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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » History of Soccer - The Beautiful Game
History of Soccer - The Beautiful Game
Shout Factory // Unrated // October 7, 2003
List Price: $99.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted October 15, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

The History of Soccer: The Beautiful Game is certainly outstanding in terms of the material that it pulls together: rare footage from the earliest days of the sport, clips from countless important championship and World Cup events, and interviews with many major players from around the world. When the special features are taken into account, The History of Soccer becomes even more comprehensive: for instance, it includes footage of every single goal from every World Cup final ever played. For die-hard soccer fans, that alone may make The History of Soccer a hit.

But a wealth of material alone doesn't make an outstanding documentary. How does The History of Soccer (or, as it's originally titled, The History of Football) stand up as a film, apart from its value to fans as a compilation of great soccer footage? In a way, it's a tough question, but in the end I found The History of Soccer to fall short of the high mark it seems to have been aiming for. It's still a worthwhile documentary, but not an exceptional one apart from its sheer quantity of material.

The documentary is divided into seven episodes, each 50 minutes long: "Origins," "Football Cultures," "Evolution of the European Game," "European Superpowers," "Brazil," "South American Superpowers," "For Club and Country," "The Dark Side," "Superstars," "The Media," "Africa," "A Game for All," and "Futures." Each episode, narrated by Terence Stamp, interweaves footage from actual historic matches with numerous interviews with players, coaches, journalists, and historians.

The History of Soccer is tightly focused in terms of its topic, but its organization is far more problematic when it comes to actually presenting and unfolding that topic. Given the documentary's title, I expected a chronological treatment of the sport, starting from its earliest days and following its development to the present day; the fact that the first episode is titled "Origins" would seem to support that structure. However, that's not really the case... or rather, that's not the case for the documentary as a whole. The episodes that trace the history of the game in a particular region (like "European Superpowers" or "South American Superpowers") do so without reference to an overall timeline of the sport; the result is that from episode to episode, we are jerked around in time, with little overall sense of the timeline. This makes it very difficult to build up a coherent picture of how the sport developed.

But if The History of Soccer doesn't follow an effective chronological structure, neither does it commit to a focused subject-based organization. The more-or-less historical episodes are interspersed with topic-based episodes like "Football Cultures" and "The Dark Side." Yet these episodes also seem unfocused, leaving viewers on their own to pick out the important ideas from the irrelevant side anecdotes. To be sure, some of the episodes are more focused than others: "For Club and Country," for instance, does try to stick to its discussion of the conflict between league play and national teams, which is quite an interesting topic. Even here, though, the episode has trouble staying on topic; midway through, there's a section on the English club teams that really doesn't contribute anything to the overall point of the episode.

This lack of adherence to either a chronological or a subject-based structure is, I think, just a sign of the general lack of coherence of the overall documentary. I suspect that the filmmakers fell so much in love with their material that they simply immersed themselves in it; the result is a program that is dazzled by its own wealth of material.

From this point of view, the question of audience is easily answered: this is a documentary for soccer fans, not the general public. Each program is chock-full of references to particular players, teams, coaches, and games; considering that the program does not stick to a chronological structure, it creates a bewildering amount of detail for any viewer who's not familiar with the major organizations, players, and tournaments of the soccer world. The History of Soccer: The Beautiful Game is certainly a monumental achievement in terms of the material that it has assembled; it's also a polished and solidly crafted documentary in all aspects except its problematic structure. But since it doesn't pull together its material into a larger, coherent picture, it's not particularly accessible to viewers who aren't familiar with the soccer scene already.

The DVD

Video

The History of Soccer is presented in a widescreen anamorphic transfer (1.85:1 aspect ratio), and looks very good overall. The documentary uses a mix of archival material and new footage, mostly of interviews. The new footage looks quite good; we get some edge enhancement, but on the whole it is clean and clear.

