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Muhammad Ali - Through The Eyes of The World

Universal // Unrated // January 29, 2002
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted January 27, 2002 | E-mail the Author

I guess I should preface this by saying I keep up with three sports- boxing, MMA, and tennis. You cannot be a boxing fan and not recognize how historically important Muhammad Ali was as a figure and fighter. If you are interested in Ali documentaries, specials, and bios about him are everywhere, its practically an industry in and of itself, so there is a lot to choose from. Muhammad Ali - Through the Eyes of the World is a feature length doc made for British television. It is a nice effort, though it lacks the power of When We Were Kings, probably the best doc I've seen on any sports event.

Muhammad Ali - Through the Eyes of the World does a nice job of covering his life from all angles, from a sports side, Ali as a man, and most importantly as a cultural figure. While it does have some questionable star names like Billy Crystal, Billy Connoly, BB King, and Richard Harris, it has a wealth of more important observations from people close to Ali, former wives, his daughter, other fighters like Lennox Lewis and Jose Torres, cornerman and trainer Angelo Dundee, fight experts like Ferdie Pacheko, and various sport authors. Technically, they gathered a lot of footage unseen for many years, most notably, tv appearances and early fight interviews, a teenage Ali winning the Golden Gloves, Super 8 home movies, and in a world of many Ali docs, there were quite a few snippets I had never seen. We witness it all- From his braggart youth, proudly boasting in a time when blacks were treated as inferiors. His rise to dominance in boxing, a combination of style, skill, intimidation, and promotion previously unseen. His embracing the Nation of Islam, souring his confident facade and his public image by embracing the separatist group. His refusal to go to Vietnam and stripping of his title, having to make a living without doing what he was best at. His rise to stardom again and how the public embraced him, making him even eclipse his previous popularity, and his subsequent refusal to quit, the hard years, past his prime when he punished himself by staying in the ring too long. And, finally, to his days now, struggling with a disease that has robbed him of his physical grace and how he has become one of the most enigmatic figures of the 20th Century.

One of the problems with hindsight is, very often, we want to make up for our wrongs. Such is the case with Ali, who was ostracized in the prime of his career, not allowed to box, stripped of his accomplishments, all, in part, because he disagreed with being drafted into a war that , well, most people nowadays admit was a mistake. That, our shame over our bigotry, and the leaps in behavior/humanity that Americans have undergone in the past 30-40 years, make us place the man on a pedestal. And this doc, like most about Ali, wants to praise him but it also wants to point out his faults, his human flaws. So, on one hand it addresses the fact that he was a big womanizer, cheating on his wives by keeping entire hotel floors filled with hookers, yet, at the end, we get an orchestral choir singing over stills and archival footage while one interviewee states that Ali will go down in history being as important a figure as Martin Luther King (stretching, but I'll bite) as well as Mohammad and Jesus (which is pretty ridiculous).

Muhammad Ali - Through the Eyes of the World strikes that ill balance between wanting to show Ali as just a mere mortal who was both a manipulative, weak soul and also as some kind of messianic figure. It wants to have its cake and eat it too. We want to be realistic and overly grand at the same time- bring out the dirt on Ali, but cover him in gold. Despite this contrary veiw, it is still one of the better Ali documentaries.

The DVD: Universal Studios.

Picture- Letterboxed. The film is evenly divided between archival footage and interview footage. The Archival footage is, well, archival footage, so the quality varies, some of it is rougher than others, some is pristine, overall, though, there are many clips, tv shows and such that I had not seen before. The new interview footage on the other hand, which appears to be digital or very high def video, suffers from ghosting. Whether or not this was a case of the cinematography being at fault, which is also very bright, its hard to say, but mainly the clips of Ali's daughter and former wife, really have some brightness bleed through and ghosting of the image. Now, its not a deal breaker, or too tremendously distracting, but it is a flaw. Depending on how fickle one is over image, some may grumble over it, some may not care, and some may curse that aspect of the transfer. Its really a judgment call.

Sound- Good, clean, and clear Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Close Captioned. French, Spanish, and English Subs.

Extras- A whopping 38 Chapters--- Still Gallery, composed of Leroy Nieman paintings (3 ½ mins)--- Fight Chronology--- Music Video "Faithless" (4 mins)--- Ali Center Promo (3 mins)--- Ali Featuretee (2 mins)--- Unseen Interviews. Basically its just extra anecdotes and thoughts from Billy Crystal, Rod Stieger, James Earl Jones, Hana Ali, and Billy Connolly, all average around 1 min each.--- Through the Eyes of the World. This feature takes you to a map of the world, in which 10 different countries are highlighted. Clicking on a country takes you anecdotes by natives of that country providing observations on how Ali affected them. Each one lasts, on average, about 1 min.

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