Patient: Ultimate X
Profile: IMAX, large-format film about X-Games that plays like IMAX, large-format commercial—you'd be hard-pressed to find more product placement outside Iraq. But at least the filmmakers have no idea how to tell a story. Here's a clue: don't tell us the ending until the end. Think Extreme Days meets Every Commercial Currently on TV Not Featuring Angela Lansbury meets If I Wanted to Know the Ending Before It Happened, I Would Have Brought My Eight-Year-Old. Symptoms: It's incredible how much they got wrong in a movie just 47 minutes long. First, they keep tipping what's going to happen. You know who's going to win, who's going to lose and who's going to get hurt because they tell you. What they don't give is any context why this is important or dramatic. They say it, it happens, and then they flash a logo and crank up the POD and the Talking Heads. Not theTalking Heads, but a bunch of X-Games, corporate-spew heads who tell you how dangerous and beautiful the sports are. They tell you this because you don't really get to see the sports since they've been chopped up into seconds-sized bites. Granted, the people talking about the sports do some extreme, logic-defying acrobatics. Take the X-Games creator who compares them to rock & roll in that both were rejected by mainstream institutions only to be embraced and kept alive by youth. Yeah, one wonders while watching this Touchstone (Disney) film how these ESPN- (Disney) produced games survive with only the backing of kids and a few cockeyed dreamers that go by the names of Coca-Cola and AT&T. Outrageous? Check out the BMX guy who says he hopes the X-Games don't become too corporate while wearing a jersey with Mountain Dew emblazoned across the chest and holding a bottle of—wait for it—Mountain Dew. Radical!
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Diagnosis: Can't wait for Ultimate Shock, the IMAX version of the Enron hearings. Prescription: Rent a few tapes of Bud Greenspan's extraordinary Olympic documentaries. Yes, the photography is exquisite—notice how they let the viewer actually watch the athlete. But what makes Greenspan's films great is that he makes you not only appreciate the athlete but also care. His vignettes are masterpieces of storytelling infused with people we've never heard of overcoming hardships, injuries and Jimmy Carter until you really care whether that Austrian slob wins the 1956 pistol shoot. You claim your athletes overcome similar adversities, you talk about showing courage or guts, but you give precious little background of what they've overcome, what they were feeling right before, during or after their event. We like backstory; we like behind the scenes. This thing was on television. If we wanted to watch it, we would have. Give us what we didn't see or know. Make us care by making your athletes more than dull-eyed talking billboards. Of course, maybe you prefer your billboards flat. It's so much easier to project an image onto one.