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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Muhammad Ali—Through the Eyes of the World (2001)

"I don't have a mark on my face, and I upset Sonny Liston, and I just turned twenty-two years old. I must be the greatest!"
- Cassius Clay

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: January 22, 2002

Stars: Muhammad Ali
Other Stars: Sonny Liston, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Billy Crystal, Billy Connolly, Stanley Crouch
Director: Phil Grabsky

Manufacturer: Macrovision
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:43m:47s
Release Date: January 29, 2002
UPC: 025192165825
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B+C+B+ B

DVD Review

After Jackie Robinson, the most important sports figure in 20th-century American history is almost certainly Muhammad Ali. It's hard to think of another public figure more covered, more quoted, whose photograph has appeared in more places - in his time, Ali was probably the most famous man on the earth. This BBC documentary jams most of Ali's eventful life into just under two hours, and while it doesn't have the hypnotic quality of a documentary like When We Were Kings, or even the dramatic power of Michael Mann's Ali, it's chock full of nuggets familiar to Ali fans, and these are always worth revisiting. The story is a familiar one: the son of a poor Louisville sign painter, young Cassius Clay won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, then wrested the heavyweight title away from Sonny Liston in an improbable victory. Then on to Clay's conversion to Islam, and his changing his name to Muhammad Ali; his conscientious objector status to the Vietnam War, and being stripped of and then regaining his heavyweight title; his rise to master showman, and his slow descent into the physical ravages of Parkinson's syndrome. It's a lot of ground to cover, and though Through The Eyes of the World occasionally has a by-the-numbers quality, it hits most of the right notes. Much of the footage is familiar—Ali glowering over Liston, Ali cheered on by enthusiastic Zaireans before the Rumble in the Jungle—and in fact a lot of it is re-created in Mann's movie. (If you've seen that, there's some fun to be had in comparing the news footage to the feature film.) There's other archival material, too, designed to provide historical context, though a lot of it is heavy-handed. For instance, The Ballad of the Green Berets plays over war coverage of terrorized Vietnamese running from gunfire and napalm. But some of the pieces are less familiar—I found particularly moving a clip of Robert Kennedy addressing a crowd, reporting that Martin Luther King has been shot and killed. There's a minimal amount of voiceover; the filmmakers wisely let the narrative get carried along by the people they've interviewed for the film. Many of the usual suspects are among the talking heads—for instance, sportswriters Robert Lipsyte and Jerry Izenberg, the late Dick Schaap, Bert Sugar and his omnipresent hat; Ali cornerman Angelo Dundee; and a couple of Ali's opponents, most notably George Foreman. But the interviews are a little overweighted to the show business side—Billy Crystal and Rod Steiger, for instance, seem to have no particular insight into Ali— and presumably because this is a U.K. production, the roster of interviewees is heavy with the British. Richard Harris is here, as is, straight from Vegas, Tom Jones; and there's far too much of the unfunny Billy Connolly, whose tenuous connection to Ali are his tales of watching the fights on closed-circuit television in Glasgow and getting drunk with his pals. Charming. Lots of attention is lavished on Henry Cooper, an English heavyweight that Ali quickly disposed of in 1966 - Cooper is interviewed, and the film revisits the fight not once, but twice. There is the occasional wild card, though—Stanley Crouch is especially withering about Ali and the Black Muslims ('He [Ali] had embraced a gaggle of lunatics who were sporting a vision so insane that it made him seem insane'), and Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Venus and Serena, is an unexpectedly fine presence. Disappointingly absent—presumably because he was a fixture only of American television—is Ali's principal media sparring partner, Howard Cosell. The film occasionally plays fast and loose with the facts, unfortunately—for instance, there's footage of a little boy running through the streets of Louisville, clearly designed to suggest that it's young Cassius, but couldn't possibly be. Similarly, fight footage of Ali versus Ernie Terrell is narrated by Ali, so it's unclear just what the origin of this is. The film doesn't shy from the sordid side of Ali's life - his four wives and his many infidelities, the likely connection between all the blows to the head and the Parkinson's syndrome from which he suffers, the many bloodsuckers living off the Ali industry—but as the list of interview subjects suggest, the filmmakers are inordinately fond of celebrity. A good bit of time is devoted, for example, to how devastated Diana Ross was by Ali's loss in his first fight with Joe Frazier.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The source material was obviously culled from many different places, and hence vary in quality. It's a funny aspect ratio, perhaps one that is standard to British television. The transfer to DVD is workmanlike if unremarkable, and the contemporary interviews are shot with no particular flair.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: No special bells and whistles in the audio transfer. The tracks generally sound clean, and the 5.1 surround is only taken advantage of during some of the fight footage, when they're scored with portentous music, seeming a bit too much like a pale imitation of Raging Bull. Again, the contemporary footage lis fine, but there's lots of nasty hissing and popping during the older footage.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 38 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Promotional video for the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, KY
  2. Through the Eyes of the World—interviews with international journalists about Ali
  3. Stills Gallery—LeRoy Neiman paintings
  4. music video—Faithless, Muhammad Ali
  5. Fight chronology
Extras Review: This is a very strange grab bag of extras. Not listed on the DVD's menu is footage that comes on after the feature is over—the bulk of it is from Ali's two fights with Ken Norton, followed by footage from a seemingly wretched play called Buck White in which Ali appeared shortly after being stripped of his championship. Tying up the little package is Ali with one of his children, giving her a bottle. Through the Eyes of the World is an even more peculiar feature. It's a world map, with nine nations highlighted; click on them, and you can see local journalists comment on Ali's career. (Aren't you dying to know what the Swedes think of Ali?) Each runs a minute or so, and all the interviewees are unidentified. The featurette is 2 minutes with an actor named Geoffrey C. Ewing, who apparently starred as Ali in a one-man show. The Stills Gallery offers no photographs, but rather 3 minutes and forty-three seconds of LeRoy Neiman paintings of Ali. And there's also what appears to be a fundraising promo for the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, which has yet to be constructed. The Fight Chronology runs down all of Ali's bouts, and provides links to the relevant portions of the feature, so if you want to see Ali knock the snot out of Jerry Quarry again, you can jump right to it. And the deleted scenes, five clips of additional interviews, aren't all that revealing, unless you're especially eager to hear Rod Steiger recite his own poetry. One bonus here, though: it's the only place on the disc to hear Billy Crystal's excellent Ali impression.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Much of this is familiar territory to dedicated Ali fans, or even to casual viewers of ESPN Classic. Still, it's always interesting to see familiar material refracted through a different lens, and if this isn't Ali through the eyes of all the world, it is at least The Greatest from a decidedly British perspective. (Pip pip, and all that.)


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