Friday, May 30, 2014

Weekend of a Champion DVD Review

Reviewed by Scott Meyers
A nearly forgotten film by Roman Polanski, made at the height of his fame, has resurfaced to thrill fans of the director as well as lovers of auto racing. Weekend of a Champion is Polanski's you-are-there look at racing great Jackie Stewart as he competes in the renowned Monaco Grand Prix. Oscar-winning filmmaker and racing fan Roman Polanski (The Pianist, Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, Tess) spent a weekend with world champion Formula One driver Jackie Stewart as he attempted to win the Monaco Grand Prix, one of the premier events in the sport. Polanski was given intimate access to Stewart's world for three days, both on the track and off. The result was an extraordinarily rare glimpse into the life of a gifted athlete at the height of his powers.
Film (2 out of 5 stars)
In 1971 Roman Polanski wanted to film Jackie Stewart as he attempted to win the Monaco Grand Prix. So what we get is a cameraman following Polanski around documenting everything he does, from the fans in the nearby buildings, the local spectacle being made, and all the way through the post-race events.

Stewart was at the height of his career and he could not go anywhere without people wanting a picture with him or to get his autograph. Soon Stewart takes us on a tour of the track and explains how he must handle the track's twists and turns. We get an in depth look at the garage life trying to get little aspect of the car exactly how he likes it. During a practice session Stewart explains to Polanski the small details to how a racer needs to race in order to get the most from his car. Next we see Jackie take a practice run so he shows us how it is done.

Watching Jackie on race day, you would realize that he was getting ready to drive in one of the toughest and most dangerous races, he is extremely calm on the outside, even though one of his closest friends explains he is very nervous on the inside. To an observer he treats it like any other day, he got up, ate a small meal, got ready, and put on his suit (his just happens to be a safety fire suit). Once the race starts we get an up close look at the race, and not just about how Stewart is doing, but we see pit stops and how other racers are working on trying to win the race. 

This part of the film allows the viewer to see something that most don't ever get to see, which was one of the more interesting parts if the film. Stewart ends up winning the race and shoots him up in the standings for the championship; then we get to watch the post-race ceremony and celebration, and that evening we get to see the formal dinner where Stewart is the guest of honor to receive his trophy.

After the original film we get an up close meeting with Polanski and Stewart looking back at the film over 40 years after it was shot. They first discuss the memories they remember most about their time in Monaco and about the time period. Stewart discusses how the safety measures have changed over the years because he was a major advocate to make the cars safer to drive. Finally they discuss how Stewart got his start in the sport and how his life has changed because of auto racing.

The film had its moments that were interesting and enjoyable to watch, but most of the time it felt like something you would see on someone's video blog on the internet. It was not quite a documentary, but was not quite a film; it just followed the group around for the race weekend capturing everything they did. The best part of the film was the racing aspects, whether it was the actual race or when Stewart took us around the track explaining how he would treat each piece of the track in terms of the car. Make you to watch the credits, during them we get a first person point of view of being in the race care flying around the track and getting to feel all the twists and turns.
Video (2 out of 5 stars)
Wanting to preserve how the film was originally shot, the film is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen format and the overall quality felt like something that was shot in the 70's. The film had some muted tones in the coloring and a little rough feel to most of it. The racing portions of however had a better quality to it, like they used footage from the network cameras that were better quality and cut it into their footage. For forty year old film that was not shot on the high quality equipment however the quality of the film was not terrible. 
Audio (1 out of 5 stars)
The film was done using Dolby Digital 5.1 and had an option for 2.0 Stereo. The overall quality of the audio was decent; the auto racing scenes sounded great, but when it came to the dialogue portions of the film the sound was a little muted and difficult to hear. The blend of those two pieces was not the highest quality, would have liked to have the dialogue be a little louder and more clear so it would be easier to hear and understand. The racing scenes however the audio was excellent, the car's engines were crisp and clear and you could really feel it when the cars shifted gears.
Extras (0 out of 5 stars)
The only extra included is a trailer for the film.
Summary (1 out of 5 stars)
The film was not quite a documentary but then it was not quite a true movie either; it was something in between which made the viewing difficult. The auto racing scenes were very interesting and I enjoyed seeing the behind the scene things that you wouldn't normally get to see while watching a race on television, such as watching the garage make the changes for him. I was very disappointed that there were not any extras to the DVD included. If you are looking for a film about auto racing from the late 60's and early 70's this would be a film for you, but this was not a film that I would watch more than once.

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