The latest film from the co-directors of "Dogtown and Z-Boys", "Once in a Lifetime" takes a deeper look at the rise and fall of soccer in the US in the 70's. Narrated by Matt Dillon, the film opens in the 60's; soccer was big overseas, but was only on the minds of a few in the U.S. Steve Ross, the head of Warner Communications at the time, joined with Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun to create the New York Cosmos, who were part of the North American Soccer League.
Helped by the fact that he had a media empire behind him, the New York team started growing and moved from a small, out-of-the-way stadium into a larger, but still dingy stadium. Aware that there was still another step needed to try and have the sport reach another level, Ross and the co-owners would have to get the kind of players that the audience could get behind. When Brazilian soccer legend Pele went into retirement, Ross thought this was a prime opportunity: not only could he build marketing around Pele (Pele shoes, etc.), but Pele could bring more fans to the league and be a stepping stone towards eventual network coverage.
Suddenly, other teams found it necessary to step up their game, and they too brought in superstars from other countries. Not to be outdone, Ross started bringing in Giorgio Chinaglia, an Italian superstar and the "villain" of the documentary, who immediately started butting heads with Pele and eventually started running the team from the inside. However, the league had suddenly exploded around them: the New York Cosmos had gone from playing at a rundown little stadium in front of a little crowd to playing in Giants Stadium to a crowd of tens of thousands (and eventually, complete sell-outs.) The entire team became superstars, partying at Studio 54 and hanging out with celebs. They were put up in the nicest hotels, they had personal assistants and an entire entourage.
Pele retired and network TV coverage came around, but unfortunately, unnecessary expansion also followed, spreading the sport too thin. Not long after an unexpected and important loss for the Cosmos, things started going South. Despite audiences still attending games, players were departing and network coverage, which was not handled well, soon ended due to low ratings. Ross struggled to keep things afloat despite problems at Warner Communications, but once the World Cup moved elsewhere, the end was near.
The film is missing the contributions of Ross and Pele, but pretty much everyone else in the story shares their side here and many of them have interesting tales, from the players who found themselves swept up into the spotlight (as well as those swept out of it) to the reporters who covered the rise of the sport and more. There's not all that much footage of the sport, but what's included works to highlight some of the various major moments. A soundtrack wall-to-wall with 70's hits also works for the material quite well. Overall, this was a very involving (and this is coming from someone who isn't a soccer fan) documentary about the sport's height of popularity in the U.S.
VIDEO: The film is presented by Miramax in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The documentary uses archive footage (matches, interviews, etc.) and new interviews. The new interviews, which were filmed on digital video, are of varying quality, but look crisp and clear more often than not. Some minor shimmering appears at times and some of the archive footage isn't without some wear, but the majority of the film looked reasonably good. Colors looked bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is often fairly straightforward, focusing on the interviews. However, when the 70's tunes kick in, the surrounds provide some nice reinforcement. The music sounded crisp, rich and full throughout, while interviews seemed clear and undistorted.
EXTRAS: "Stories of Pele" is a short featurette with a series of interviews praising Pele and discussing what an incredible player he was. Little here that fans probably don't already know. Three highlight reels (ranging from 18-24 minutes each) focus on: Pele's Farewell Game, the 1981 Soccer Bowl (Cosmos Vs. Chicago Sting) and the 1989 Soccer Bowl (Cosmos Vs. Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.) Finally, we get 1 deleted scene.
Final Thoughts: "Once in a Lifetime" is an engaging ride through one of the more incredible stories in U.S. sports history. The DVD offers fine audio/video quality and a few good extras. A recommended purchase for soccer fans, but non-fans should still give this one a try as a rental.