HTF REVIEW: "Ali" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ronald Epstein, Apr 10, 2002.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein


    "I Am The Greatest"
    I have so much to talk about in this review
    ranging from my personal feelings for the man
    known as Muhammed Ali, to the this amazing movie
    that gives justice to his name, to the lackluster
    devotion that Columbia gave to this DVD. Stay
    tuned and read it all, because this is one of the
    most personal reviews I will ever write.
    Muhammed Ali is one of my heroes. If you ever
    have the opportunity to step into my office you
    will see framed autographed pictures of him lining
    my walls. A red Everlast boxing glove with his
    autograph sits atop my desk. I adore the man
    because he truly was "the people's champ". He
    made his life what HE wanted it to be -- not what
    people around him expected him to be. He had
    charisma like no other boxer before or after him.
    And though he talked louder and bolder than everyone
    around him, he backed up his words with action. He
    is truly one of the greatest Americans that ever lived.
    When I had first heard that Columbia Pictures
    was signing Will Smith to portray the
    greatest sports hero ever, I was greatly concerned.
    I never liked Will Smith. I always thought of
    him as an untalented and cocky comic that was
    suited for sitcoms and silly alien movies. I was
    also concerned about Jon Voight being signed
    to play Howard Cosell. It just didn't make sense.
    For that reason, despite all the critic hoopla
    and Academy Award nominations, I stayed clear of
    this film during its theatrical release.
    I can only sum up what I have just seen these
    past 157 minutes by saying that Ali is a
    landmark film so wonderfully acted, so beautifully
    made, that it rises as a rousing tribute to one the
    most notable figures of our lifetime. It's a
    three-hour epic blockbuster that will knock your
    socks off -- and even those with a shorter attention
    From the very opening moments of the film, as
    the voice of Sam Cooke rises above a roaring
    crowd, you know this film is going to be special.
    The year is 1964, and a young Cassius Clay (Will
    Smith) is dressed in hooded sweats as he jogs
    past cops who wonder what he's running from.
    Cooke's music elevates as Cassius trains hard,
    heeding the words of Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles)
    who preaches to blacks that times will never get
    better unless they make them better. It is a
    stylish montage title sequence that sets
    Ali into fast gear.
    The film wastes no time to move Cassius Clay's
    life along. Within the first 10 minutes he barges
    in on Heavyweight champ Sonny Liston calling him
    a chump and spewing out his infamous "float like
    a butterfly, sting like a bee". It's this quick
    wit and self confidence that already makes Ali a
    champ even before he steps in the ring.
    It is at this moment that we meet Howard Cosell,
    perfectly personified by Jon Voight. You would
    never believe that Voight resides beneath all that
    believable prosthetic. Voight gives realistic
    dignity to the man without resorting to impersonation.
    Cosell takes a personal interest in the rising
    boxer, as plenty of screen time gets devoted to
    their playfully savage verbal sparring. One thing
    I never knew before watching this movie was how
    much friendship and love Cosell and Ali had for
    each other and I am glad this film touched upon
    that relationship.
    Without much time to take a breather, we find
    ourselves immersed in the 1964 heavyweight match
    with Sonny Liston. Director Michael Mann's
    signature directorial style shines through as he
    takes his time staging the many fight sequences,
    using steadycam shots and slow-motion to artistically
    make the audience feel the pain inside the ring.
    The film moves at a nice pace, covering Cassius's
    friendship with Malcolm X, his devotion to the
