For fans, the 1976 Formula One racing season was one of the most exciting and suspenseful on record. Fueled by the neck-and-neck competition between British McLaren driver James Hunt and Austrian Ferrari driver Niki Lauda, the season was not only an incredible nail-biter, but the drama helped push the sport into the global spotlight. In 2013, Universal Pictures released Rush, director Ron Howard's dramatized version of Hunt and Lauda's championship battle. The film has renewed interest in seeing the real men behind the story, and "Hunt vs. Lauda" is one of the many documentaries now hitting home video.
"1976: Hunt vs. Lauda" (or, "Hunt vs. Lauda: F1's Greatest Racing Rivals", according to the on-screen title) was first broadcast on the BBC in the UK, and is being released direct-to-DVD in the United States a few weeks ahead of Rush's debut. To tell the pair's thrilling story, the filmmakers have lined up an all-star list of interview subjects, including Ferrari manager Daniele Audetto, McLaren manager Alastair Caldwell, Hunt's sister Sally Jones, former "Autocar" editor Peter Windsor, and of course, Niki Lauda himself. (There's also one other participant, which IMDb tells me is John Hogan of Just Marketing International, but photos of Hogan don't match the man in the film, and I can't find his introductory caption for the life of me.)
It's hard to review "Hunt vs. Lauda" as a piece of filmmaking, because it's such a straightforward, no-nonsense depiction of the story. Director Matthew Whiteman tells the story in standard chronological order, describing Hunt (the boozing womanizer) and Lauda (the laser-focused professional) upfront rather than cutting away to sidebars as the story is told. In that sense, the program is almost most interesting as a companion piece to Howard's film, illustrating the general accuracy of the Hollywood version (Bruhl's performance is award-worthy either way, but old and new footage of Lauda fully illustrates that his portrayal is right on the money).
Of course, that assessment in and of itself may be what viewers are looking for. Armed with a veritable mountain of vintage photographs, radio broadcasts, and video recordings of the two racers, as well as subjects who are all open to the idea of reminiscing, the program's smooth, on-point editing makes this a breezy, engaging hour. Hunt, who passed away over 20 years ago, can only be seen in these clips, appearing alternately charming, committed, and occasionally, a little drunk. Other footage illustrates the only angle the feature film brushes over, showing Hunt with Lauda at a particularly wild F1 party, as well as Lauda's near fatal crash. Even considering the no-frills approach to the presentation, it's a riveting, rewarding story of good sportsmanship, and it ought to appeal to fans and non-fans alike.
The DVD, Video, Audio, and Extras
DVDTalk was sent not one, but two check discs in paper sleeves, which do not appear to be representative of final product. No assessment of the packaging, video, audio, or supplementary material can be offered.
Although I'll need to see the release version to determine whether the supplements are worth a look, "Hunt vs. Lauda" is a documentary that does little more than document, although it does so very well. Although it's an exciting and entertaining piece (would make a great supplement for Rush), as its own program, especially considering the length, it's only a rental.
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