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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Prefontaine (Blu-ray)
Prefontaine (Blu-ray)
Other // PG-13 // July 3, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted July 27, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Remember in the late 1990s when we had a battle over which production would release a biopic of celebrated runner Steve Prefontaine first? On one hand, you had Without Limits, which was written and directed by noted writer and track fan Robert Towne, starred Billy Crudup, produced by Tom Cruise's production studio, included participation by those close to "Pre" and featured an Oscar nominated performance by Donald Sutherland? That's the film I've seen a bunch and know well.

The other one is Prefontaine, written and directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams), and features Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers' Club) in the role of Pre. Both films look at Pre's beginnings in a sleepy Oregon ocean town of Coos Bay, his rise through high school and then college with frequent and generally friendly clashes with coach Bill Bowerman (R. Lee Ermey, Seven), though Prefontaine provides more of a platform for one of Bowerman's assistants, Bill Dellinger (Ed O'Neill, Disorganized Crime). Pre's accomplishments in Oregon, his fight with the AAU and his appearance at the 1972 Munich Olympics are covered, along with his death from a car accident three years later.

Having seen both films now, I think the best way to sum them up is that Without Limits is perhaps a bit more romantic, in the running, in the near parental dynamic between Bowerman and Pre, and romantic with its dialogue. It's not a bad thing, and Sutherland's performance for me is one of the more mysterious and charming that I will put aside the time to watch when it comes on. Prefontaine is a little more straightforward and almost done documentary style when it comes to Pre's experiences in college and the AAU struggles. Some of the running is shown but more footage of Pre's races are shown, and the film has a lot of tight and/or handheld shots that help convey the feel further, along with some interviews of subjects years after Pre's death, some of which are okay, others a little less so because 20-year olds wearing makeup to age them several decades is a bit of a mixed bag of results.

Leto's performance in the titular role is good and harkens to Crudup's work. To be clear it's not as much of a sendup, but both men seem to have gotten Pre's essence down and it just looks similar is all. Ermey's performance as Bowerman is a pleasant surprise in its tenderness and strength, and O'Neill's is also a nice revelation to boot. The ensemble does very good work, and like other projects that focus on one subject, there's only so much unique ground you can cover, less so in this case.

So ultimately the reason why you're here is, if I'm someone who's not familiar with Steve Prefontaine's life, and want to get started on it with a 105 to 115-minute film of my choosing, which one should I go for? Well, it's not much of an answer but both are good in their respective ways; Without Limits provides emotional nuance and sentimentality, Prefontaine gives you Pre, for lack of a better word. One really isn't noticeably better or worse than another, they are different for their own ways and handle them well, to the credit of both filmmakers.

The Blu-ray:
The Video:

I haven't seen anything suggesting that a new transfer being done for Prefontaine and if that's the case and the Mill Creek transfer is being used then it's disappointing. Film grain segues into image noise for large stretches, particularly in interior shots. Color shots are washed out and lack any vivid notes, the film juggles shot footage and newsreel stuff well to its credit.

The Sound:

DTS-HD 5.1 lossless surround for the film and it's a little hollow. The film contains a lot of music (songs from The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jimi Hendrix among those on the soundtrack) but a lot of it comes from the front of the soundstage and doesn't incorporate the rear channels much and the subwoofer is devoid of any notable activity. Dialogue is fine though does fluctuate at times during the Munich sequence and user compensation is needed more than you would expect. Pretty disappointing to listen to.

The Extras:

James provides a commentary for the film that appears to have been recorded for this release? Regardless, it turns out to be a decent one. He does go over some of the obligatory thoughts on the locations and on the crew, and some desires for the film, using what they ‘tried to do' more than once. He does get into the Without Limits discussion, citing the production being sued and being forced to not get their desired location implying some of the real-life people in the film (including Bowerman) were discouraged not to work with the Prefontaine crew. He does admit some flaws in the film and recalls his experiences watching some of the events in Munich, and on the film's release and marketing efforts. It's a more candid track than I was expecting and definitely worth checking out.

Final Thoughts:

Prefontaine does an admirable job of reliving the life of one of American track and field's most influential figures, and uses a solid performance by Jared Leto, R. Lee Ermey and Ed O'Neill to do so. It would have been nice to get a better transfer and soundtrack for the film, but it's made up for by an eventful commentary by James that, if nothing else, should give more praise to the film given how much it was hamstrung. Worth checking out for Leto's work and more importantly that moustache.

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