The 2004 Ironman Triathlon World Championship DVD offers up a program with a lot of appeal for serious fans and casual viewers alike. To start with, it's a well-made documentary that puts a human face on the competition, but what makes it much more worthwhile is that the race itself is exciting... and, most importantly, the race action is handled very well and is given front-and-center space in the program, so that the excitement of the race is maximized for the home viewer.
From the start, the program does a nice job of introducing the main professional competitors in both the men's and women's races, letting us know who to watch for, and showing who's motivated to win for the first time, who's out to get a repeat win, and who's trying to improve on an unfortunate performance in the previous year. Many previous winners of the Hawaii Ironman are in the field in 2004, some of them even training partners during the rest of the year, so there's a definitely personal quality to the competition at times.
One of the biggest challenges is faced by the German triathletes, who historically have excelled on the bike portion of the race, only to lose ground (and lose the race) during the final marathon segment. Many German racers had been in the lead after the bike race, but only one German had ever finished first. The question on many minds in 2004, then, was whether the race could be won in the bike portion, with history leaning heavily on the side of "no." This aspect of the race gave both the men's and the women's events a definite added boost of interest (especially for me, a fan of cycling in particular).
There's the usual assortment of getting-to-know-the-riders segments, with many of them focused on the pros while others touch on the people who are competing for more personal reasons, whether it's a television celebrity or a mom raising funds for disease research. These are handled well on the whole, giving a human-interest angle without indulging in too much sentimentality (something that afflicted the 1997 program). The camera work and editing is occasionally overdone, with dramatic close-ups held a bit too long, and a bit too much affinity shown for flashy montages or little girls in Hawaiian costume, but overall it's handled reasonably well.
What really shines is the coverage of the race itself, which is excellent. The camera begins to follow the race from the swim, getting right alongside the swimmers and giving us a sense of who's setting the pace and who's having a harder time. From there, the transitions and both the cycling and running portions of the race are handled equally well. We're given a good sense of who's ahead, who's behind, and by how much. Some of the racers end up with penalties for drafting during the cycling part of the race, and we get to see how that shakes up the standings at the front of the race. At this point, we have a good sense of who's who among the pros, so it's easy to be interested in the progress of the various big names (and lesser known ones, coming up unexpectedly) fighting for the front spots. Of course, it helps matters considerably that both the men's and women's races are very exciting in the 2004 edition, but the good editing and the attention to the race itself (rather than just the supporting materials) certainly helps boost the excitement level of this program.
The 2004 Ironman is presented in a satisfactory non-anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors and contrast are handled reasonably well, and the image is clean and clear.
The soundtrack does a good job of presenting the narrative voiceover clearly and naturally, along with the voices of the various interview subjects, both on the spot and in the previously filmed segments.
Nothing. Not even a menu.
The 2004 Ironman Triathlon World Championship DVD offers a very engaging look at an exciting race. The background on the race and the participants is filled in nicely, allowing viewers to get a good feel for what the overall experience is, but most importantly, the race itself is both exciting and presented in an engaging manner. The program stays focused on the race action from beginning to end, making this a race DVD that's well worth checking out. I'll give it a "highly recommended," as it's a very fun viewing experience and definitely a step up from the other Ironman DVDs that I've seen.