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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Wimbledon (2004)

"Love means nothing in tennis. Zero. It only means you lose."
- Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: January 13, 2005

Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Paul Bettany, Sam Neill, Jon Favreau
Other Stars: James McAvoy, Bernard Hill, Eleanor Bron, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Mary Carillo, John Barrett
Director: Richard Loncraine

Manufacturer: Deluxe Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for for language, sexuality, and partial nudity
Run Time: 01h:37m:36s
Release Date: December 28, 2004
UPC: 025192583728
Genre: sports


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-AA- B+

DVD Review

While baseball, football, basketball, and even golf have enjoyed stellar—if not classic—depictions on film, Hollywood's treatment of tennis over the past 50 years has been shoddy at best. Remember Players, that achingly boring, cringe-inducing travesty with Ali MacGraw and Dean Paul Martin? Or Spring Fever, that cheap, over-the-top exposé of junior tennis starring former pro phenom Carling Bassett? Awful beyond measure, both films reinforced the erroneous perception of tennis as a boring, elitist sport filled with spoiled, selfish, unlikable athletes. Diehard fans know differently, but for years the tennis faithful have wondered, "Where's our Hoosiers, Rudy, or Tin Cup?"

Well, at long last, we've got it. It may have taken 100 years, but director Richard Loncraine, writer Adam Brooks, and the folks who produced Notting Hill and Bridget Jones's Diary have finally given the sport its due. Wimbledon may not be definitive, but it's by far the best tennis film ever made. Of course, with such lame competition, such stature is easy to attain, but Wimbledon succeeds on many levels, some of which have nothing to do with tennis. Funny, insightful, exciting, and endlessly charming, the film not only takes a realistic look at the pressures of the pro tour, but also stands on its own as a classy, entertaining production. And for a sport that uses "love" as part of its scoring lingo, it's a darn good romance, too.

When I first saw TV ads for Wimbledon during last year's U.S. Open, they didn't bowl me over. The romantic comedy angle seemed trite and the clips looked too cutesy and clichéd. Another tennis dud, I thought. But when the film garnered several positive reviews, I decided to give it a chance, and was amazed at how quickly it sucked me in emotionally, and how well its various ingredients meshed. Though the film's marketing tries to convince us otherwise, Wimbledon is first and foremost a sports film, but it also works just fine as a straight romantic comedy. No two genres could be more diametrically opposed, and pairing them would seem suicidal, but somehow Loncraine pulls it off. The light moments cut the competitive tension and spice up gooey love scenes, while the romance (and its implied impact on athletic performance) adds depth and additional conflict.

Tennis fans might consider the story of Peter Colt (Paul Bettany), a journeyman British player on the verge of retirement who makes a Cinderella run at Wimbledon, pure fantasy. After all, no Englishman has won the tournament in almost 70 years. But great sports films require tremendous underdogs, and outside of an Eskimo taking the title, Colt fills the bill. Once ranked 11th in the world, the 31-year-old now sits at #119, and questions his ability to compete with a younger, faster, hungrier breed. He decides to give Wimbledon a final shot, then retire to the cushy confines of a posh country club to teach rich housewives how to hit a backhand.

Peter enters the tournament with only a glimmer of hope, but his perspective brightens when he stumbles upon American hotshot Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst), a rising star whose sassy court demeanor resembles that of a young John McEnroe. With focus, confidence, and an unquenchable desire to win, Lizzie has what Peter lacks. Yet as their relationship grows, she rekindles his competitive flame, and inspires him to succeed. Peter marches through the draw, generating considerable buzz and attention, and though Lizzie advances as well, her domineering father (Sam Neill) worries the affair will dull her mental edge and thus spoil her dream of winning Wimbledon.

Actors often look ridiculous impersonating athletes, but Dunst and especially Bettany pull off the masquerade with natural, believable performances. Their palpable chemistry at once immerses us in their relationship, and they handle some awkward romantic dialogue with ease. Bettany, one of the finest actors working today, brings Peter and his myriad insecurities to life. His low-key charisma and self-deprecating manner put us immediately in his corner, and we continue rooting for him throughout the film. It would have been easy to make Peter slick and macho, but Bettany avoids the trap, and crafts a human performance that's both gentle and gutsy.

Dunst seems forever saddled with a love interest named Peter, but it's refreshing to see her in something other than a Spider-Man film. She seems to enjoy the change-of-pace, embracing both the brash and tender aspects of her character, while acutely conveying the confidence and ego of a world class athlete. In supporting roles, the marvelous Bernard Hill and Eleanor Bron shine as Peter's bickering parents, Jon Favreau milks laughs as an opportunistic agent, and Sam Neill strikes just the right tone as Lizzie's over-protective dad, a man who wants what's best for his daughter on and off the court. Tennis legends John McEnroe and Chris Evert offer somewhat stilted commentary on the fictional matches (keep your day jobs, guys), while tennis journalist Mary Carillo handles the less demanding interviews with aplomb.

The film's flashy visual style also earns kudos, heightening audience involvement and lending the sport some high-tech attitude. Tennis can look rather static on film, but Loncraine shakes up camera angles and adds ingenious effects to stimulate the senses. The climactic match is particularly well done; it builds like a crescendo and brims with suspense, excitement, humor, and enough emotion to wring a few tears. Wimbledon, however, goes beyond on-court play, taking us inside a tennis player's heart, gut, and mind, where destructive seeds of self-doubt constantly sprout. It also provides a glimpse of the laser sharp (and oh-so-elusive) focus an athlete needs to win a championship.