    nation of Islam, and the changing of his name to
    Muhammad Ali. Ali is very careful not to
    over idolize its subject matter. All of Ali's
    downfalls are portrayed in this film, from his
    dodging the draft board to his womanizing and
    failed marriages.
    Though the story does move quickly and thus
    glosses over some of the intricate detail of
    Ali's life, it does manage to capture the
    spirit of the man from his rooted days in the
    South to his legendary 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle"
    fight against George Foreman, where Ali held
    himself in the ropes to wear out a man that
    people thought impossible to beat.
    How is the transfer?
    Columbia has given us another exceptional
    16X9 enhanced widescreen (2.35:1) transfer
    that comes close to perfection. The movie
    retains a very natural and subdued color
    palette. There is really no emphasis put on
    color until we enter the boxing arena, where
    we are treated to the brilliant reds of boxing
    gloves and shorts. The transfer is richly
    detailed without a hint of video noise.
    The 5.1 Dolby Surround Mix is sparingly taken
    advantage of, but when used, it sounds quite
    incredible. You'll immediately hear the rears
    come alive in the opening moments of the film
    with the cheers of a crowd behind you and the
    sounds of Sam Cooke up front. Another impressive
    scene comes upon Ali's arrival in Zaire, as the
    sound of people chanting "Ali Bumaye" envelopes
    the entire sound field. Of course, the action
    sequences inside the ring become the most sonicaly
    pleasing, and I promise you that you will feel
    every single punch that is thrown. I was very
    pleased by the level of LFE activity as the music
    score was accented with an underlined rumble
    from my SV Subwoofer.
    Special Features
    There are none.
    The only thing we get on this disc is the
    Original Theatrical Trailer, a trailer
    for Men In Black, and a fairly recent
    trailer for Spiderman.
    Which leads me to this Special Added Feature
    of my reviews....
    The injustice done to this DVD
    Ali was the most talked about film
    of 2001. It garnered an abundant amount of
    critical acclaim and award nominations.
    Columbia knew what they had on their hands
    for all of last year, and put absolutely no
    preparation into putting out a quality Special
    Edition that gives justice to the film.
    This is essentially a bare-boned release.
    This leads me to asking, okay, if you are
    going to put out a bare-boned released now
    with unknown unannounced plans for a Special
    Edition in the future, why didn't you make
    this a Superbit title?
    There is no doubt that Ali would have
    been greatly enhanced with a DTS soundtrack
    that could have been easily placed on this DVD
    given the fact that absolutely no extra bandwidth
    is being taken up by added material.
    This is just one of those very sad instances
    where the impatient public is going to buy a
    DVD that is completely bare-boned knowing that
    a more elaborate Special Edition could be more
    than a year away.
    Why couldn't Columbia put together even a
    halfway decent DVD release from the getgo?
    Final Thoughts
    Though some critics felt that Ali too
    quickly glosses over the life of a legend only
    making a footnote of some of his flaws, I was
    consumed by the spirit of the man that this film
    brought to my heart. In the end, what sticks with me
    the most, is Ali running symbolically through the
    streets of Zaire with a bunch of poor kids
    in tow screaming, “Ali Bumaye!”
    This is the most incredible film I have seen
    this year. Though I hate to recommend a shoddy
    DVD release, the film alone is the reason for
    its purchase. This is one of those rare moments
    when you shouldn't treat watching a DVD like it's
    a night home with a movie, but rather as an event.
    Let me publicly apologize to Will Smith. You
    have forever earned my respect.
    Release Date: April 30, 2002
  2. Jason Hughes

