The documentary “Murderball” slammed into arthouse theaters this past summer. Filmmakers Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro wisely chose a high-energy aesthetic to portray quadriplegic rugby (a.k.a. “Murderball”) through the story of Mark Zupan and his American teammates battling for Paralympic gold. Played with fortified wheelchairs that can overturn on impact (and without helmets), “Murderball” intrigues in that it appears more aggressive than traditional contact sports. Opposing the American team is Joe Soares, former US quad rugby star and coach of Canada. In an all too true account of his devotion and need for the game, Soares throws himself into a frenzy to inspire his team and demean the US, and the players bring similar intensity onto the converted basketball court. The stereotype-smashing “Murderball” thus documents survival, as this sport brings satisfaction and justification to a challenged group.
Since “Murderball” leaves the viewer intrigued and energized, this DVD is filled with extras to ride out the feeling. The featurette “Behind the Game” further illustrates the details of quad rugby and the unique “rush” it inspires in its players. Through interviews of the film’s stars, who are passionate and down-to-earth, this featurette economically presents information and feels more like further exploration of the topic instead of a recap.
The “Joe Soares Update Interview” presents much desired info on this odious but sympathetic character. In a slim self-portrait, Soares discusses his role as a coach (a questionable issue that bubbles just below the surface in the film) and reacts to his “villainous” portrayal in “Murderball.” He accounts for some of his actions, while regretting others (and mentions his dispute with the filmmakers over certain footage). Since the viewer may struggle to sympathize with Soares, the “traitorous,” USA-bashing, opposing coach of “Murderball,” this piece gives him more exposure without sacrificing his trademark personality. The footage of the NYC premiere, also included on the DVD, provides a snapshot of Soares “coexisting” with Zupan (his arch enemy) and the other American players during the film’s promotion: these few minutes highlight his current relationship with these men, which is characterized by routine mockery and familial hatred.
The players’ commentary track, featuring Mark Zupan, Scott Hoggsett, and Andy Cohn, captures the stars up close through their often humorous banter. While occasionally insightful, as when Zupan analyzes the film’s opening sequence, this track works best for “Murderball” fans who can’t get enough of these candid (and occasionally crude) athletes and would love to hang out with them for an hour and a half.
The second commentary track, with directors Rubin and Shapiro and producer Jeff Mandel, focuses on their challenges in tackling a tough subject. As they discuss the numerous issues they faced, you realize how much deliberation went into this extensive project. If any DVD should reclaim viewers of the theatrical release, it’s this one – the extras will practically demand repeat viewing of the feature.