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DVD Review: ESPN Films “30 for 30″ Gift Set, Volume 2 (Pt. 2)

J.C. De Leon

by: J.C. De Leon
May 19th, 2011

On the 30thanniversary of ESPN’s world-changing entry into the world, they commissioned numerous filmmakers and gave them complete creative control to film 30 documentaries covering the 30 most interesting topics during the ESPN era. Volume 1 of this series was released earlier this year and featured some of 2010’s most critically acclaimed sports documentaries and documentaries made by some notable names. Directors like Peter Berg (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS), Barry Levinson (THE NATURAL), with documentaries featuring stories about Wayne Gretzky, the Baltimore Colts, and fan base of the Los Angeles Raiders.

Volume 2 continues this great tradition, with films covering topics like the legacy of George Steinbrenner, Michael Jordan’s days as a minor league baseball player, and the rise and fall of the iconic Olympic superstar Marion Jones. Volume 2 features some great directorial names like Spike Jonze (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE) and John Singleton (HIGHER LEARNING). In order to give this massive set that encompasses some truly great documentaries a more comprehensive look, I have decided to break up the review of the entire set into multiple parts. The following is Part 2 of our review of The 30 for 30 ESPN Vol. 2 DVD Gift Set.

UNMATCHED
Rating: 2.5/5
Directors: Lisa Lax, Nancy Stern

What was regarded as one of the most significant and longest running sports rivalries of all time was that of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Over the course of 16 years, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova faced each other on the tennis court 80 times. They were the most dominant women tennis players during the mid ‘70s all the way to the late ‘80s. In a post-Title IX world, they did more for women’s sports than anyone had ever done before them. The two athletes couldn’t have been any more different. Chris Evert’s style dominated the baseline on her way to becoming America’s sweetheart on the tennis court. Navratilova was an emotional Czech, who had an intimidating presence on the court who was among the first major athletes to come out of the closet as a homosexual.

It’s a truly compelling story, one that any sports fan could appreciate. The documentary is filmed by putting the viewer in the room with the two rivals (who grew to become great friends) as they rehash their memories of all of their greatest battles. It doesn’tfollow the conventional sports documentary format, and simply seeing the two of them discuss these events combined with the footage available complete the tale and really doesn’t do justice to the magnitude of this great rivalry. It would have been nice to get some other perspective, particularly on the effect that the rivalry had on the popularity of women’s sports at the time.

THE HOUSE OF STEINBRENNER
Rating: 3/5
Director: Barbara Kopple

Without a doubt, one of the most polarizing figures of the ESPN era has been New York Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner. Before he passed away last year, he handed over control of the franchise to his son Hal, who would be dealt the charge of leading the Yankees into their new era in a brand new stadium. Hal is very different from his father, but there really can never be another George Steinbrenner.

The documentary features some great candid moments of George Steinbrenner and is really edited together well, both while showing the new stadium being built and the old one being destroyed. Despite his reputation, George was someone who was appreciated on a level never really seen until this documentary and it was great seeing that people actually did appreciate what he did for one of the greatest sports franchises in sports history.

INTO THE WIND
Rating: 4/5
Directors: Steve Nash, Ezra Holland

In 1980, Terry Fox embarked on a quest to help spread awareness and raise funds for cancer research in Canada. His journey would take him all the way across Canada if successful, but Terry is a unique athlete. The unique thing about Terry was that he himself had been a victim of cancer and had his right leg amputated. Beginning his journey in obscurity, and despite the righteousness of what he was doing, he faced his troubles along the way in addition to receiving a huge amount of support on his journey. One day, the journey came to an abrupt end when it was discovered that his cancer had returned. First-time filmmaker Steve Nash shares Terry’s amazing story of perseverance and never-ending hope.

This is one of the more uplifting and inspiring documentaries in the 30 for 30 series. Steve Nash (of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns) and co-director Ezra Holland really compiled a great amount of footage and left no doubt that, if Terry Fox were alive to see it today, he would be proud of the message conveyed. For those who appreciate the great stories that a documentary can tell, this is one that shouldn’t be missed in this set.

FOUR DAYS IN OCTOBER
Rating: 5/5
Director: Gary Waksman

One of the most stunning events of the ESPN era was the collapse of the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series. Holding a commanding 3-0 lead over the rival Boston Red Sox, no team had ever come back from that deficit and it appeared that “the curse” would remain in place for embattled Boston franchise. But something magical happened that fall, and the Boston Red Soxwere able to take it one game at a time and eventually became the first team to overcome a 3-0 hole in the playoffs on their way to an eventual World Series win. Those incredible four day were filled with the stuff that movies are made of, but it wasn’t fiction, this was real life and it made for one of the greatest spectacles in sports history.

This is one of my favorite sporting events of the ESPN era, and this is one where I can remember where I was and what I was feeling during each and every one of those four days. Seeing ESPN columnist Bill Simmons and comedian Lenny Clarke rehash their memories over a beer in a Boston bar lends a true authenticity to just how important these four days in October were to some people. The events in this documentary are better than any sports movie ever made. Best of all, these things really happened.

ONCE BROTHERS
Rating: 4/5
Director: Michael Tolajian

Two of the greatest European basketball players were Drazen Petrovic and Vlade Divac. Together they conquered the basketball world in the late '80s and early '90s and took the Yugoslavian national team to previously unreached heights.  The day the Soviet Union fell on Christmas Day in 1991 was also the day their friendship ended. Being put on separate sides of an ethnic war that neither of them started, Vladealways wanted to remain friends with the man he affectionately called his brother, but Petrovicwas never the same man. Eventually the two went on to the NBA and they were often pitted against each other, but no words were ever exchanged. With the New Jersey Nets, Drazen took the NBA by storm and in the 1993 season he averaged 22 points a game and took the Nets to the playoffs. That offseason, on a trip back home, Drazen's life was taken from him in an unfortunate car accident. Vladenever got the chance to reconcile his friendship with his former Yugoslavian teammate, leaving a void in his life that would never be filled.

As uplifting and inspiring as most of these documentaries are, there are some that remind us that as important as sports can be to some people, it's important to remember that in the grand scheme of things, sports can be a very minor thing. Friendships, relationships, and family are the most important things in life, and sometimes we lose sight of that, and often times the reminder that hits is a very cruel one. The loss of Drazen's life robbed the NBA of one of its shining stars, but for his former teammates, including the Serbian Vlade Divac, they lost a brother.

Stay tuned this week for the rest of the comprehensive review of this great set!

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