I think I'm probably one of the few people who occasionally will go to or have interest in seeing a movie based largely upon who the cinematographer is. In the case of "Ultimate X", a large-format IMAX picture focusing on ESPN's Summer X Games, that would be Reed Smoot. Smoot, a cinematographer who has provided some of the most stunning IMAX visuals of the past couple of years ("Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure", "All Access"), has also gotten an award from Kodak for Advancement of the IMAX Large Format.
"Ultimate X" stars many of the star athletes that have become familiar to many who aren't even viewers thanks to the endorsements that the athletes have gotten. Those who have passed the video game aisles that the local electronics store have no doubt seen a small legion of games based upon stars like Tony Hawk, Dave Mirra and others. These games are, to summarize, like the Olympics for those who have a screw loose. The events include BMX biking, skateboarding, street luge and other hazardous events.
The film, from writer/director Bruce Hendricks, skips between events with interviews from commentators, athletes and organizers in-between. The film, largely thanks to Smoot and the energetic athletes, captures the glory that these participants experience when they win. What often fascinated me more than the events themselves were how they were captured. For the street luge sequences, there are cameras set-up along the route that perfectly capture he racers as they speed by, but I was curious how the filmmakers were able to actually get a camera on one of the racers to provide a first-person perspective of going down the hill. For those who are not familar, IMAX cameras are massive and weigh a very considerable amount.
The problem with the film is that is captures the hows quite well, but it doesn't really capture the "whys". The athletes admit that they don't make a lot of money and eventually show the kind of injuries that they've sustained. With their dialogue about why they do what they do sounding like something out of "Dude, Where's My Car?" (there's a lot of "dude" and "rad" thrown about), I didn't get much insight into their sports other than that they have a lot of fun. For those who aren't familiar with the sports, the film doesn't explain the details about how the athletes are graded, making it difficult for those unfamiliar (like myself) to understand quite how the winner is determined, especially when it seems as if all of the athletes performed impressively.
Speaking of the injuries, I found the way that they were shown interesting. The film spends about 40 minutes of its 50 minute running time showing how cool these folks are and the kind of glory that they get when they win a match when watched by a massive crowd. The last 5-10 minutes, however, really pulls the rug out from under the coolness, as it offers a doctor's perspective on how bad some of the injuries are that these players sustain. The discussion - as well as the visuals - of how badly these players can get hurt is pretty chilling. It's definitely the film's "hey kids, don't try this at home."
Overall, I was moderately entertained by "Ultimate X". The film occasionally seems like a beautifully filmed highlight reel rather than a documentary, but I still found the discussion of the games at least slightly interesting and the comments of the players pretty entertaining (one states, "the only degree I have is in anger management.")
Those who are fans of the sport will probably love this picture, while those unfamiliar will likely be impressed with the skills of the tricks accomplished and the slick, stunning appearance of the film. Those who like some of the more popular new punk bands will also enjoy the film's soundtrack, which is cranked up to "11" in the film's audio.