The archival footage of soccer matches is extensive, starting at the beginning of the 20th century (or a bit earlier in some cases), and continuing all the way to the present day. This material is not surprisingly in worse condition than the material that was filmed specifically for the documentary; the oldest film segments are clearly worn, and even the more modern footage is generally fairly blurry. Some of this is due to the source material not being of the highest quality, and some can be attributed to the fact that the television footage (most likely originally in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio) has been zoomed in and cropped to adjust it to the widescreen aspect ratio of the documentary. All in all, the older material looks reasonable, and as a whole The History of Soccer is quite satisfactory in terms of image quality.

Probably because it is expected to have broad international appeal, all of the subtitles in the program are player-generated. In a touch of very good sense, some of the more heavily-accented English speakers are given subtitles as well, which I found to be very useful.

Audio

The first menu screen that comes up (after the production splash screens) gives viewers a choice between the English and Spanish soundtracks, both of which are Dolby 5.1. The sound is of good quality, with a clear, crisp sound to Terence Stamp's narration as well as the interviewees' voices.

Extras

The special features for The History of Soccer are divided across all seven discs. Rather inconveniently, they're also separated according to the individual episode, with each set of special features accessed through the menu for that particular episode.

The bonus material consists, on the whole, of collections of short clips and interviews, with a few short featurettes as well. Segments from all of the World Cup finals are included here, along with clips from the finals of other competitions. Each of these segments is introduced by a text screen giving some background information on that match; the segment itself is generally around three to five minutes long, and consists of a combination of actual footage from the game and interview clips from players or other people discussing what happened there. The interview footage is clearly made up of material that didn't make it into the film as a whole; these segments are often fairly substantial, with different topics being discussed by each interviewee. Each of the episodes also has a "biographies" section that has text information on the major people mentioned in that episode.

This the detailed breakdown of the extras:

"Origins" (Disc 1):

  • Stuart Hall on Football's Unlikely Origins (very short interview clip)
  • "Football Is an Old Italian Custom" (3-minute newsreel)
  • "The Old Ashbourne Folk Game" (3-minute newsreel)
  • Early football match archive: clips from eleven games from 1897-1912.

"Football Cultures" (Disc 1):

  • "The Rise and Fall of the NASL" (short featurette)
  • Text list of all the NASL finals.

"Evolution of the European Game" (Disc 2)

  • World Cup finals: 1934, 1938, 1954
  • Interview with Pepi Bican

"European Superpowers" (Disc 2):

  • World Cup finals: 1966, 1974, 1982, 1990
  • Interviews with Sir Bobby Charlton, Jürgen Klinsmann, Paolo Rossi

"Brazil" (Disc 3):

  • World Cup finals: 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994

"South American Superpowers" (Disc 3)

  • World Cup finals: 1930, 1950, 1978, 1986
  • Interview with César Luis Menotti

"For Club and Country" (Disc 4)"

  • European Championship finals: 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1976

"The Dark Side" (Disc 4):

  • "Hillsborough" (featurette)
  • "Trouble on the Terraces (featurette)
  • "Heysel Remembered" (featurette)

"Superstars" (Disc 5):

  • Interviews with Pelé, Ronaldo, George Best, Dino Zoff, Paolo Rossi, Jürgen Klinsmann, and Diego Maradona.

"The Media" (Disc 5):

  • World Cup final: 1998
  • Interviews with Pelé, Paolo Rossi, Alan Shearer, Zico, Kenny Dalglish

"Africa" (Disc 6):

  • Clips from the African Cup of Nations, 1957-2000

"A Game for All" (Disc 6):

  • Clips from the World Club Championships, 1960-1970

"Futures" (Disc 7):

  • Clips from the Asian Cup: 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1992, 2000
  • "Sudan" (featurette)
  • Interview with Kazu Miura.

Final thoughts

The History of Soccer: The Beautiful Game is sure to appeal greatly to soccer fans, with its splendid assortment of footage from numerous important games throughout the 20th century. As a documentary, it's not as effective or as gripping as it could be, though; the combination of a flood of details with a problematic overall structure makes for a film that doesn't really bring the "big picture" to life as well as it could. The History of Soccer is recommended, but definitely for soccer fans only.

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