HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Ali: Commemorative Edition
HTS Overall Score:77
Boxing is one of the most followed and highly publicized sports in the world. Even today after it has waned from the public eye a bit in comparison to the popularity and status it commanded back in the 60s through the 90s. There have been some true greats in the sport. George Foreman, Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, Joe Louis. But NONE have garnered as much of a legendary status as Muhammad Ali (aka Cassius Clay). With Ali’s death, not one city over from me this year, it was bound to happen that Michael Mann’s biopic of the legendary fighter come out on home video once again. I actually had to do a double take as I SWORE “Ali” was already on Blu-ray, but after doing some quick research I was shocked to find one of Mann’s bigger hits had somehow been shuffled off to the side. Interestingly enough this Commemorative Edition is actually a whole nother cut of the film, with Mann recutting and re-editing the film some 16 years later. Ironically, as big of a fan of Muhammad Ali as I am, I never actually got around to seeing “Ali” in the theaters or home video up until this point, so I can’t give a direct comparison of the theatrical cut to this commemorative cut. All I can say is that it is a fantastic biopic that takes a hard look at one of Boxing’s greatest legends, and despite some harsher elements of his life being left out, Mann captures the heart and soul one boxing’s greatest champion.
We start out just as young Cassius Clay (Will Smith) is setup to fight rival Sonny Liston. A fight that he of course wins and turns him into an overnight celebrity in the United States. However, celebrity status also brings with it some heavy scrutiny in the public eye and Cassius Clay is just embarking on a journey of self-discovery. It’s the 1960s and the fight for civil rights is underway in the black community. A fight that Cassius (who soon converts to Islam and takes up the name Muhammad Ali) is more than willing to take up with his friend Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles). His outspoken nature and ability to motormouth trash talk has him at the forefront of the new era and everyone is watching him. However, things aren’t as simple for other activists as it is for Ali. He’s in love with the fight and no matter how much he loves his other obligations, that will to fight is the driving force in his life.
The film takes its sweet time, chronically the life of Ali as he moves from his first wife Sonji (played by real life wife of Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith) to his next, and the famous confrontation between Ali and the United States government when Ali decides to refuse the draft. A choice that knocked him out of the contender’s seat for 3.5 years while he was fighting a conviction to the supreme court. From there we see the twilight of many good boxers. Past their prime, stuck in the desire to win at any cost, and without the physical ability to do so. Or so it seemed after he was ploughed by Smoking Joe after a much-hyped comeback. However, the defining characteristic of Ali was his ability to never give up. No matter how insane it seemed, he refused to throw in the towel, and instead arranges a fight through Don King (Mykelti Williamson) to fight a young up and comer by the name of George Foreman in Africa. The fight that put Ali back on the map as the greatest living boxer to have ever tapped gloves in the game.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=88762[/img]“Ali” is really not a movie about boxing. Sure, there’s some great fights in it, but that’s not the focus of the film. It’s really a biopic about the man behind the fists and feet of lightning rather than his exploits in the ring. Will Smith does an absolutely awe inspiring job at portraying the legendary boxer. Back in 2001 he was still a box office power house and wanted to be known as a serious actor. His breakthrough came when Michael Mann cast him as Ali and the rest is history. Smith’s natural charisma and excitability verbally speaking are an advantage, as Muhammad Ali was known for being as legendary of a trash talker as he was in the ring.
Mann is no stranger to balancing diverse casts, and he blends in a myriad of A-list actors without allowing anyone to really grand stand. Jamie Foxx, Mario Van Peebles, Jon Voight (who is almost unrecognizable under so much makeup except his voice, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Ron Silver, Jeffrey Wright, the list goes on and on. Each and every one is a vividly memorable character and adds to the layering and tapestry like way of filming the biopic that Mann is known for. I do duly admit that the movie seems to gloss over a few major points in Ali’s life. We get a glimpse at 2 of the 4 marriages that he had, but sadly his blatant adultering and messing around that almost defined his private life is glossed over. Something which “I Am Ali” touched one without being overly critical, but “Ali” just shuns altogether. That and the slowdown in the center act of the film in regards to the fight against the U.S. government. Something which feels more like Ali giving the middle finger to the government more than having any personal convictions about killing, which was his whole focus. I personally would have liked to have seen a bit more depth in dissecting his true feelings instead of making it seem like he just wanted to swat the draft aside so he could go punch someone in the ring.
Unrated By the MPAA (Original film was Rated R for some language and brief violence)
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=88770[/img]“Ali” comes to Blu-ray with a very nice looking 1080p encode that has all the trademarks of Michael Mann filmography all over it. Most of the movie was shot on film, but there are certain subsections that were done on tape and digital cameras. The film is the most impressive of the lot, but the video portions show some significant spikes in swarming mosquito noise and murky blacks (similar to “Miami Vice”, the cameras of that day did not do too well with Mann’s obsession with low light levels). There is a very filmic look to the movie, with a light golden color grading that is meant to replicate the period that Ali grew up in, with desaturated colors and a grey feeling to everything. This WAS done intentionally I might add, and while there are times when sharp splashes of primary colors come into play (the top of the bus in the first act, or the Blue of a dress early on), the movie tends to be very gritty and grim feeling. Blacks are normally good, but the sections shot on video showcase murky shadow detail and some definite crush. Fine detail is usually excellent, and intimate detailing in both dark and lighter sequences are equally admirable.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=88778[/img]The singular 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is about on par with the video encode. It’s good, but nothing stellar, and manages to capture the biopic feel of the film quite nicely. There’s some explosive moments in the ring where the crowd is cheering and the surrounds are in full gear, but “Ali” is a very talky film. Meaning much of the focus is in the front of the sound stage with the dialog and mains picking up the major ambient noises. There is a healthy amount of LFE throughout the film, with deep whallops of bass to accompany the impacts in the ring, and a goodly amount of support in things like a car door slamming, or a jet engine taking off at the airport. Fundamentally it’s a very well put together track, and has a good amount of activity going on, with just a little bit of front heaviness to keep it from being truly “great”. A well done track, and one that does everything asked of it with ease and grace.
• On Set with The Greatest
• The Making of "Ali"
• Theatrical Trailer
As I said above. For some reason, I never actually got around to watching “Ali” in its theatrical form so I can’t give a valid comparison between this cut and the theatrical cut. From what I can gather it’s not a huge amount of difference, but Mann trims up a few scenes and tightens it just slightly. I would have liked to have seen Sony put both the theatrical cut and this new cut in the same package as I’m a stickler for keeping the theatrical cut of any film, but what we have here is still an excellent package. A good video and audio encode, some nice extras and a digital copy. Especially after I feared Sony might put the film out on its controversial “On Demand” line that the studio recently started up. While “Ali” has a few flaws, by and large Michael Mann did an amazing job with the picture and Smith cemented himself as a serious actor with this project. Well worth picking up.
Starring: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight
Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by: Gregory Allen Howard (Story), Stephen J. Rivele (Screenplay)
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 151 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: January 17th, 2017
Buy Ali: Commemorative Edition On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Worth Picking Up
More about Mike