I can't say that I was a fan of Dale Earnhardt when he was alive (I was always a Rusty Wallace kind of guy), but I always had respect for the man and that respect has grown even more after watching ESPN's near-brilliant biopic 3: The Dale Earnhardt Story.
The movie tells the story of Earnhardt (played by Barry Pepper) from his relationship with his father (Spider-Man's J.K. Simmons) early in his life, all the way up to his tragic death in the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. And while NASCAR fans out there are sure to love the attention their favorite sport gets in this made-for-TV film, at its heart, 3 is really a story about fathers and sons Dale's efforts to live up to the kind of man his father wanted him to be, and his passion to pass on those lessons to his son, Dale, Jr.
I'll be honest at first glance, I wasn't impressed with Barry Pepper's performance. I thought it was too clichιd, and not showing much depth into what kind of man Earnhardt was. And then I realized what I was watching. Pepper wasn't just giving us his version of a young Dale and an older Dale throughout the course of the movie but seems to be very conscious of the emotional and mental development that takes place for anyone between the ages of 18 and 49 (the age Earnhardt was when he was killed). How many of us are introspective in our 20's? It's only later in life that we gain real depth, and I began to appreciate the work that Pepper put into his performance. His Dale Earnhardt is the sum of his experiences by the end of this 90-minute movie and it's quite simply a fantastic bit of acting. To say it's Emmy-caliber is not an understatement.
Are there problems with 3? A few. The most notable is the fact that much of the dialogue seems melodramatic and scripted and not the kind of things that would have actually been said in real-life. It's doubtful that Dale's father actually coined the "refuse to lose" mantra used by his many fans but, hey, it makes for a trailer-worthy moment between father and son.
What the movie does get right and racing fans will be happy to hear this is the look, feel, and relationship between drivers of NASCAR. Perhaps the best on-screen chemistry in the movie is not between Dale and his father, or even Dale and his son, but between Dale and fellow driver Neal Bonnett, who was perhaps Dale's closest friend and who suffered a similar fate on the racetrack in 1994.
Good enough to be a theatrical release, 3 is by far the best sports movie ESPN has assembled to date, and a real tribute to one of NASCAR's true legends.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The picture is both sharp and colorful, and a really great looking transfer overall. There's no dirt or defects evident on the print, and I could detect no glitches or other problems with the overall video.
The audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital, and is well-done, although perhaps not as aggressive as one would expect. There's nothing technically wrong with the track, but those looking for the zooming and roar of cars from one speaker to another during the race sequences may be a little let down by what they get here.
This is a 2-DVD set, with the movie and a pair of featurettes on Disc 1, and a ton of Dale Earnhardt archive footage on Disc 2.
Disc One includes The Making Of "3", which is a 36-minute featurette on the production of the film that includes comments and interview footage of stars Berry Pepper, J.K. Simmons, Elisabeth Mitchell (who plays Dale's wife, Teresa), director Russell Mulcahy, executive producer Orly Adelson and others. It's presented in the full-frame format with 2.0 Dolby sound.
Also on Disc One is 3 Nation: The Life And Legacy Of Dale Earnhardt, a documentary on Dale's life featuring lots of interview footage from both friends and fans. This featurette is letterboxed, but it is non-anamorphic. It also is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital.
Disc Two is a virtual gold mine of nostalgia for die-hard Earnhardt fans. First, there's a section of five Interviews with Dale, ranging from the years 1991 to 1997. In these interviews, he covers such topics as the relationship with his father and his career on the race track.
Perhaps the coolest feature on either of these discs is a Race Highlights section, which provides footage of the 1993 Hooters 500, the 1995 Save Mart Supermarkets 300, the 1999 Busch 500 and Round 3 of the 1999 IROC. But these are no mere highlight reels a great deal of the actual race is shown, as it aired on television. The footage from the 1993 Hooters 500 is a whopping 45-minutes in length, while the 1993 IROC footage comprises of 42-minutes worth of footage. The Save Mart Supermarkets 300 footage is 28-minutes in length, while the 1999 Busch 500 presentation clocks-in at 14-minutes. So if you're a fan of classic race footage featuring Dale, you've hit the gold mine here!
Also included on Disc Two are two classic ESPN programs on which Dale appeared. First, there's ESPN's 2 Minute Drill trivia show (21-minutes); and then we get to see Dale hunt Elk with a bow in ESPN's Ultimate Outdoors With Wayne Pearson (18 minutes). Both programs are shown in their entirety.
THE BOTTOM LINE
ESPN has done "The Intimidator" proud both with the movie and with this impressive 2-disc collection. Even if you aren't a fan of NASCAR, it's hard not to like 3, and I give it a hearty recommendation.