Chronicling the events of his life from the years 1964 to 1974, Michael Mann's Ali - despite resulting in a much-deserved Oscar nomination for Will Smith – has always been somewhat overlooked and underrated. Now, we're given a second chance to see what the director intended with the Director's Cut version of the film.
The actual changes to the picture are minute and somewhat hard to pick up on, unless you've seen the original version many times. Some of the scenes have been trimmed, fight footage has been both extended and re-edited, and a few extra moments have been thrown in, including a glimpse of Ali's father, an encounter with a kid in which Ali says he will hit him six times before the kid can count to three (which was in the original trailer but not the original film) and Ali picking a humorous fight with Howard Cosell (Jon Voight). None of this extra footage adds a lot to the film, but one that does is a quick moment between Ali and trainer Angelo Dundee (Ron Silver) in the locker room before "The Rumble In The Jungle" fight with George Foreman in which Ali privately divulges some apprehension about the upcoming bout.
So is the new version better than the previous film? While I will say I enjoyed Ali much more the second time around – I can't really say the small changes and re-edits made for a different viewing experience. It's still essentially the same movie, and I don't think the versions are different enough to really matter in one's opinion of the film.
As for my own opinion of Ali, I enjoyed it quite a bit and appreciated the fact that Mann focused as much on Ali's impact on the Civil Rights movement as he does on Ali's achievements in the ring. Will Smith also deserves a great amount of credit for taking on a role that few other actors could have mastered. There's a fine line between portraying a character like Ali and doing an impersonation of him – and Smith is able to tread that line and deliver a great performance.
Muhammad Ali wasn't just the greatest boxer that ever lived, he was probably the greatest athlete of the 20th century – both because of his skills in the ring and the impact he had on the culture. Mann's Ali is a loving and introspective look at the man and the times he lived in, and it's worth adding to your DVD collection.
The film is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, and is an excellent transfer of the film – trusting that the home viewer is familiar with the style in which Mann shoots his movies. In other words, the slight hint of grain and the somewhat "washed-out" look of the movie's color is intentional.
The audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby, and although it sounds good, it's not a particularly active or aggressive track. In fact, perhaps the only time you'll notice the audio working overtime is during the fight segments of the movie.
The first release of Ali only contained the Theatrical Trailer for the film. Inexplicitly, the trailer has been nixed from this release. Instead we get a Commentary Track with director Michael Mann and a 29-minute Behind The Scenes Documentary on the making of the movie.
I was looking forward to Mann's commentary track, but I have to be honest – it's one of the most boring and lifeless commentaries I have ever heard on a DVD. Mann spends half his time talking about the film and the other half preaching about the history of the times, but he speaks in such a dull, monotone voice that he's likely to lull you to sleep after a few minutes. It's too bad Mann couldn't get some cast members to join him. I'm usually a big fan of commentaries, but most viewers will be hard-pressed to make it all the way through this one.
Fortunately, the documentary on the making of Ali is much better. We not only get to see how Smith prepared for the role and find out more about Mann as a director, but we also get to see some real footage of Ali – both historical and of his frequent visits to the Ali set. Although the documentary never goes into great detail about the actual filming of the movie, it's a nice overview and a solid addition to this DVD.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Because the Director's Cut isn't vastly different from the theatrical version, those who already have Ali on DVD probably shouldn't bother with an upgrade. However, if you haven't made a purchase yet, this is the preferred edition.