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Ali on DVD

Will Smith floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee in this relatively entertaining biopic that looks at a slice of "The Champ's" famed life.

It's an arty but engrossing view that combines music video-like scenes with viscerally realistic fight scenes that'll make you glad you have a subwoofer (if you have one).

Michael Mann's film really only looks at one period of Ali's life, basically from Clay-Liston 1, the fight that made him the world champion to Ali-Foreman, the fight in which he regained the title in Zaire.

It's quite episodic, with many scenes formed from montages of images counterpointed with a live singing act that is not only entertaining and well recorded, but which also helps to set the scene in its proper historical perspective.

Mann looks at what might have been the most tumultuous ten year period in the life and career of Cassius Clay, who later took the name Muhammed Ali. The film begins in 1964 and follows Ali through his battles with the US government over his refusal to be inducted into the armed forces to fight in Vietnam. The film portrays Ali as a victim defending himself with great fortitude, which may have been the case.

The Establishment strips him of his title and he's sentenced to five years in prison (plus a hefty fine) - and barred from boxing in the United States. The period during which his appeals made their way to the US Supreme Court is probably the slowest of the film, but it was possibly the slowest of all for Ali himself.

Will Smith is very good as Ali, and has the vocal patterns down pat. But while he sounded the part, and looked the part as much as possible, we still couldn't help but see Will Smith, and perhaps this is why he didn't get the Oscar for which he was deservedly nominated.

The supporting cast is excellent, especially Jon Voight as Howard Cosell: if you didn't know it was Voight, you wouldn't guess it was him. Also along for the ride are Jamie Foxx, Mario Van Peebles, Ron Silver, Jeffrey Wright, Mykelti Williamson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Nona M. Gaye, and Michael Michele and they are all very well cast.

The movie is intriguing and a good example of the moviemaking art, though it seems to feel more comfortable with itself during the montage "music video" scenes than during the more traditional straight dramatic moments.

We would have liked to see more information on who Cassius Clay was and how he got to where he is at the beginning of this "Ali," but except for a few references such isn't the case here.

In the end, we're left with an entertaining look at a larger than life folk hero, perhaps a little more reverently portrayed than necessary or warranted, but obviously a loving look by an admirer.

The DVD is pretty good. It's presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, (mastered in high definition), and the picture quality is excellent. At times it looks a bit grainy, which almost makes it appear as shot "live" during the actual events being portrayed; at other times the DVD's high resolution lets you pick out the pores on the actors' faces (this is particularly fun when the movie gets a tad slow).

The audio is only presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and though the sound quality is excellent there isn't as much use of the surround channels as we expected. There's plenty of opportunity to do so, especially the arena scenes, but for most of the movie the sonic action is rooted at the front of the home theater. Still, the sound quality is very good - and when the punches start flying you can almost feel them in your chest.

Extras are limited to a selection of trailers, two of which are for the summer 2002 releases Spiderman and Men In Black II.

Ali, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
157 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Will Smith, Jon Voight, Jamie Foxx, Mario Van Peebles, Ron Silver, Jeffrey Wright, Mykelti Williamson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Nona M. Gaye, and Michael Michele
Produced by Jon Peters, James Lassiter, Paul Ardaji, Michael Mann
Written by Stephen J. Rivele & Christopher Wilkinson and Eric Roth & Michael Mann, Directed by Michael Mann


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Updated May 13, 2006