When it comes to contemporary sports heroes, no one seems more larger-than-life than NBA superstar Michael Jordan. So who better to be the first sole subject of an IMAX film? Fans of both the game and the man will find plenty to like in this large-format look at Chicago Bulls' No. 23, but they'll also leave wishing for more.
An inspiring homage to arguably one of the finest athletes in living memory, "Michael Jordan to the MAX," doesn't come close to capturing the rich complexity of the man. Nor does the film ever stray into any darker corners of Jordan's soul. Given that the film's major funding source is mvp.com, an Internet venture co-owned by Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Andre Agassi, it's not surprising that the film is all roses and no thorns.
As an eyepopping pep talk for young fans, the film is an inspiring change of pace from the usual scientific bent of IMAX and other large-format movies. But I'm just not sure this large format is well-suited for documentary-style filmmaking. Add to that the unwritten rule that IMAX films should clock in under 50 minutes, and it's easy to understand the difficulty of adequately covering Jordan's story. But then again, does all that matter when the audience gets an extreme-eye-view of Jordan's fanciest moves? We're not talking your ordinary replay, either. There's simply no way to describe the awesome feeling you'll get watching Jordan slam-dunk in slow motion several stories high.
Using state-of-the-art techniques, including the bullet-time, 360-degree freeze effect featured in "The Matrix," "Michael Jordan to the MAX" has just as many breathtaking images as last year's biggest large-format hit, "Everest."
Focusing on the climax of Jordan's final season, the 1998 NBA playoffs, the filmmakers manage to build tension as we watch and wait, wondering if Jordan will end his career, winning an unprecedented sixth championship ring for the Bulls. Were we not caught up in the spectacular imagery of the games and Jordan's legendary will to win, we would, of course, remember how those playoffs ended.
That series of games captures the variety of Jordan's skills and moves, whether it's his ability to dominate the pace and flow of a game (sweeping the New Jersey Nets) or his ability to dig deep and turn mentally tough enough to battle on when he's clearly exhausted (against the Indian Pacers). The incredible finish (taking down the Utah Jazz) is another entire lesson in Steel-Jordan.
But as much as the IMAX cameras capture of Jordan's moves, skills and philosophy, there's still more that's never touched upon. From a purely sports angle, Jordan's game is so varied that confining his basketball moves to this one series severely underrepresents his mastery of the game. None of his acrobatic moves from the early years when Da' Bulls were losing, mind you are included. And even though his life is being told, not much real information is passed along. For instance, never is it mentioned that Jordan is married, much less with children. When the movie does inject personal matter, specifically the murder of his father, it seems awkward and terribly out of place. Even his detour into pro baseball feels like an afterthought, crudely tacked on without even a snippet of Jordan's "first" retirement speech.
Then again, the filmmakers do make Jordan's game the real drama here. When we're watching him jump, leap and catch some serious air, the fact that "Michael Jordan to the MAX" is something of a love letter to himself seems unimportant.
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