100 Years of Olympic Films
25: Seoul 1988
Spanning fifty-three movies and forty-one editions of the Olympic Summer and Winter Games, this one-of-a-kind collection assembles, for the first time, a century’s worth of Olympic films—the culmination of a monumental, award-winning archival project encompassing dozens of new restorations by the International Olympic Committee. These documentaries cast a cinematic eye on some of the most iconic moments in the history of modern sports, spotlighting athletes who embody the Olympic motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger”: Jesse Owens shattering sprinting world records on the track in 1936 Berlin, Jean Claude-Killy dominating the slopes of Grenoble in 1968, Joan Benoit breaking away to win the first-ever women’s marathon on the streets of Los Angeles in 1984. In addition to the work of Bud Greenspan, the man behind an impressive ten Olympic features, this stirring collective chronicle of triumph and defeat includes such landmarks of the documentary form as Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia and Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad, along with lesser-known but captivating contributions by major directors like Claude Lelouch, Carlos Saura, and Miloš Forman. It also serves as a fascinating window onto the formal development of cinema itself, as well as the technological progress that has enabled the viewer, over the years, to get ever closer to the action. Traversing continents and decades, and reflecting as well the social, cultural, and political changes that have shaped our recent history, this remarkable marathon of films offers nothing less than a panorama of a hundred years of human endeavor.
Disc 25 of Criterion’s Blu-ray box set 100 Years of Olympic Films presents two more films covering the 1988 Seoul Games: Im Kwon-taek’s Hand in Hand and Lee Ji-won’s Beyond All Barriers. Both films are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and the notes indicate both films come from high-definition restorations. There are no details on the source materials. Both films receive 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes on this dual-layer disc.
Like Seoul 88 on the previous disc both films are making use of what are obviously older masters, but also like the previous film they both manage to come off looking very good and still possess a nice film-like look to them, for most of the time anyways. Both have a lot of detail to them, both in close-ups and long shots. The opening and closing ceremonies are covered a bit more in-depth here (almost two-thirds of Beyond All Barriers is actually devoted to the opening ceremony), most of which is presented in long shots, and the finer details of costumes and props during these events are clear as day.
The colours in Seoul 88 were a little washed, but they look more vibrant here, better saturated, and because of that the colourful opening ceremony comes to life. Black levels in both films are rich and deep, and I was quite impressed with how clear the nighttime closing ceremony looks in both films.
Grain is managed fine enough, though could look better. Both films also contain a number of scratches and bits of dirt throughout, along with pulsing and flickering, though Beyond All Barriers is the less problematic of the two in this regard. Hand in Hand also not only makes use of some archival film footage but it also presents video footage. Some appears to be archival, but a handball sequence uses video for some of its coverage before going back to film, and I’m unsure if that was actually the intent of the filmmaker or if it was the only material available for this restoration.
In the end both look pretty good. They’re still nowhere near the best presentations in the set, and they’re obviously a bit older, but I was still pleased with how they have come out.
Hand in Hand comes with a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo surround track and Beyond All Barriers presents a lossless PCM 1.0 mono track. Both are significantly better than the distorted audio track that came with Seoul 88, though they are still a little rough around the edges.
Hand in Hand really tries to go out with its expanded soundfield, opening with some rather heavy sound effects moving between the speakers. From there music, effects from the events, and the cheers of the crowd surround the viewer throughout the rest of the film. The mix is surprisingly active, manages volume levels well, and the track sounds pretty clean, some noise being notable in places. There is a bit of an edge to some of the louder elements, and fidelity can also leave one wanting; the fireworks at the end, for example, should probably be booming, but they end up being flat and underwhelming.
The mono track on Beyond All Barriers is serviceable, but the narration and the sounds from both ceremonies are flat and one-note, lacking fidelity and range. But there are otherwise no significant problems with the track and gets the job done.
Hand in Hand (1988): 7/10 Beyond All Barriers (1988): 6/10
As mentioned in the other articles on this set there are no on-disc special features to speak of. The set does come with an incredibly thorough 216-page hardbound book, featuring material on the restorations by Adrian Wood along with essays covering the films, all written by film scholar Peter Cowie. It is also filled with photos from the various events. Cowie writes one essay for all three films in this set that cover the Seoul ’88 Games, looking at the differing styles and how each respective filmmaker chronicles the Games. He also covers some details about the events, along with controversies that came up. (The grade given here refers to the supplements for the set as a whole, which, in this case, is just the included book.)
The presentations for each film obviously come from older masters but they still hold up quite well, delivering sharp details and strong colours.