    Jason Hughes Supporting Actor

    Oct 17, 1998
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    Real Name:
    Jason Hughes
    I'm not surprised at the lack of extras, and when I saw the movie in the theater, I knew there would not be any. Two Words: Michael Mann. For whatever reason this guy just doesn't like them. I'm half surprised there was even a trailer.

    Great movie though and I will definetly buy it. Will Smith, not Denzel should have won the Oscar.
  3. DaveBB

    DaveBB Supporting Actor

    May 24, 1999
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    About the lack of extras, isn't that the way with all of Michael Mann's films on DVD? Hasn't it been stated that Mann is againts them since he feels they remove some of the mistery and story telling experience?
  4. Derrick_Ellis

    Derrick_Ellis Stunt Coordinator

    Jun 30, 1997
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    I really want this film, but without any extras this time around (with a special edition coming I'm sure), I think I may just rent and purchase when there is an edition that does the film justice. I would've loved to have heard commentary from Will Smith and Jon Voight, or see a behind the scenes look at Ali giving his guidance to Will Smith. Even comments by the women who played the wife of Ali. Does anyone else feel the same way?
  5. Iain Jackson

    Iain Jackson Second Unit

    Nov 22, 2001
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    Manhunter was released as a two disc set, so I don't see why they couldn't have had at least some extras, even if Mann had no direct involvement with them.
  6. Tim RH

    Tim RH Second Unit

    Nov 20, 2001
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    Didn't Michael Mann do an audio commentary for "Thief"?
  7. Mike Graham

    Mike Graham Supporting Actor

    Aug 31, 2001
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    Glad to hear the audio/video standards are met for the disc, but I don't think I'd be able to sit through this one again.
    I concur with Roger Ebert's statement that Mann didn't edit enough out of the film to make it tighter. It tries to portray nearly every major event concerning the African American community in the 1960s, even though each event could make a 3+ hour movie in itself. There are numerous jumps in narrative, in that its hard to say which woman Ali is with at any particular moment , and as Ali started to flirt with Homcide's Michelle Michel in Africa you just don't care anymore. Plus, any tension from the threat of sending Ali to jail for resisting the draft is completely lost as it seems to be forgotten. I'm not familiar with what happened during this turbulent time in Ali's life, such as how he was able to stay out of jail, but the movie assumes I do. While its nice for a movie to respect intelligence, some more background could have been helpful. Add this to the fact that Jon Voight's make-up looked atrocious, and you have a movie that'll have a hard time meeting the audience's expectations.
    Now, on to the good stuff. Will Smith IS Muhammed Ali; he has the fighting skills, mannerisms, voice and humour to prove it. If Smith had of taken home the Best Actor trophy instead of Denzel, I think it would have been more then justified, since the performances of "Ali" and "Training Day" are the only strong attributes of those movies.
    "Ali"'s supporting cast is superb, but at the same time put to waste. This seems more like an HBO 10 hour mini-series then a 2.5+ hour film. LeVar Burton, Joe Morton, Mario Van Peebles, Smith's wife and the always reliable Giancarlo Esposito as Ali's father are so convincing that you wish they had more screen time to really show off their talents.
    The intense boxing photography is exceptional, and the muted color palette give this film the documentary style feel that seems to transport you to a different time.
    To conclude, "Ali" is definitely worth seeing, if only so that you can form your own opinion and appreciate some of 2001's finest acting.
  8. josh4040

    josh4040 Second Unit

    Jan 17, 2002
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    When I saw this in theaters I was extremely disappointed! I said to my self they will really have to WOW me with the dvd for me to buy this. Fortunately for me they didn't so, no buy for me. Thanks for the review anyways Ron.
  9. Mario Bartel

    Mario Bartel Stunt Coordinator

    Oct 20, 1998
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    Thanks for the review, Ron.

    I saw Ali at its first matinee showing on Christmas Day, but when it was over I walked out of the theater a little let down. The film was overly long, and overly ambitious; it just tried to do too much and left me feeling that I'd still seen too little.

    But, for me, the experience was salvaged by Michael Mann's staging and direction of the Rumble in the Jungle, which was enthralling filmmaking at its finest. Lack of extras or not, I'll be getting this dvd, if only to relive the goosebumps I got from that scene (and if I've got a lot of time, it would make a heck of a double-bill with When We Were Kings, which I thought a superior film).
  10. FrankT

    FrankT Stunt Coordinator

    Feb 5, 2002
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    I have to agree with the others that this is not a very good movie. I do not think you can walk out of this movie and feel you really know the true Ali.

    I do think Will Smith did a fantastic job as Ali though but I do not think he should have won the Oscar. I generally feel it is easier to pull off this type of performance because you have an exact model of how you should this case Ali. Even so, I do think he did a wonderfull job. (I am not really convinced D.W. should have won either but that is another story.)

    I short, I was disappointed with this movie.
  11. Scott_G

    Scott_G Second Unit

    Jun 18, 2000
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  12. Mark Hobbs

    Mark Hobbs Stunt Coordinator

    Mar 3, 2002
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    This movie was quite a letdown for me. The most interesting portions of Ali's life were not shown. All we get were his "glory" years. And what was shown was plagued by the time-sequencing problems mentioned above and in many criticisms of the film. It is very difficult to tell when and where you are when watching this movie. The director expects too much of the viewer.

