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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Smashing Machine: The Life and Times of Extreme Fighter Mark Kerr
The Smashing Machine: The Life and Times of Extreme Fighter Mark Kerr
New Video // R // October 28, 2003
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted November 4, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Mark Kerr is six-feet, three-inches tall.

Mark Kerr is two hundred and fifty-five pounds of solid muscle.

Mark Kerr is a skilled fighter in the Freestyle Wrestling/Ground and Pound disciplines, a veteran of the WVC, UFC and Pride fighting leagues.

But Mark Kerr doesn't fight anymore, and a simple viewing of John Hyams's absolutely riveting documentary The Smashing Machine provides a rather probing look at the real people behind the raging behemoths in the ring, including the searing highs and crushing lows that eventually made Kerr turn away from the industry.

Kerr's story is almost perfect fodder for a documentary, an operatic rise-and-fall of a mighty warrior, but what keeps The Smashing Machine from falling into flagrant cliché territory is that behind his hard, heavily-muscled exterior, Mark Kerr is just as human as any man. His soft-spoken demeanor and gentle visage contrast highly against his fierce, raging physicality and intense brutality while engaged in combat. He doesn't hate the guy he fights against, but he will not hesitate one iota when it comes to pounding him into oblivion. Kerr is presented as a man who loves his family, needs the woman he loves, displays the ultimate focus and concentration in combat, and searches for any available respite to isolate himself from pain.

Hyams's documentary begins with Kerr at the pinnacle of his career: during his undefeated streak. Due to restrictive regulations set against the UFC league, which led to him (and other fighters) leaving for greener pastures, Kerr's career path led him to the Japanese Pride fighting league, in which his particular talents as a Mixed Martial Artist were put to good use. We witness plentiful clips of Kerr battling against various assailants, and from many of them it is clear that Kerr's freestyle wrestling background is put to good use; it's absolutely thrilling to watch him grapple his opponents to the ground and incapacitate them in a variety of holds.

And from there, it's not for the squeamish. This is vicious, brutal material. These men are pummeling the living hell out of each other and, for the most part, are barely held back by regulations. We are talking knees to the head, smashes to the face, eye gouges, flesh tearing... whatever it takes. As a viewer, I was positively revolted by the amount of violence in this documentary. Yet to understand this man, to understand why he does what he does, you have to truly know what he does. It's not easy to watch, but the violence -- within the context of this documentary -- is never gratuitous or titillating.

With every lifestyle, decisions have consequences, and the extreme physical punishment Kerr puts himself (and others) through exerts a searing revenge on his physiology. Kerr eventually develops a physical addiction to painkillers, and in a rather gruesome scene, Hyams captures Kerr injecting opiates into an abscessed-looking arm (this one scene is more shocking than any blood-soaked pummeling in the film.) Kerr eventually develops an addiction, and an overdose puts him in the hospital fighting for his life. This scene is the turning point in the film, after which Kerr begins to mount a comeback in the Pride Grand Prix 2000 Tournament.

The documentary falters a little bit towards the end, as the focus shifts slightly from Kerr to his close friend Mark Coleman, another Mixed Martial Artist who also fights competitively, but if the documentary does not end as fascinatingly as it began, it remains a riveting 90 minutes of film. Coleman's tale is as interesting as Kerr's, but with the amount of time and interest that the viewer has invested in following Kerr's travails, it's a bit jarring to suddenly realize that The Smashing Machine isn't entirely Kerr's tale. Nonetheless, John Hyams documentary is one of the most surprising, enjoyable, and ultimately human stories I've encountered.

The DVD

Video:

The Smashing Machine is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen viewing pleasure. The film was shot on video, and is generally well presented. Contrasts, color levels, and image sharpness are all extremely pleasing. There is some noticeable shimmering and ringing that is inherent with many presentations from a videotaped source. Mosquito noise is occasionally noticeable, and edge-enhancement rears its head a few rare occasions. Aside from these faults, the video transfer looks pleasing and enjoyable.

Audio:

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, and does a fine job presenting the material. Dialog levels are smart and bright, with a fine level of clarity without limiting hiss, distortion, or clipping. The front stage opens up considerably, especially during many of the fight scenes, giving the audio a more spacious and enjoyable presentation than the "monaural 2.0" one seems to experience with many films of its ilk.

Extras:

The Smashing Machine DVD is loaded with some extensive supplemental material of fine quality. A thirty-minute Bonus Film entitled Fight Day is included on this DVD, which takes a look at the fighting style and familial history of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion Renzo Gracie. While the film is not quite as engrossing as The Smashing Machine, Fight Day remains entertaining nonetheless.

There are twenty-minutes minutes worth of Deleted Scenes, from both The Smashing Machine and Fight Day, included as well. Many of these are fascinating in their own right, although from a pacing point-of-view I can see why they were cut from the films.

Director John Hyams and producer Jon Greenhalgh provide a feature-length Commentary, and here you will find a non-nonsense, non-fluffy examination of the film from its creators. The two men are lively and informative throughout, providing extensive background information, screen-specific data, and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. This is a fine commentary track that eschews the typical "oh, here's what's happening onscreen" and "boy, wasn't he was a pleasure to work with" bits that plague many commentaries. This track is well worth a listen.

Crew Biographies are text-based biographical information on producer Jon Greenhalgh, director John Hyams, cinematographer Stephen Schuleter, and co-producer Neil Fazzary. There is also a two-minute Original Trailer, the text-based About Docurama detailing information about the distributor, a Catalog/Trailers section for other Docurama product, and the DVD Credits.

Final Thoughts

I was surprised with how much I enjoyed The Smashing Machine. The documentary was expertly shot and edited, the footage raw and brutal (even before you factor in the actual fight scenes), and the subject matter realistically and compellingly presented. I am by no mean a major fan of UFC, Pride, or any MMA-styled sports, but I remained riveted and moved by the images in this film. The quality of the DVD is evident: the film is well presented, and the supplemental material is of the highest quality, earning The Smashing Machine a solid recommendation. Do not be scared off by the brutality of the subject matter; while some of the images are shocking, the story presented is altogether a very human one.

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