Muhammad Ali was recently named the "Sportsman of the Century" by Sports Illustrated magazine. "Muhammad Ali Through The Eyes of the World," which comes out on January 29th, tells the amazing story of this great athlete, political figure, and celebrity and you can easily see why Ali might have been chosen for this great honor. After all, he always knew he was "The Greatest" - something he claimed about himself from his earliest days of boxing.
"Muhammad Ali Through The Eyes of the World" is a documentary without a narrator. It basically is hundreds of short clips of interviews of everyone from childhood neighbors, former trainers, boxing opponents, friends, family, celebrities, etc. All of these are held together and made cohesive with clips from various sports and boxing historians. The number of voices making up the documentary, though, is really stunning! About the only one they didn't get a current interview from was Ali himself, but given that he suffers from Parkinson's disease now, that would probably have been fairly difficult.
As most people born before 1985 know, Ali was born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky. His start in boxing came from his bicycle being stolen. He told his father that he was going to "woop" whoever it was when he found out who had stolen his bike. His father asked if he knew how to fight and Ali said no, so his father took him to the local boxing ring and thus was born one of the greatest if not THE greatest boxer ever. What he did in the ring was revolutionary for a heavyweight, as he danced around with the agility of a Barishnikov ducking and bobbing and getting in a punch here and there till he finally bested his opponents either by out and out knockout or by TKO. At least this was the case in his early days. This documentary covers all of his fights, and although there was only an average of 10 or 15 seconds of footage of each fight (save for his fight with Spinx where there is only a still image), at least there was footage of each and lots of commentary about each fight from various people.
Ali was great not only for what he did in the ring, of course, but for his behavior in the public eye. He was a showboater and braggadocio, of course, but he backed this up and was a gracious looser the few times this happened. Nevertheless, more importantly he was outspoken about his own political and moral beliefs. Most people know that he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and subscribed to many of the stances of that organization, at least initially. But what many don't know is that Ali was outspoken even before this. For example after coming back from winning the gold metal for boxing in the 1960 Olympics, he through his metal into the Ohio River to protest the racism that was still blatantly prevalent in his home town.
The documentary does not shy away from the controversial aspects of some of what made Ali a complex individual, although it definitely puts his flaws in a positive light, as if to make excuses for them. For example, although a wonderfully supportive father, Ali had 4 wives, and apparently quite a few affairs on top of this. While he divorced one wife apparently because she did not want to cover herself in the way that the Nation of Islam would have proposed (as well wanting to dance, smoke, etc.), Ali was seen escorting new girlfriends on trips while still married. The only family members actually interviewed were one his former wives and one of his daughters. Both are very favorable towards Ali, and his daughter actually says she's glad he was so prolific with relationships or she and all her brothers and sisters would not be around.
The documentary is almost two hours long, so has quite a bit of great footage. Universal presents it in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1), and transfer is wonderful - at least as far as the modern interview clips go. Of course earlier footage of fights, interviews, etc. from the '60's and 70's are flawed, but there's not much that could have been done about these. The audio is almost primarily dialogue and so the 5.1 Dolby Digital Soundtrack really doesn't get a chance to show off, but the dialogue is crisp and clean for what its worth. One would not expect to see extras on a documentary, but Universal has provided a decent array of bonus material, although each one is fairly small in length. I actually preferred this after watching the 114-minute documentary! Included is a music video, stills of the artwork of Leroy Nieman who did live work during Ali's fights, additional interview outtakes, and a very short "featurette" which could have been simply inserted into the documentary itself without seeming out of place. Also there is an Ali Center Promo: The Ali Center is being built in downtown Louisville and will promote learning and striving for excellence in all areas for youth based on Ali's own life experiences. Finally, there is "Through the Eyes of the World" which has short clips from the "man-on-the-street" but also some boxing professionals on what Ali means to them. I would have liked somewhat longer clips for these as they were only about 10-20 seconds each, but there are so many (10 countries are represented), that having clips that were much more than a couple of minutes per country would probably have gotten a bit tiresome, especially after the fairly long documentary. All these extras and the documentary itself make a really good value for even the list price..., let alone for discounted copies!
Overall, "Muhammad Ali Through The Eyes of the World" is a very comprehensive documentary. It tells a complete story of a great figure, both within sports and outside, from so many different perspectives, with so much old and newer footage, and with so many voices, that you can't help to come away from it feeling like you've really learned a great deal about Ali, and why he himself as well as so many other still consider him to be "The Greatest."