**½/**** Image A Sound A- Extras B-
directed by Phil Grabsky
by Bill Chambers One can't accuse the documentary Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World of false advertising: it filters Ali's life story through the perspective of people who don't necessarily know him but were around to feel the ripple effect he had on pop and politics in the hippie era. There is Billy Crystal, who says he couldn't sleep for days after Ali lost his title to Joe Frazier; there is Maya Angelou, she of the voice that's like a lozenge for our spiritual ills, saying she might have co-opted Ali's "Float like a butterfly/Sting like a bee" verse were it not spoken during the peak of his fame.
But one wishes that the filmmakers had simply devoted a section--a prologue or an epilogue--to celebrity musings, as Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World also contains dialogues with those truly capable of shedding light on the subject and advancing a narrative. George Foreman, for example, tells us that he developed insomnia because he couldn't stop reliving his knockdown in the "Rumble in the Jungle"--that's a little more significant (historically, emotionally) than Billy Crystal taking a boxing match to heart; the biographical and the testimonial clash all too often over the course of 104 minutes.
Phil Grabsky's film is not gutless (Ali is depicted as a man who traded one slave name (Cassius Clay) for another (Ali) when he joined the Islamic faith, and who lied to his handlers about the onset of Parkinson's), though this British production does have an unhealthy obsession with commentators from the United Kingdom (even Billy Connolly and Richard Harris get their two cents in!) and tends to explore topics from only one angle, i.e., the controversial temporary blindness that Ali suffered in his historic bout with Sonny Liston, dismissed here with polite ambiguity. (Unlike in Michael Mann's recent Ali biopic, wherein it is elevated to the level of conspiracy.)
Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World is most electric, natch, when it cuts to such archival footage as Ali stealing the belt from both Liston and Foreman or exacting cold revenge on Frazier, or his appearances on "This Is Your Life" and in a press conference with Sonny Liston, where he antagonized the champion so mercilessly that pundits were calling then-Cassius Clay's sanity into question. (If you're currently sweating Olympic Fever, you may also appreciate the chance to own Ali's inspirational lighting of the flame from 1996.) Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World is one of the more noteworthy compilations of The Greatest's greatest hits, but isn't that a pretty hollow victory?
Universal's Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World DVD presents a flawless rendering of a digital source. Shot on video, with the exception of vintage celluloid and kinescope material, the film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with audio explicitly labelled "Processed 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround." The sound is inoffensive and uneventful--don't expect the fireworks of Mann's big-screen treatment. Extras include a clickable map of the world (luminaries from various countries give us their impressions of Muhammad Ali in slick featurettes); unseen interviews with Hana Ali (one of Ali's daughters), Crystal, James Earl Jones, and others; a stills gallery; a helpful fight chronology; a making-of on "Ali"--Geoffrey Ewing's one-man off-Broadway play; a promotional video for the Ali Center, a Louisiana-based charity organization; a goofy music video for the song "Muhammad Ali" by a band called Faithless; and a trailer for Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World. A nice set for a small title.
104 minutes; NR; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1; English, French, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Universal