One of the few positive side-effects of the popular era of reality TV that we live in today is that the desire for the real has also crossed over to film. This has provided an excellent opportunity for documentary filmmakers to get their product seen by a large audience that just a few short years ago would never have taken the time to watch a documentary film. In fact, documentaries have become so mainstream that Murderball is produced in association with MTV Films. While a wheelchair rugby documentary sounds…like something that is ideally suited for the typical middle-aged PBS viewer, this film is rife with themes that will strike a chord with viewers from many different backgrounds.
This is not a film about sports. This is certainly not a film about feeling sorry for those less fortunate. This is a film about drive, about living life to the fullest, and about speaking your mind no mater what the consequences. It is not pretty, it’s not sexy… in fact, some parts of it will probably make viewers downright uncomfortable. That’s the point of this film. To make viewers look past their limits and preconceived boundaries, and to see the world and their place in it as something more than it is.
I never expect much from documentaries when it comes to the quality of the audio. By definition, the filmmakers are forced to capture their film on location as it happens. There are no retakes, no second chances. As a result, the audio and video quality often suffers. I am glad to say that this documentary fairs better than most. The first thing that I noticed upon inserting this disc is the excellent use of surrounds, especially for a documentary. Elements of the musical score show up quite strongly in the back of the house. If anything, I might actually say that the surrounds are a little too loud. If this were a normal Hollywood film I might complain, but for this particular product, the overblown surrounds work.
Having said that, this disc does still have some of those normal problems that come up with documentaries, as far as muffled and distorted dialog. Luckily for the viewer, the filmmakers have added subtitles for those scenes with dialog that is hard to hear.
Sadly, the video quality is not as good as that of the audio. The good news is that the film is presented in a widescreen format. The big problem here, however, is grain. Nighttime scenes are especially bad, especially the scene where Igoe returns to the scene of the accident that put Zuppan in the chair. Some other scenes, however, look sharp and clear. The fact is, the video quality varies wildly throughout the film, as so many different cameras were used in so many different environments. This is a side effect of most documentaries shot on location, so while the picture quality here could be a lot better, this certainly meets my expectations.
The special features on this disc kick off with two commentaries; one by the filmmakers, and one by the players themselves. Documentaries such as this one are ideally suited for commentaries, as the feature itself is already something of a commentary. Both of these tracks are fantastic, and well worth taking the time to watch.
Next is the complete broadcast of the stars’ appearance on The Larry King Show. Aside from some odd transitions where the commercials originally appeared, this is a great program, and it is really nice to have it included on this disc in its full hour-long format, call-ins included. Similarly, Mark Zupan’s appearance on MTV’s Jackass is also here in its entirety.
Next up is an interview with the film’s “villain” of sorts, Joe Soares. This interview was shot after the film hit theaters, and represents an update from his appearance in the original film. In this piece, Joe is able to address some of the questions that he is frequently asked after screenings of the film. Deleted scenes are also included, as well as a making-of featurette that is actually more of an extended collection of post-filming interviews.
The extras wrap up with a heartfelt segment that shows Keith getting his first chair at the film’s premiere, and a THINK MTV outreach page, which represents MTV’s version of a PSA. This is an absolutely packed disc, and I really couldn’t be happier with the quality extras included here.
Honestly, I could write about this film all day, but viewers just have to see it for themselves to truly understand how important it is. Luckily, it is available on this fantastic disc, with the best audio and video quality possible, and a slew of excellent extras. This is a powerful film, and it deserves every bit of acclaim it gets.
Special Features List
- Murderball Special featuring Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O from MTV’s Jackass and Mark Zupan
- CNN Larry King Live Exclusive Interview
- Featurette: “Murderball: Behind the Game”
- Joe Soares Interview Update
- Deleted Scenes
- Filmmaker Commentary (Featuring Dana Adam Shapiro, Henry-Alex Rubin and Jeff Mandel)
- Player Commentary (Featuring Mark Zupan, Scott Hoggsett and Andy Cohn)
- NYC Premiere – Keith Gets His Chair
- THINK MTV Outreach Page