Friday, January 25, 2008

Spirit of the Marathon review...

Last night, I went to see the movie "Spirit of the Marathon" at the Commons Mall in Federal Way, as the showing in downtown Seattle was sold out.

“Spirit of the Marathon” is the first ever non-fiction feature film to capture the drama and essence of the famed 26.2 mile running event. Filmed on four continents, the production brings together a diverse cast of amateur athletes and marathon luminaries. As six unique stories unfold, each runner prepares for and ultimately faces the challenge of the Chicago Marathon. More than a sports program, “Spirit of the Marathon” is an inspirational journey of perseverance and personal triumph; a spectacle that will be embraced by runners and non-runners alike.

Four years in the making, “Spirit of the Marathon” is the collaborative effort of three-time Academy Award winner Mark Jonathon Harris, Telly Award winner and marathon runner Jon Dunham and producer/marathoner Gwendolen Twist.

The movie features six runners, including Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor, Kenya's Daniel Njenga, Ryan Bradley, Leah Calle, Gerald Myers, & Lori O'Connor in their preparation for the 2005 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon.

It used archived footage and photos from several Olympic marathons, including Abebe Bikila's 1960 & '64 Olympic triumphs which fostered the beginning of the Africans as world forces in distance running, and the Los Angeles Olympics, where Joan Benoit Samuelson won the first women's marathon.

The documentary took the viewers behind the scenes as they trained and prepared for Chicago. Included were footage of Myers, O'Connor, Calle & Bradley participating in group marathon training sessions in the Chicago area, along with Kastor preparing in Mammoth Lakes, Califonia, and Njenga training in both Kenya and Japan, where he spends most of his time as a member of the Yakult corporate team.

In some of the shots of Njenga training, you can see the Japanese influence as he does some of his runs wearing a full warmup suit and lightweight road racing flats, typical of most elite Japanese marathoners. His running form and mechanics has a distinctively Japanese style.

In Kenya, Njenga talks about how his house was burned down by thugs who killed his brother and nephew because he didn't give them any money, which given the current situation in Kenya, is quite relevant.

The cinematography was awesome, particularly the fly-over shots of the start of the race and the city, and the post-race scene with the space blankets. The use of a full orchestra for the movie's score accentuated the visuals of the event, and added a dramatic flair.

A scene where Ryan Bradley, a 3:10 marathoner runs on a treadmill for a short time at 5-minute mile pace, gives the viewer a perspective of what it's like to run at world-class marathon pace, although there was a part of me that was waiting for him to get slammed against the wall like a cartoon character running on a treadmill that's set too fast!

The stories of the non-elite runners were very compelling for the most part, including the reasons why they want to take on the challenge of the marathon. In the movie, viewers visit the orphanage in Pittsburgh, where O'Connor, a doctoral candidate in sociology at Northwestern, was picked up by her parents, and where she reveals that she's running Chicago to help raise money for the orphanage. Viewers are also taken on a visit to Bradley's doctor, where he's told he can't run Chicago due to a knee problem.

If there's one part of the movie that could've been cut, it's the scene of the pre-race expo where John "The Penguin" Bingham shoots his mouth off about how the race course is open for seven hours, and "if you finish faster, you're not getting your money's worth". I nearly jumped out of my seat and wanted to run to the big screen and positively strangle him! I do admit to muttering a few choice expletives loud enough for a few people around me to hear!

After the movie, they showed a few clips of deleted scenes, and a question-and-answer session with both Kastor and Olympic Trials champ Ryan Hall. My favorite deleted scene was the one of Njenga showing the cameraman the river where the hippos were sleeping/hiding at nightfall by throwing rocks at the water. I was waiting for one of them to wake up and charge Njenga and the camera crew.

All in all, this was a very solid movie, and one that communicates the spirit of the marathon. It will be shown in theatres on February 21st, before being released on DVD sometime this summer. The musical score is available through iTunes.

1 comment:

Database Diva said...

Great review Paul. I had to work last night. Based on your review, I'll pick it up when it comes out on DVD.

Blog Archive