100 Years of Olympic Films
30: Salt Lake City 2002/Athens 2004
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.
Getting so much closer to the end of Criterion box set 100 Years of Olympic Films, disc 30 presents two more films from Bud Greenspan (who is now putting his name on the titles!) covering the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games and the 2004 Athens Summer Games: Salt Lake City 2002: Bud Greenspan’s Stories of Olympic Glory and Bud Greenspan’s Athens 2004: Stories of Olympic Glory. The former film is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and the latter in the ratio of 1.37:1. They are both encoded at 1080i/60hz on this dual-layer disc.
Both films appear to have been shot in standard-definition digital and because of that neither really looks better than a good DVD presentation. I was fairly impressed with some of the quality, the image able to deliver a decent amount of detail at times, even in long shots. But this quality does vary, and I suspect it really comes down to the equipment being used. Most of the film appears to use a high-quality digital cameras while other shots look like they’re using a bargain bin point-and-click Canon camera: the quality of the subpar shots are littered with jagged edges, digital noise, edge halos, and awful shimmering.
The rest of the image is far more stable and cleaner, but since the image is essentially being upscaled to high-definition you still notice a bit of noise, some blockiness, and jagged edges. I was impressed with the colours, which manage to be bright and nicely saturated, reds looking especially good. Black levels are also amazingly strong, night sequences managing to look clear.
Ultimately, both films are limited by their source, and at best they’re decent standard-definition upscales.
Both films receive lossless PCM 2.0 stereo surround presentations, and their television roots show here. Audio is spread nicely between the front speakers, with some sneaking to the back, but the mix is pretty bare in the end. Quality is good, though, and there is no distortion or noise.
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. Each Game/film receives its own essay, but Cowie focuses more on the Games themselves rather than the films, with Cowie obviously having less to say about Greenspan and his style of documentary. (The grade given here refers to the supplements for the set as a whole, which, in this case, is just the included book.)
Two decent standard-definition upscales in the end.