(Copyright 2002. The Tattoo. All rights reserved.)

Making a permanent impression since 1994

May 9, 2002

-- Review --

Insane athletes hit the really big screen

By Mike Nguyen

ESPN is debuting its first movie on the BIG big screen, and its all X.

No, it's not porn on an IMAX screen, it's the X Games.

Last summer, ESPN took out some special cameras and documented all the guts and glory that played out at their annual X Games competition, the Super Bowl for extreme sports, according to the athletes that participate in them.

In some ways, it's a typical IMAX movie: a mostly plotless documentary with weird camera angles, the always-present helicopter shot that gets people airsick in their seats, and some stunning cinematography that leaves you breathless.

In other ways, it's anything but a typical IMAX movie.

Where most IMAX films are ecological, including documentaries of Mt. Everest, Kilimanjaro, the ocean, space and other topics that would bore everyone but a scientist, ‘Ultimate X’ provides some action to the scenes, and appeals to more than a group of kids on a class field trip.

The movie is basically a recap of some of the greatest moments at the recent X Games, but that's OK, because it's nothing like what you see on your television set.

On the ESPN channels, the action was fast, loud and over in less than a minute most of the time.

In ‘Ultimate X,’ ESPN has the courtesy to slow things down so one sees everything -- the sparks flying from the wheels of luging, the intricate body maneuvering to land that backflip or 900, and even the nasty spills.

The cameras go everywhere, from a bird's eye view, to right on top of the head of an athlete, to right on the boards and bikes themselves.

Providing more levitation to the screen, the movie is backed by an awesome rock soundtrack, including POD and Sum 41.

Transitioning between scenes are interviews with athletes, spectators, and commentators, and retrospective clips of X Games past, from Tony Hawk's 900 to athletes bungee jumping in a canoe dressed in Elvis costumes at the first X Games in Rhode Island .

Most of the commentary is hilarious, and gives away some information on the lifestyle of extreme sports that a regular Joe might never assume.

The most recurring theme in the film is that all the X Games athletes are, in fact, athletes.

Sure, they’re mentally insane athletes, but nonetheless they spend hours conditioning their bodies, practicing their moves and progressing the sport.

Inspirational, really.

But ESPN's first whack at the big screen shows some obvious flaws also.

The most annoying one was, it wasn't all big screen!

A lot of the clips, especially old clips from previous Games, and interviews, only took up a third or less of the humungous IMAX screen.

It's certainly understandable, as documentation only took place during the two weeks of competition last summer, but it’s nonetheless irksome.

ESPN's choice of what events to show was also odd.

Inline skating must've been cut out of the movie, save a short, out-of-place clip of female rollerblading star Fabiola de Silva.

Other events -- particularly motorcycling, biking and skateboarding -- got a good portion of air time, although vert and dirt events got the most focus.

Water sports were pretty much cut entirely.

In a weird twist, ‘Ultimate X’ devotes a good long time to a slow-motion luge race from the start to finish.

Clips are usually short, and go back and forth from different cameras, perspective, and angles. Before an athlete lands their tricks, four or five different shots of the same move will flash through the screen.

Rarely did one camera follow a trick to its entirety, and many of the shots lost their momentum at the peak of their viewing pleasure.

Overall, however, it's still a movie to see.

Trust me, it's not a movie just for the skater gangs.

In fact, people unaccustomed to this new extreme generation will gain much more perspective and appreciation to what these athletes do.

Parents will see that this wave of sports is more than a farce, kids might find the alternative to baseball and other traditional sports, and experts have the opportunity to see the technicality of every trick and jump.

It's funny, it's exciting, and it will get your stomach turning (like any good IMAX movie should).

Personally, it brought back memories of the X Trials in Bristol last year, where the excitement was just as real.

But for those unfortunate enough to only watch the X Games on TV, get out into your local IMAX theater and get the true feeling of what the X Games is like.

‘Ultimate X’ opens today at many IMAX theaters and it won't be coming to the smaller screen anytime soon.

ESPN stands by the fact that this movie is just too big for regular movie screens, and I'd have to agree.

Click here for another Tattoo review of "Ultimate X" -- Wild crashes and dynamite music

Click here for yet another Tattoo review of ESPN's "Ultimate X" IMAX movie

Click here for ESPN's 'Ultimate X' official web site