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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Greatest (1977)

"Muhammed Ali has done the impossible!"
- Broadcast commentator

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: January 11, 2002

Stars: Muhammed Ali, Ernest Borgnine, Sally Bondi, Chip McAllister
Other Stars: James Earl Jones, Robert Duvall, Paul Winfield, Roger E. Mosley, Annazette Chase
Director: Tom Gries

Manufacturer: DVDS
MPAA Rating: PG for (contains minor language and boxing scenes)
Run Time: 01h:41m:29s
Release Date: December 11, 2001
UPC: 043396062054
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- CCB- D+

DVD Review

Muhammed Ali jogs along the road in training while George Benson belts the The Greatest Love of All over the background. This low-key, poorly directed opening provides virtually nothing of interest and runs for an apparently endless credits sequence. While this tune might work effectively in certain films, it falls flat in this moment and foreshadows the shabby nature of The Greatest. This biopic of Ali takes an episodic, bare-bones approach that actually molds the boxing champion's life into a dull, formulaic story. Apparently feeling that having Ali play himself would overcome its shortcomings, the creators forgot to inject any real energy into this piece. The overall result is a frustrating movie with few moments that reveal the importance and engaging aspects of Ali's life.

Released in 1977, this story unfortunately incorporates the worst elements of films from that era. The lighting appears with a soft-focus look that does not work for this type of material. The opening song plays several times during the feature, and each time inaugurates another cornball scene of saddening proportions. It is surprising to note the absence of any created sequences in the ring. Instead, director Tom Gries combines the actual fight footage with unconvincing corner sequences. While it is interesting to catch glimpses of the real-life matches, they feel out of place in this dramatic film. During one frustrating montage, we witness a series of quick looks at his fights, but their significance hardly becomes evident in the context of this movie.

The story begins after Muhammed Ali's victory in the Rome Olympics and quickly glosses over his life as young man. Chip McAllister plays him during this stage, and he struggles to make us believe that he will grow up to become a boxing champion. Many of these early moments cover the racist elements of Louisville in the 1960s, and while their intentions are laudatory, the writing is too simplistic. During training for his early fights, Ali begins a long-term relationship with trainer Angelo Dundee (Ernest Borgnine). This character is one of the strongest in terms of acting muscle, but also appears a bit underwritten at times. Next, we follow Ali's taunting of heavyweight champion Sonny Liston (Roger E. Mosley) to gain a shot at the title. This period now stars the actual Ali in the role, and he appears much too old to play his younger self. These segments do succeed in generating more liveliness than the earlier scenes, but they still falter because Ali appears out-of-place.

Two of Muhammed Ali's most groundbreaking moments did not take place in the boxing ring. First of all, his confident association with the Nation of Islam provided strength for Black Muslims everywhere and endlessly irritated the white establishment. This film quickly covers the problems of these ties when a business partner (Robert Duvall) threatens to ruin his career over his affiliation. However, his devout religious beliefs needed more time to really provide a clear picture of this man. James Earl Jones briefly appears as Malcolm X to give a fiery speech that changes Ali's perspective. However, the conversion is too quick and easy, and this removes the emotional importance of his decisions. The second pivotal moment is Ali's decision to resist the draft on the grounds of his religious beliefs. These scenes play a little better, and the impact of his choices is made very clear. However, I still never felt close enough to this character, which stems from barely middling direction and editing.

Ali's life also featured relationships with a large number of women, leading to several marriages. This films briefly covers two major female characters—Bess (Sally Bondi) and Belinda Ali (Annazette Chase). While both Bondi and Chase do nice acting jobs, their roles are not defined enough to really understand their relationship to Ali. They're just another quick element to cover within this quick and simple biography. Based on the novel by Ali, Herbert Muhammed, and Richard Durham, The Greatest might provide a good starting point for learning about his fascinating life. Unfortunately, there are far better options out there, including several books, the documentary When We Were Kings, and Michael Mann's impressive Ali, which stars Will Smith. This feature just lacks the excitement necessary to really convey the importance and skills of a great champion.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - P&S1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationoyes

Image Transfer Review: The Greatest appears in a hazy 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that offers few moments of visual clarity or interest. For the most part, the pictures appear with a grainy film over them that lessens the already low impact of this film. The problems are especially evident during the night scenes, which lack the sharpness normally associated with digital transfers. The amount of major defects is pretty minimal, but the poor overall quality overcomes this fact. This disc also offers the option of choosing the full-frame transfer on its other side, and that version is even less successful than its counterpart.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The groan-inducing music springs fairly well from this remastered mono transfer. Considering the technical limitations, the love tunes sound decent and have some power. The dialogue is also clear and understandable throughout the viewing presentation. This track ranks among the better mono tracks, but there's only so much that can be done with this format. The complexity level still falls a bit short, however, which leads to a mediocre overall transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean , Thai with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Natural, Brian's Song
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: This release contains a hazy widescreen theatrical trailer for The Greatest and previews for The Natural and Brian's Song. Both of these pieces also sport only mediocre visual transfers.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

In Michael Mann's recent Ali, Will Smith injected tremendous energy and compassion into Muhammed Ali, which lead to a memorable film experience. This story brought us intimately into Ali's life and also provided some excellent recreations of his classic fights. Unfortunately, The Greatest accomplishes none of these feats. Even though it stars the actual Muhammed Ali, this film delivers a fairly dull, by-the-numbers story with few moments of interest or excitement.


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