    I was bored in the opening scene with the jazz singer which I felt went on way too long and then was never brought back into the movie. Why was that significant?

    Also, the whole Ali-Malcolm X relationship was not handled well. The film tried to do too much with this and it just didn't work.

    That said, Will Smith IS Ali. He was amazing, and his performance should have been more strongly considered for the Oscar. Also, the fight scenes are VERY well done. The best boxing in a movie since Rocky, IMO.

    It was an enjoyable movie, but not one I care to see again anytime soon and I won't be buying the DVD.
  13. Sean Patrick

    Sean Patrick Supporting Actor

    Apr 22, 1999
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    I'm a big fan of Michael Mann AND Muhammad Ali, but this film completely bored me to death. They completely glossed over the way Ali trashed Joe Frazier and how it affected Frazier. I'm a fan of Ali but wish they could have hit on some of these darker moments. I felt like I was watching as espn classics reel with actors, not a narrative film. And they never quite explain why he was drawn to Islam. The movie opens, and all of the sudden you feel like you're watching a TV movie about Malcolm X. The pacing just seemed way off and being a big fan of Mann's, AND a fan of the subject matter, I couldn't have been more disappointed.

    Anyone remotely curious as to how powerful this story COULD have been, rent "When We Were Kings". Now THAT'S a movie!
  14. Bruce Hedtke

    Bruce Hedtke Cinematographer

    Jul 11, 1999
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    I loved Ali and it made my top 5 of the year for 2001. The lack of extras doesn't particularly bother me because I don't have much interest in the minutia of the process of making the film. Knowing it has a first class transfer is enough reason for me to purchase it.
  15. Lee Scoggins

    Lee Scoggins Producer

    Aug 30, 2001
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    Thank you for the review.

    First, I enjoyed Will Smith's performance. It was stunning. The run through Zaire was a high point.

    And I am a huge fan of Michael Mann and the direction is reasonably good if not one of his better efforts from a technical standpoint - loved the boxing scenes.

    My problem was honestly two-fold.

    First, the storyline was very incoherent. It seemed like as we were getting characters built out, the movie quickly jumps to something else. It was like watching an overly agressively edited MTV video.

    Second, and not meaning to be controversial, was the whole sub-story about Ali's Muslim faith. In my mind, Ali looked like an unworthy hero due to his two-faced religious character. He was portrayed as a devout Muslim but did not behave as one as seen by cheating on his wife, etc. And Elijah looked even worse and raised even more doubts in my mind about the black muslims. Witness how he changes his mind on Ali when he is down and out and no longer of service to the "faith".

    It seems to me, with all due respect, we need better heros.

    While I can respect the athlete from the 60s, I cannot and will not respect the man.

  16. John Stone

    John Stone Supporting Actor

    Aug 5, 2001
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    I haven't seen Ali, and I am really looking forward to the DVD. Thanks for a very engaging and honest review, Ron. I enjoyed reading it. [​IMG]
    It sounds like this is one of those "love it or hate it" films. For those who didn't like Ali when they saw in the theater, I wonder if it plays better on DVD? Some movies are like that. Either way, I'm going to have fun deciding for myself on the 30th. [​IMG]
  17. Mikko Rasinkangas

    Mikko Rasinkangas Stunt Coordinator

    Aug 24, 2000
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    Is "Ali" DVD RCE?
  18. John_McKittrick

    John_McKittrick Stunt Coordinator

    Nov 9, 1999
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    Unless this movie has a dirt cheap price count me out. Rental only.

  19. Matt Pelham

    Matt Pelham Screenwriter

    Mar 13, 2002
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    Yeah, this is definitely rental material. The movie wasn't that good and the DVD doesn't seem to have anything to make it worth purchasing. How anyone could give this a "HIGHLY RECOMMENDED is beyond me.
  20. Iain Jackson

    Iain Jackson Second Unit

    Nov 22, 2001
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    According to the R2 Project website, Ali will be released as a 2-disc set later this year in region 2. Just thought you'd be interested...

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