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Running Time: 110 minutes
Narrated by: Brian Greene
Written and Directed by: Antony Thomas
Retail Price: $19.99
Specs: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Surround Stereo, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (15 Scenes)
Released: August 3rd, 2004
A documentary that originally aired on PBS, "The Real Olympics" traces the origins of the games in ancient Greece. Held every four years where the best athletes would duke it out for top honors, the games ran consecutively for almost twelve centuries. However, a Christian ededict stopped the games in their path - only to be reborn again in "the modern age." This film from Antony Thomas takes a very precise look at the history of the Olympics - what games were originally played hundreds of years ago, how the Greeks treated their athletes, religion, politics, why the games stopped, their rebirth, the connections between the modern games and the ones from a long, long time ago and much more.
I personally have always loved the Olympics - anyone can enjoy at least one event where the best athletes from all over the world compete for medals in some friendly, nationally-televised competition. And despite the fact they only come every four years makes them pretty special, there's no denying that there's something enthralling, exciting and even magical about the Olympics. I have always wanted to know more about the games - especially their beginnings centuries ago, so this documentary was very fascinating to me. I thought I knew a decent deal about the history of the games, but it turns out I barely knew anything. I learned an incredible amount of history by watching this documentary, and even more respect and appreciation for the Olympics (and the athletes) in general.
Thomas makes a strong film that is neutral in tone and certainly informs, but in some parts leaves the viewer to have his or her own conclusions. He wrote the movie, and he certainly did a great job with that - the written narration is well-versed, concise, stacked with detailed and gets right to the point with elequent, not-too-complex language. Narrating Thomas' words is Brian Greene, who does a great job and has the just the right voice for this type of subject. Thomas directed the movie too, and bringing all of this to life are shots and still photographs of ancient artifacts and sacred locations where the games of old took place (there is some more current footage thrown in too when needed). And to give us some sense of what the games and people were like all those years ago, in typical fashion for documentaries on history, Thomas has some decent staged scenes with actors that do seem a bit real based on what's being described.
If you have any interest in the Olympics at all - particuarly what historians know about them from centuries ago, the complete history of the games and the worldly role of athletes, then this documentary is a must see. It may be boring and a bit dense to some, but I certainly think there are many who will be just as interested as I was in this film - and anyone who sees it will learn a lot too. For viewing that is supposed to be educational and quite historical, it certainly doesn't feel like it - instead, it's quite entertaining.
To my surprise, this documentary was filmed in widescreen and the DVD gives it the anamorphic treatment (which appears to be in the ratio of 1.78:1). It looks really great - the source print is pretty clean and there's no edge enhancement to speak of. Detail is excellent, fleshtones look good and noise is kept to a mininum. Colors are also well saturated and show no signs of bleeding, and the transfer certianly stays on target when it comes to the varying footage and captures it well - the real locations, the re-enactments, shots of actual items and a little bit more. The stock footage used (particuarly from athletes in action from more recent games) looks pretty nice too, and even if the transfer is pretty sharp overall, I did notice that it was a little grainy at times. Still, for a mere documentary on public television, this is a lot better than anyone can hope for. It may not be intended as material to show off on your monitor, but it being more than pleasing to the eye is a great bonus.
An English Dolby Surround Stereo track is given, and it sounds good if largely stereo. There are some nice effects to be had when it comes to the weighty music and the re-enaction of the classic games - the crowds and the actual battling of the athletes. Of course a 5.1 track would have made this all stand out a bit more, but for a documentary like this it more than gets the job done. Brian Greene's narration is rather easy to hear too. Overall, this track comes in clear and has some power, making this a much more satisfying track than I was anticipating. English closed captions through your television are also available.
There's a text weblink to PBS Online - other than that, there is nothing.
It's obvious this release was put out to cash-in on the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, but so what? There are no extras, but a documentary produced for television it looks and sounds good and the price is pretty right. If you have any interest in the origins of the Olympics and the vast history behind them, then this DVD is recommended.