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HBO presents
Pumping Iron: The 25th Anniversary Special Edition (1977)

"I don't have any weak points."
- Arnold Schwarzenegger

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: December 21, 2003

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno
Other Stars: Ken Waller, Matty Ferrigno, Mike Katz, Ed Corney, Serge Nubret, Franco Columbu
Director: George Butler, Robert Fiore

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: PG for (suitable for most audiences)
Run Time: 01h:25m:30s
Release Date: November 11, 2003
UPC: 026359166624
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Arnold Schwarzenegger has garnered numerous titles over his lengthy superstar career: action hero, Hollywood superstar, husband of a Kennedy, Governor of California. Long before this success, however, he also gained considerable acclaim as a bodybuilding champion. Pumping Iron chronicles the five-time Mr. Olympia's preparations to compete for a sixth title in 1975. It also provides an intimate look at the ridiculous training required to reach this goal. The techniques of this world are very odd and reveal an obsessive subculture aimed at physical perfection.

Directed by photographer George Butler, this engaging documentary includes numerous close-ups of bulging muscles that become a bit much fairly quickly. These obviously are very strong guys, but the strain on their muscles has to be extreme. What drives these guys to strive for such lofty goals? We also meet amateur bodybuilder Mike Katz, who struggled socially as a child and developed a fierce determination to prove his detractors wrong. While I personally believe he could have chosen a better route, Katz's look is definitely impressive. Fellow competitor Ken Waller shows utter disdain for his abilities and even steals his clothes right before his performance. His comments describing Katz's lesser physical qualities reveal a possibly nasty side to what on the surface appears to be a friendly competition.

Apart from the bodybuilding aspects, this picture also provides a quick description of Schwarzenegger's background and early years. His charisma and huge ego were already prevalent at this time, with people flocking to him everywhere. A penitentiary visit even showcases the personality that would later gain him the governor's office. Schwarzenegger's major competition comes from eventual TV star Lou Ferrigno, who has become a professional to challenge for Mr. Olympia. Training in a quiet gym with his father, the giant guy marks a stark contrast to the personable Schwarzenegger. He lacks the huge entourage of the five-time champion, and works diligently to dethrone the champion. Both guys' training segments resemble something out of the Rocky films, but they include an extra level of realism and pain that is stunning to witness.

One of the film's most intriguing aspects is Schwarzenegger's open discussions about the tricks he uses to defeat his opponents. His mindset towards winning is very specific and reveals a calculating thinker who knows how to get what he wants. The actual competition begins with the compulsory pre-judging contest, which provides a look at some of the other bodybuilders. Of course, we also see Schwarzenegger's self-proclaimed "perfect" body, which is pretty ridiculous. The final preparations involve each guy trying to psyche out the other with silly gestures and lifting small weights. Supported by funky '70s music, the final pose-down is fairly goofy, but the outcome does remain fairly uncertain until the final decision. It seems likely that Schwarzenegger will win and ride off into the Hollywood sunset, but the other competitors give him a tough battle.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Pumping Iron utilizes its original full-frame transfer and includes few striking visual moments. This type of film doesn't really need a top-notch picture to succeed. Considering the movie's age, the images are sharp and deserve a commendation. Some grain and minor defects do appear intermittently, but they never distract too much while viewing the film.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This disc features 5.1-channel Dolby Digital and 2.0-channel Dolby Surround tracks. Considering that the story contains mostly dialogue, neither transfer is given any true moments to shine. Both offerings present the audio clearly, with the digital version providing a slightly deeper experience. The sounds move solidly from the speakers, but never rise beyond the basic level.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. HBO Promos
Extras Review: This 25th-anniversary edition of Pumping Iron provides an impressive collection of extra features that give considerable background to the documentary and its star. The longest one is Raw Iron: The Making of Pumping Iron, which runs for 42 minutes and includes many previously unreleased outtakes. We also learn the story behind the film and hear from nearly all the production's major players. Airing on Cinemax, this feature describes the dramatic liberties created to enhance the drama, but spends more time simply presenting the guys involved. It's interesting to note that some of the items contradict statements made by Schwarzenegger in the interview feature, Iron Insights. Lou Ferrigno's comments are especially compelling, as we realize that winning wasn't everything for this troubled bodybuilder.

Iron and Beyond takes an interesting look at the changes to Hollywood and the fitness culture brought on by Pumping Iron. This 14-minute documentary explores Schwarzenegger's legacy and the early moments of his career. Interviews with Clint Eastwood, James Cameron, Sylvester Stallone, and others describe the major effects on films and the change in the leading-man physique. Viewers wanting to learn even more about Schwarzenegger can watch a video biography, which includes photos from his career. Text flows downward across the screen while an enthusiastic narrator speaks the lengthy lines.

The other major extra feature is Iron Insights, a 14-minute interview with Schwarzenegger, who aims to clear the air about the story's controversial aspects. He explains that dramatic items were created to draw investors and audiences. They supposedly needed more interesting footage, so the star made himself a villain for the piece. One intriguing moment in Pumping Iron involved Schwarzenegger discussing his complete lack of emotions, and he claims it was fabricated. The actor makes a convincing argument and is probably speaking the truth, but I still wonder if certain aspects involve revisionist history. Several brief HBO promotional features also appear on this disc.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Questions have arisen over the years concerning how much of Pumping Iron is truly legitimate. Obviously, the competition scenes are realistic, but certain statements and instances were probably crafted to enhance the drama. Arnold Schwarzenegger readily admits that he developed a character apart from his true nature, but it's still unclear which moments were fabricated. Regardless, this picture is an intriguing portrayal of a rising superstar and sport. I really care little for bodybuilding, but still found this viewing to be an interesting experience.


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