"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games.
26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.
I've failed over and over and over again in my life...
..and that is why I succeed."
It's not exactly presented as a career retrospective...but that's a good thing, because Michael Jordan to the Max didn't arrive at the end of the legendary athlete's career. Originally released on IMAX in 2000, this 46-minute documentary zeroes in on one specific segment of Jordan's life (in this case, the Chicago Bulls' 1998 NBA Championship battle vs. the Utah Jazz) and fills in a few gaps along the way. In many ways, it's a curious hybrid of a sports highlight reel and a back-patting testament to Jordan's undeniable charisma and marketability. Off the court, Jordan and his peers talk about his early years, personal thoughts on life and Jordan's short venture into minor-league baseball after the 1993 murder of his father, James. For a 46-minute documentary---which, in its own right, only goes into as much detail as your average featurette---it's remarkably well-rounded and entertaining.
Undoubtedly, the main attraction of Michael Jordan to the Max is the game-time footage, filmed in 70mm and originally projected onto gargantuan IMAX screens. Those who originally saw the film in this format should still remember how good everything looked, especially during a time when high-definition sports footage was still in its infancy. This is a visual feast from start to finish: like the biggest Hollywood blockbusters, the story behind the spectacle isn't really the main selling point. And although Michael Jordan to the Max doesn't really have a lot of meat on its bones, it's still quite serviceable as a miniature biopic blown up to a mammoth scale. Obviously, a more career-spanning scope would've made this one of the best sports films of all time, but we're limited to a few vintage clips and commercials. In any case, this film still brings enough to the table to make it a landmark sports documentary that fans should enjoy. Unless you're from Utah, of course.
Originally released on DVD in 2001, Lionsgate returns with Michael Jordan to the Max on Blu-Ray, which undoubtedly presents this purely visual film in a much more appropriate format. Pairing a top-quality technical presentation with a small but appropriate batch of extras, this film stands tall as a fitting tribute to one of the NBA's most enduring icons. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Michael Jordan to the Max looks quite stunning on Blu-Ray. The 2001 DVD release certainly wasn't bad for its time, but this 70mm IMAX film demands the higher resolution of Blu-Ray for maximum enjoyment, if only due to the film's visual style. Interviews are often done as picture-in-picture frames, since a talking-head format would've been overwhelming on giant IMAX screens. Occasional outdoor clips are particularly sharp and well-defined, especially aerial footage from well above Chicago's United Center. The blistering game clips are also framed a bit further back than sports fans should be used to, but it all plays quite well on a modest HD display. Occasional flecks of dirt and a slightly unstable image (mostly during the opening sequence) were the only notable flaws in this image; otherwise, it's tough to complain.
More good news on the audio front: Michael Jordan to the Max roars to life in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and it's also available in a French dub. As expected, the interviews and older clips only sound as good as their source material will allow, but the game footage is another matter entirely. As with the visuals, these segments sound unlike any pre-HD sports broadcast you've ever heard, from the detailed crowd noise to the swish of a nothing-but-net three-pointer. It's not demo material from start to finish, but sports fans should be thrilled with this audio mix. Optional English captions, as well as English and Spanish subtitles, are provided during the main feature only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The menu designs are decent but not great, as audio options, chapters and bonus features are often presented one at a time instead of utilizing the full screen resolution. There's not enough content here to make it really troublesome, but the menus are still a lot slower and more cumbersome than they really need to be. This 46-minute film is divided into 12 chapters; it's housed in an eco-compliant keepcase (read: full of holes) and includes a two-sided promotional insert for other Lionsgate titles.
We don't get many bonus features on this budget-priced disc, but at least everything of interest from the original DVD has been ported over. The main attraction is a feature-length Audio Commentary
with co-directors/producers James D. Stern and Don Kempf, who are accompanied by producer Steve Kempf. These three participants do a good job of filling the time nicely, balancing plenty of production stories (including the difficulty of shooting an NBA game, of course) with a small amount of technical details.
On a related note is a rather rough-looking Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (21 minutes, 1.33:1 SD); it goes into much more technical detail than the audio commentary and makes for a great complement. This is truly a behind-the-scenes affair from start to finish, and those intrigued by the opening "bullet-time" shot should enjoy seeing a few secrets revealed.
Speaking of the "bullet-time" shot, we also get a separate Featurette (2 minutes, 1.33:1 SD) about the famous sequence, which eschews traditional narration for a purely visual look at the shot's development.
Closing things out are a few pages' worth of Career Stats for MJ (1.78:1 HD), which go into modest detail about the famed career of this NBA giant. Gone from the original DVD release---but not forgotten---are a few trailers and TV spots, which should've definitely made it to this release.
Michael Jordan to the Max was a quiet but impressive release when it first arrived on DVD, and the story hasn't changed nearly 10 years later. This Blu-ray aims high with a great technical presentation, from the crisp game-time visuals to the thunderous roar of the crowd. The off-the-court material is almost an afterthought at times, but NBA fans of all ages should enjoy this personal look at one of the sport's all-time greats. Although the menus and bonus features leave a little to be desired, this budget-priced release is a no-brainer for sports and documentary fans alike. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.
REVIEWER'S NOTE: The above images are reduced in quality from the original Blu-Ray screen captures and do not represent their native 1920x1080 resolution.