Wayne Gretzky is the best hockey player to ever take the ice. With 61 NHL records, that's a hard statement to debate. Now, with the two disc set known as Ultimate Gretzky, fans of The Great One, as well as those too young to have witnessed his abilities, can see just what made him so special.
The 2-hour documentary takes viewers on a journey from Gretzky's days as a kid playing on the ice in his back yard to his recent win at the 2002 Olympic Games as the leader of Team Canada. This is a very personal look back on his career as Gretzky discusses his early years and each milestone on his way to the Hall of Fame. Actor Kiefer Sutherland hosts the documentary, while longtime goalie John Davidson asks the questions.
It's amazing just how many clips the NHL uncovered for this presentation. There are highlights from the 1978 World Juniors, his first NHL game, his first Stanley Cup, and of course, many clips from his record breaking games. Although the clips are what make this documentary, Gretzky's honesty is definitely something to be enjoyed and admired. He's very modest and humble about his accomplishments, and it's readily apparent that he not only enjoys looking back on his days on the ice, but appreciates the idea of others breaking his "unbreakable" records.
This set really does a spectacular job chronicling his career, but it also shows how The Great One was loved by teammates, coaches, and opponents. The interviews with his father, Walter Gretzky, teammates Kevin Lowe and Craig Simpson, and coach Glen Sather, allow viewers to see how Gretzky impacted the sport. Through their words and expressions, it's easy to see that those chosen to participate in this program really admired Wayne Gretzky.
I truly enjoyed the way this documentary was set up, which allows viewers to follow his career from little league to retirement. However, I feel that there was one thing missing: a stand-alone highlight reel. The man is the greatest to play the game, so there is definitely enough footage out there to string together 10 to 15 minutes worth of non-stop action that showcases his ability to skate, pass, and score. For me, this is a glaring omission. Sure, the footage featured here is great, but it doesn't offer the same amount of energy that can be experienced when watching one great play after another for minutes on end.
Even without this highlight reel, the documentary does a wonderful job chronicling the greatest career in NHL history. This is definitely a disc no Gretzky fan should be without.
Warner Brothers and NHL Productions present Ultimate Gretzky in 1.85 anamorphic widescreen. Without a doubt, Gretzky's greatest moments have never looked better. The modern highlights and the recent interviews look great, with amazing clarity and color. As can be expected, the older clips from his childhood and early hockey days are a bit fuzzy with dirt and scratches readily evident, but this in no way detracts from the enjoyment of this presentation.
Note that the video star rating is based on the overall presentation. Certainly, some of the older footage would not stand up to the video standards of today, but I can't imagine any of this footage looking better, thus the picture gets a justified 4 star rating.
Both discs of Ultimate Gretzky are presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital despite there being no real reason for it. The interviews sounds perfect throughout, with voices coming through crisp and clear. The music sounds good too, but the woofer never comes into play and neither do the rear channels. There is very little sound coming from the ice, so don't expect to hear the checks against the boards. Despite the fact that your speakers won't get a workout, this presentation was never expected to do so. In other words, this presentation more than gets the job done.
One thing to note is that the second disc, which features the bonus material, can be enjoyed in either English or French, while the main documentary is only available in English.
The first disc's menus feature 1.85 anamorphic video of some of Gretzky's finer moments on the ice along with 5.1 Dolby Digital music. Although these menus are nothing spectacular, they definitely got me in the mood for some hockey. The menus on disc two are also anamorphic/digital, but they do not feature moving video.
THE BONUS FEATURES
Disc two on this set features a wealth of bonus features (20 to be exact) focusing on Wayne Gretzky's accomplishments. Although there's a lot of good stuff here, nothing truly stands out. Because of this, I think most of these featurettes might have been off incorporated into the documentary on disc one.
First up is a seven minute Interview with Kiefer Sutherland, a big hockey fan who is also a good friend of Gretzky. Sutherland discusses his love for the game and some of his finer moments on the ice. The Interview with Walter Gretzky (3:35) is even more entertaining as he discusses the Gretzky family's love of the game. Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor is an eight minute look at funny bloopers from the production, as well as interview clips and game highlights that didn't make it to the final cut of the documentary.
The Wedding (3:11) is nothing but home video footage of Gretzky's marriage to Janet Jones. Personally, I see no reason to include this footage since it's not game related, but for hard-core fans, anything Gretzky is worthy. Last Game in Toronto (2:17), Last Game in Canada (3:50), and Last Game (4:08) features extended game film from Gretzky's important last games.
Pond of Dreams Shoot (5:28) shows off Gretzky's acting abilities (if you can call it that) as he, Gordy Howe, and Mario Lamieux turn over the game to the modern heroes of the NHL. This feturette also offers some mildly humorous bloopers from the film shoot.
Edmonton Oilers Honor Wayne (1989) is a six minute clip from the pregame tribute to Gretzky before he was shipped off to play for the LA Kings. Edmonton Oilers Honor Wayne (1999) is a six minute clip from the pregame tribute in which the Oilers retired his number. Los Angeles Kings Honor Wayne (2002) is a two minute clip from the ceremony in which the Kings retired Gretzky's number.
Fantasy Camp (7:16) features footage and interviews from Gretzky's hockey fantasy camp, where adults get to live their dream of playing hockey with the retired star. This is actually a fun look at how Gretzky's career has effected hockey fans.
Career Bloopers (4:03) is a look at The Great One fumbling over his lines as an actor and broadcaster. Although these are somewhat entertaining, I would've liked a few of his flubs on the ice. I'm sure there weren't many, but it might have been nice to see a few of his in-game goofs.
Family Album (3:58) is another of the featurettes focusing on his personal life, and thus seems out of place. Gretzky Special Ceremonies showcases Gretzky's honor of becoming an Officer of the Order of Canada, as well as footage from Margaret Thatcher's ceremonial first puck in 2002. These are interesting clips, but I would have liked to hear what Gretzky felt about the honors.
Wayne Gretzky Foundation Information is, you guessed it, information about Gretzky's foundation to help bring hockey to less fortunate youth. It features contact information for those interested in learning more.
The remaining bonus features are for those sports fans concerned with stats and records. This is the place to go for Gretzky trivia. Wayne Gretzky Bio features information on age, height, weight, etc. Wayne Gretzky Career Stats is nothing but stats, stats, and more stats of his playing days. Wayne Gretzky Records shows off all 61 of his NHL records as of his retirement in 1999. Lastly, Wayne Gretzky Awards is a list of all the awards, trophies, and accomplishments The Great One achieved during his career.
Ultimate Gretzky proves why they call him The Great One. Although I wanted to see even more highlights of his playing days, these two discs more than cover his greatness. Highly recommended for hard-core hockey and Gretzky fans, while other casual fans should at least rent it.