As hard as it may be to believe, I–whose second claim to pseudo-fame on the ‘Net has been my Michael Jordan fan sites, plus my work as chat host at his official website–had never once attended a single Chicago Bulls game during his illustrious run with the team. So on the basis of that alone, I was grateful to be able to experience “Michael Jordan to the Max” on the giant IMAX screen last summer. In fleshing out many memorable highlights from Jordan’s final NBA championship run in 1998 on a screen eight stories high and bolstering every last sonic detail in crystalline digital surround sound, directors James M. Stern and Don Kempf did Jordan fans the world over a huge favor, giving those not fortunate to ever see one of Jordan’s basketball games live as good an approximation of the up-close and courtside experience as could ever be hoped for.
But “Michael Jordan to the Max” is no mere highlight reel; interspersing images from those memorable final playoff series with interview footage with teammates and noteworthy admirers (thankfully, no Tiger Woods) as well as candid talks with Jordan himself, the film is structured less as a basic retrospective than as an inspirational piece. On those terms, it’s hard to argue with its effectiveness, especially for children. The notable negative touchstones of Jordan’s life and career are addressed: being cut from his high school team, the tragic loss of his father, the ill-fated detour in minor league baseball. Through it all, Jordan persevered and managed to attain even greater heights of glory, and fans young and old will find it impossible to be unmoved.
Ironically, though, the most devout of Jordan fans will probably be the least affected, for this is all information with which we are more than familiar. Ditto to an even greater degree the bulk of the basketball footage; considering how closely Jordan’s final season, particularly that final championship run, was followed by the media, even more casual fans may feel a sense of déjà vu. Also, the slickness of the editing and packaging, complete with regal narration by Laurence Fishburne, give the film the feeling of a video by NBA Entertainment (who, in fact, co-produced)blown up to really large proportions–not necessarily a bad thing, but it adds to the air of familiarity.
Even so, there’s no denying the power of seeing the intense hoops action on such an imposing screen though for me–and, I imagine, many other ardent fans–the most memorable portions of “Michael Jordan to the Max” are the quieter ones that offer an all-too-small taste of MJ the man. It’s a testament to Jordan’s charisma that even in the few interview segments and the brief glimpses of him off the hardwood his personality shines through. That said, it would have been nice to see more footage like the glimpses of him having fun at his youth basketball camp and goofing off during practices–stuff I suspect fans rarely get to see (though I must say I had the distinct pleasure and privilege of attending a Bulls practice back in 1997 and experienced first-hand Jordan’s perspective of a typical mob scene waiting outside–a hectic image repeated a few times over in one passage of the film).
“Michael Jordan to the Max” has been dismissed as a bit of softball puffery, an accusation not entirely unfair but one, I feel, is ultimately forgivable. After all, it does brings the astounding accomplishments of the greatest athlete of our time to life with astonishing visual clarity and detail (however, even on IMAX, the distinctive color of Jordan’s eyes still cannot be exactly captured); and, furthermore, it’s a film for the fans by fans–and few within Jordan’s legion of admirers will come away disappointed.
The DVD release of “Michael Jordan to the Max” begs an obvious question: what’s the point of issuing an edition of a film made for a super-large screen for the comparatively microscopic dimensions of the home screen? The question is not entirely without validity, not to mention one I’d likely ask myself. However, in this case, I feel the question is moot–before the release of the “Max” disc, there was no DVD of actual Jordan game highlights on the market. So now, at long last, some of the most memorable moments in sport are available for fans to keep in the superb audio and video quality of the DVD format.
That fact alone would be enough to recommend the disc, but the supplements that make it an even more worthwhile buy. Directors James M. Stern and Don Kempf, along with producer Steve Kempf, provide an informative and lively commentary. Wags may complain that they lay on the Jordan reverence even thicker on the track, but that also adds to the charm, not to mention reinforces the “film made for fans by fans” idea; if only more filmmakers displayed the same unabashed passion for their film’s subject. However, the film’s brief running time (46 minutes, per IMAX standard) means they can’t get into too much detail about too many things though they are refreshingly honest about the various “cheats” they used to heighten the drama, such as editing together game highlights in non-chronological order.
Much of the buzz talk surrounding “Michael Jordan to the Max” focused on the opening and closing shot of one of Jordan’s signature slam dunks, which was captured using the “bullet-time” technique prominently featured in The Matrix. The DVD includes a fast-paced two-minute reel that shows how the various individual components were assembled to create that shot, and the actual filming of Jordan dunking against a green screen is prominently featured in a longer 21-minute featurette on the general making of the film–though the segment is clearly slanted toward the making of that effects shot.
The usual collection of television spots, trailers, and crew biographies are also included, as well as detailed stats on Jordan’s regular season and postseason careers–a nice finishing touch to a classy digital tribute to a living legend.
Specifications: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; English and French 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Surround; English subtitles; English closed captioning.