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Michael Jordan to the Max (Blu-ray Review)

7 Mar, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Sports Documentary
$19.99 Blu-ray
Not rated.

The intention of Imax presentations, at least when they’re chronicling a real-life event, is to put us in the arena. This can be on stage (as with the format’s Rolling Stones concert films) — or, in this case, either on the basketball court or in the kind of seats Jack Nicholson can afford. To this end, the Jordan Imax movie was a success — even though its built-in reason for being was as hagiography within the confines of an abbreviated 46-minute running time.

So, yes, there is passing reference made here to the murder of Jordan’s father by rest stop punks in North Carolina — and of the superstar’s attempts to succeed in minor league baseball (honorable labors, despite what Sports Illustrated thought, that didn’t pan out). But no one pays Imax prices to see that kind of material, so the selling point (even on home screens, modest or large) is supremely pristine game footage. Fortunately, this portrait captures a great moment in time: the Chicago Bulls’ final NBA Championship before the team started to break up — and, of course, before Jordan came back from his second retirement (the baseball venture marked the first) to play for the Washington Wizards.

It would, of course, be nice to have an Imax screen in one’s basement — but watching Max at home still makes for a situation semi-analogous to those far more primitive days maybe 35 years ago when even 16mm prints of VistaVision titles looked pretty decent when shown on local TV stations (so amazing was the process). On my own 57-inch screen, there were mid-court shots into the stands (that is, the photographic kind) where I could make out at least some detail on the faces of fans two or three rows up. So it’s not difficult to imagine how the game excerpts look themselves — as when Jordan sinks that famous sixth game clincher against the Utah Jazz to win the 1998 NBA title 87-86 with five seconds and change left on the clock. Imagine what it would have been like to mount an Imax crew and then having Jordan’s shot roll off the rim. (Oh, well; there’d still have been a seventh game.)

A 20-minute bonus featurette explains the arduous filmmaking process and notes the intimidating (to me) shutter speeds of the Imax cameras. From what one can discern here, filming the on-court (but non-game) sequences with Jordan must have involved as much photographic blue smoke and mirrors as it took for him to interact with the Warner animation stable in 1996’s Space Jam (a movie, by the way, that probably would have been fun to experience on an Imax screen).

In the call-me-crazy department, I kept trying to figure out who former Bulls coach Phil Jackson was reminding me of during one or two of his interviews, at least when the camera was at some distance. Then it hit me (I had just re-seen Thelma & Louise) that I seemed to be catching a small serving of “Brad Pitt” through Jackson’s eyes. Man. Either I don’t know what I’m talking about or Jackson’s hot celebrity g.f. Jeanie Buss knew something before anyone else.

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