it helps provide an insight into the player that not many people outside of Washington might now, including some within the Nation's Capital. The team's General Manager (George McPhee) and owner (Ted Leonsis) are the only North Americans interviewed for the feature, and they talk about Ovechkin in broad strokes as a player and person, along with his family's involvement in his drive.
Second, the feature rolls itself out in front of you in such a way that it is a bio piece without being a bio piece. I'm used to seeing bios on 25-year old athletes go chronologically and result in stale, boring viewing. This one shows Ovechkin and his posse doing various things here and there, much of it shirtless (must be a Russian thing or something), and after a couple of minutes, cuts back to Ovechkin or his family talking about his childhood, or McPhee and Leonsis discussing his support system he has with his family. It makes for entertaining viewing, with the subliminal message both in his career and in life he's not done yet, by a long shot.
If there's one thing that holds The Gr8 back, it's that I kind of wanted to see more of it. I say this as both a Caps fan and season ticket holder, so yeah, bias and perspective thrown out the window, whatever. But with the comfort he finds when he's in front of the camera doing an interview, commercial or the like, there's something to be said in being back in your hometown and among familiar faces who knew you when. There's a slight reality check to be gained from that. I'm not saying I'd want to see a series about it, but there was a fascination I was watching when watching Ovechkin back home that this (presumed) future television broadcast show lacks a bit.
Ultimately The Gr8 is less about what's made Ovechkin so great so far, rather than the type of person he his among his friends and family. And all involved realize that there's still the drive for both Stanley Cup and Olympic Gold achievements. So I'm not worried about Ovechkin's play now, because the drive is always going to be there, whether the talent wants to show up or not. And if the drive is carrying him now, God help the other teams in the league when he actually starts "playing like he wants to."
The Gr8 is presented in a matted 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation that looks solid. The handheld and stationary camera footage in Russia looks nice, colors look sharp without over saturation and there's no noticeable edge enhancement or haloing in the image. Looks fine, is fine.
Two-channel Dolby stereo, like you'd expect anything else from a standard-definition sports disc. But it sounds fine; the rear channels and subwoofer get no workout here and the sound is all in the front channels and sounds clear as a bell.
The main extra on the disc is a full broadcast of a game from January 31, 2008 against the Montreal Canadiens. Previously found on the team's Greatest Games collection, the game is notable for Ovechkin suffered a broken nose in the game, but still scored four goals, including the game-winning final one in overtime for a 5-4 win. Caps fans have probably seen that game several times over but it's still a fun ride.
The next slightly longish extra is "Ovechkin Ovation" (23:25), a collection of the Top 10 goals Ovechkin has scored as of the 2009-10 season, followed by a tour of Washington D.C. on segways with some of his teammates (2:19). Video shoot footage from the team's introductory video of the 2008-09 season follows (2:52), along with footage from an earlier commercial Ovechkin shot with Leonsis (1:59). As an additional note, some of the extras are presented in full frame video. Distasteful I know, but no other way around it unfortunately.
The Gr8 may be primarily geared towards fans of Ovechkin and/or the Capitals in general, but I think there's enough of an appeal in the material to get hockey fans to check out the film and perhaps change a previously held opinion or two about the player known (fondly, by many) as the Russian Machine. Worth a rental at the very least, but Caps fans will likely snatch this up in droves.