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The Free Man - DVD Review

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Title: The Free Man

Movie: :4stars:
Video: :3.5stars:
Audio: :3.5stars:
Extras: :2stars:

HTS Overall Score:69

The world of extreme sports is a fascinating one. As if regular sports weren’t dangerous and thrilling enough, there are whole genres of sports that focus on doing some of the most dangerous and death defying stunts the world has ever seen. I always like to say that Evil Knievel was one of the first highly publicist athletes in the extreme sports world, but the invention of modern day base jumping, motocrossing, and other derivations of dangerous things people do has gained itself an “image”, much like the MMA world has (usually of long, greasy hared guys with goatees and lots of designer sportknow aimed at the “fringe” athletes). Toa Fraser takes a look at this world. The psychology, the desires, the intrinsic rush of adrenaline that fuels the people to do what they do on a daily basis. It’s a fascinating documentary, and one that doesn’t try to grandstand, or make itself out to be something grandiose. It’s a simple look at a few people (mainly focusing in on Olympic Freestyle skier Jossi Wells and his transition from skiing to extreme sports).

Jossi is the main focus here, and Toa Fraser goes back over the young man’s entire athletic life, including him first strapping on skis at 18 months old (they start em young over in New Zealand). Jossi was a bit of an outsider being a homeschooled Christian lad out there, and he was driven to sports as a way of making himself feel more common place. After years and years of skiing professionally and for the Olympics, Jossi was looking for a different sport as so many years of skiing injuries has left his body aching and in constant pain. He looks towards a group of extreme athletes known as “The Flying Frenchies” and looks to them to go into a sport that he has ZERO experience in, except for raw determination and will power.

Jossi’s story is rather compelling as you watch the traditional athlete jump into completely new waters. I have to give mad props to a man who can go from slacklining between a couple of trees to highlining it up in the mountain top of Chamonix in just a couple of days of training. That takes jaw dropping skill as well as a life time of motor skills that are trained to adapt and change at will. Not to be the ONLY focus of the movie, director Toa Fraser takes an intimate look at the rest of the Flying Frenchies, going into depth with their family life, their desires, their motivations to continue this life of high stress, high danger excitement with gusto. It never feels forced or strained at all, and the way the Frenchies go about their stunts is very laid back. It’s almost like these guys are going around the world and doing all sorts of crazy stunts and saying “hey, we’re just having a little fun on vacation” (only it’s their lives).

The filmography is simply stunning, and while the cameras used are not always the highest quality (I touch on this subject in the video portion of the analysis) the shots and angels that his crew is able to get into make for some amazing sequences. Especially when using following shots as the Frenchies jump off cliffs, or the go pro style shots that are interspliced into the third person footage throughout the movie.


Not Rated by the MPAA

Video :3.5stars:
There's no IMDB info for the type of cameras used for "The Free Man", but it looks pretty obvious from eyeballing the picture that a variety of differing cameras were used, ranging from simple go pro style cameras, to handheld ones of differing qualities. Some of the movie looks a bit rough and blurry, with compression artifacts from low resolution hand cams, while others look razor sharp, with the white of the snow covered hills shining clearly in the foreground. This isn't anything to do with Universal's encode of the 84 minute film, but rather baked into the source as the people shooting were using whatever cameras were at the available, as well as the head mounted go pro type cams of the Flying Frenchies during their base jumping and the like. Blacks look solid for the most part, and compression artifacts that are in the disc's domain don't look bad at all besides some minor macroblocking in a couple of fleeting shots. An overall great looking transfer.

Audio :3.5stars:
The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is a capable track, but like the video, is not much of a stunner. The film is heavily front loaded, with most of the activity in the mains with the center channel taking on the narration. Vocals from director Toa Fraser and star Jossi Wells come through loud and clear, but with a lot of the vocals from the rest of the crew being captured live on scene, there's varying levels of volume and clarity from the voices that bleed in from the Frenchies. LFE is mild, but sometimes comes out with some heavy power (such as the winds and stormy weather up on the slopes about 45 minutes into the movie). It's a simple track, and one that's not a BAD track, but it's just the nature of a documentary where you're having live footage and capturing vocals on scene.

Extras :2stars:

• Who are the Flying Frenchies
• The Story Behind "The Free Man"

Overall: :3.5stars:

"The Free Man" is a fascinating documentary into a man's journey from one sport to the other in search of that adrenaline rush and feeling of "freedom" that comes with risking your life and body for your sport. There is a laid back sense of wonder while watching the doc, and the director's careful narration never feels cheesy or overplayed in the slightest. Most of the focus is on Jossi Wells, but there is a wandering gaze to the direction which leads us through all sorts of other extreme sports done by the Flying Frenchies and back again. The DVD itself looks quite good considering the handicam style of shooting associated with most documentaries, and the minimal extras are well worth checking out. For those who like a good sports doc, "The Free Man" is wonderfully interesting film that grabs hold of you without that gripping sense of need or desire. It just seems to keep you interested without even trying. Good watch.

Additional Information:

Starring: Jossi Wells (himself)
Directed By: Toa Fraser
Written By: Cushla Dillon, Matthew Metcalfe
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 MPEG2
Audio: English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Studio: Universal
Rated: NR
Runtime: 84 Minutes
DVD Release Date: May 2nd, 2017

Buy The Free Man on DVD at Amazon

Recommendation: Good Watch

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