Loncraine does make a few unforced errors (such as setting a semifinal match on an outer court), but only tennis fanatics will notice them. For the most part, though, Wimbledon is all aces, and scores an upset as one of 2004's most delightful surprises.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Wimbledon sports one of the finest widescreen anamorphic transfers in recent memory, beautifully meeting the visual challenges imposed by director Loncraine. The film exudes a slight digital sheen that serves it well, with colors diffused just enough to look real without sacrificing vibrancy and depth. Blacks are solid and rich, while clarity and contrast are superb, especially when Loncraine juxtaposes the players' bright tennis whites with Wimbledon's lush green lawns. Color saturation across the board is excellent, fleshtones look natural—even Bettany's pale, freckle-faced British complexion is well rendered—and nocturnal London looks just as sharp and detailed as it does in broad daylight. Not a single nick or dust speck nor any edge enhancement muck up the presentation, and only one brief shimmer caught my eye. A few scenes look ever-so-slightly overexposed, and the use of CGI during the tennis matches is easier to detect on disc than in theaters, but these minor quibbles shouldn't inhibit anyone's enjoyment of this seamless, often dazzling presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Universal treats viewers to two high-quality audio tracks, both of which offer finely detailed sound that augments but never overwhelms the action. I almost always prefer DTS over DD 5.1, and Wimbledon is no exception. From the opening credit sequence, where we hear the ping of a tennis ball being "volleyed" back and forth across the front speakers, the audio remains crisp and well defined. The surrounds kick in surprisingly often for a romantic comedy, adding ambience during both urban and seaside scenes, and a sense of excitement when overzealous photographers spring into action. The crowd noise during the matches nicely envelops, further immersing one in Wimbledon's unique atmosphere, and the sound of the ball hitting the racket or bouncing off the grass is stirringly effective. Dialogue is always easy to understand, and Edward Shearmur's music score enjoys lovely presence and fidelity, as does Avril Lavigne's song Mobile, which acutely underscores a pivotal montage.

The 5.1 track performs equally well, but just can't match the level of detail and sonic purity of DTS. Those without DTS capabilities won't be disappointed, but if your system supports the format, definitely select it.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Friday Night Lights, The Terminal, Vanity Fair
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Richard Loncraine and actor Paul Bettany
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 53m:35s

Extras Review: Wimbledon salutes both movie and tennis fans with a spate of entertaining and substantive extras, beginning with an insightful audio commentary by director Richard Loncraine and actor Paul Bettany. Both men hold each other in high esteem (and will soon work together again on The Wrong Element), and their mature, thoughtful, and often funny remarks greatly enhance the film. The pair discusses the inherent difficulties of filming tennis, the special effects employed to make the sport look real and exciting, the dicey nature of romantic comedy, why major tennis stars like Andy Roddick, Roger Federer, and the Williams sisters weren't cast as opponents, and how the movie required 36 weeks of post-production to achieve the proper look. We also learn real paparazzi were hired to coach the on-screen journalists, and that John McEnroe suggested Kirsten Dunst's character call him a "wanker" following one of his trademark—albeit scripted—tirades. Bettany reveals his disdain for voiceovers, and Loncraine recalls passing over future Wimbledon champ Maria Sharapova for a bit part because she looked too much like Dunst. A genial tone, Bettany's dry British wit, and some playful ribbing make the track enjoyable and a very worthwhile listen.

Four absorbing featurettes follow. The first, Wimbledon: A Look Inside, runs 10 minutes, and largely focuses on the mental aspect of tennis. Through the eyes of former Wimbledon champs McEnroe, Chris Evert, and Pat Cash (the film's tennis advisor), we get a unique perspective on the superstitious nature of tennis players, and how inner demons can often undermine their confidence. Producer Eric Fellner discusses the "immediate chemistry" between Bettany and Dunst, who describe their respective characters and briefly analyze the film's plot. A look at how Evert and McEnroe filmed their announcing sequences is also included in this better-than-average piece.

The three-minute Welcome to the Club examines Wimbledon itself, which director Loncraine calls "a bit of old England." In typical reserved fashion, Wimbledon official Tim Phillips terms the film crew's invasion onto the club's hallowed grounds "a very interesting diversion," and a collection of behind-the-scenes production clips shows why. In Coach A Rising Star (which also runs three minutes), tennis advisor Cash recalls the daunting task of turning Bettany and Dunst into "Wimbledon champions" in a mere four months, and we see the two training and performing on the court. Doubles specialist Murphy Jensen (who appears in the film as one of Bettany's adversaries) praises the stars, while McEnroe (who mentions his own appearance in the disastrous Players—though, tellingly, not by name) lauds Wimbledon's authentic feel.

Ball Control delves into the pervasive special effects, which make the tennis sequences so realistic and exciting. After extensive training with Cash, the actors would pantomime their rallies like a choreographed dance, with technicians adding the ball through CGI later on. Sometimes 30 or more takes would be required to get an adequate shot. Such innovative processes as Timeslice and Motion Control are also explained and demonstrated during this fascinating five-minute featurette.

Wimbledon's original theatrical trailer, which includes snatches of scenes deleted prior to release, completes the extras package.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Seamlessly merging romantic comedy with serious competition, Wimbledon does tennis fans proud. Yet its wit, style, and sensitivity will also charm (and maybe convert) anyone who appreciates fine film. A terrific transfer, top-notch audio, and absorbing extras make this exhilarating love match a grand slam winner. Highly recommended.

 


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