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Dust to Glory
It takes a special kind of crazy to race one thousand miles through the harsh Mexican desert but that's exactly what hundreds of glory hounds do each and every year at the annual Baja 1000, the subject of Dana Brown's latest sports documentary, Dust To Glory. Following up his surfing films Step Into Liquid and Endless Summer Revisited, this is a pretty interesting look at a truly unique race that opens itself not only to qualified professionals or seasoned drivers but to anyone from anywhere who can come up with the money to pay the fee required to participate. There's not much for the winner in terms of monetary gain or material wealth and the course manages to encompass not only the desert but also the highway (which does not get closed to guys and gals like you and me on the way home from work but is left very open to regular commuter traffic) and even inner city streets. Safety is not the main concern of the racers or the organizers and in fact, when you watch the documentary, you'll be pretty amazed at how close so many of the participants get to vehicles sometimes moving past them at up to a hundred miles an hour.
This race attracts all kinds. Aside from the common thrill seeker, Steve McQueen gave it a shot back in his day, as did the one and only James Garner. The 2003 competition say Mario Andretti get behind the wheel to give it a shot, as well as a few other recognizable names like Robby Gordon and J. N. Campbell. Vehicles run the gamut from tricked out Baja-ready pick ups to bigger sized Hummers and SUV's to single solitary dirt-bikes to old school Volkswagen Beetles. Each class of vehicle gets a different starting point and the goal is to hit that one thousand mile mark in under thirty two hours. While that might not sound so impossible, keep in mind that these guys are driving through the desert for the most part, not on streets or a specific race track and that they also have to watch out for holes, rocks, animals, pedestrians, and even cops while they're driving. This is a little different than making the trek from Washington to California down I-5 (though that can be a different kind of hassle) – this is an off road race of the highest caliber.
While the documentary gives its fair share of attention to Mike McCoy (who attempts to do the race single handedly on a motorbike while the other participants do it relay style in teams), which is no surprise as he co-produced the movie, it doesn't really get into anyone else's head as to the why's and how's of their decision to enter a pretty dangerous competition for no financial gain. These guys are obviously in it for the glory or the thrills and it would have made for a more interesting story had Brown maybe talked to the people involved a little more than he did. Instead what we get is a lot of footage of cars driving really fast through strange spots – which thankfully is enough, in this case. The race footage that they've captured in this film is fantastic. It's exciting, it's fast, it's furious, it's scenic, it's intense and it's really just plain cool to watch. You'll find yourself getting pulled in by certain sequences in the film, particularly the moments where things get a little dangerous such as when racers have their visibility seriously hampered by dust and silt clouds or when those hairpin turns get a little too close for comfort. It's easy to enjoy this documentary on a purely visual level, much like the director's father's best known film, Endless Summer. There are some interesting non-race moments scattered throughout the film but they're a little too few and far between and instead of fleshing out the story, it instead starts to make the film feel a little padded and it slows things down. When the race footage is on though, the movie cooks and that alone makes this worth a look.The DVD
Dust To Glory is the lucky recipient of a fine 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that, considering some of the hairy conditions under which the documentary was shot, looks pretty darn snappy. The colors are the first thing you'll notice, the browns and Earth tones that make up a lot of the locations come through looking pretty decent. Black levels could have been a bit stronger but as it stands they're not half bad. Mpeg compression artifacts are nowhere to be found though there is definitely a bit of noticeable line shimmering in more than a couple of scenes in the feature. Edge enhancement is there but it's mild and there's little worth griping about in terms of print damage or unhealthy grain. Some of this footage was captured by mounting digital cameras to various vehicles and this footage looks a little bit worse for wear but it's still perfectly watchable and given the fact that it's mounted to a vehicle speeding through a Mexican desert, it's perfectly understandable that it isn't pristine.Sound:
The film is presented on DVD in an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix that does a nice job of capturing the various roars and squeals made throughout the film by the myriad of vehicles being driven in the race. While, like the video, some of the footage that was recorded in the vehicles isn't perfect, most of the interview clips and 'talkier' bits come through nicely and without any problems. The lower end gets a nice punch and your subwoofer will thank you for it when the action gets heavier and the background music comes through loud and clear. Subtitles are here in English and Spanish and there are English closed captions on here too.Extras:
In terms of extras, yeah, we get a few. First up is a brief behind the scenes featurette that gives us a look at the making of the movie from the director's perspective and features some interesting segments involving the cast and crew and the difficulties that they faced during production. If you were into the film, you'll enjoy this as it does give you a slightly stronger appreciation for the work that went into the documentary.
A handful of deleted scenes are up next. None of these are going to blow your mind and a lot of these were probably cut for pacing reasons and to keep the running time at it's hour and thirty seven minute length but they're worth a look as there are a few nice segments in here especially if you appreciate the scenery where all of this takes place. There's also a segment called Amazing Moments Captured By The Crew which is exactly like it sounds, some crazy things that happened during the race that didn't necessarily work for the feature but that that deemed worthy enough to include here as supplemental viewing.
Rounding out the extra features are a tribute to Bruce Brown and the film's original theatrical trailer (which is very nicely edited, by the way).Final Thoughts:
As a documentary, this one doesn't delve too deep into its subject matter to really offer anything other than a look at the actual event itself. It would have been a more interesting film had it delved into the heads of the competitors a little more to be sure, but at least the footage is excellent and those who enjoy a good, intense race should find this one enjoyable even if it could have and should have been more. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.