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1 Blu-ray Review

1 (2014) Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com 1

Video Debut: January 28, 2014 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Paul Crowder / Writer: Mark Monroe / Narrator: Michael Fassbender

Tagline: The true story of the drivers who risked their lives and changed the sport forever.

Interview Subjects: Martin Brundle, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, John Watson, Michael Schumacher, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, John Barnard, John Surtees, Clive Chapman, Jackie Stewart, Sally Swart, Lewis Hamilton, Jo Ramirez, Brigitte Hill, Max Mosley, Maurice Hamilton, Herbie Blash, Eddie Dennis, John Miles, Bernie Ecclestone, Nigel Roebuck, Koen Vergeer, John Hogan, Jacky Ickx, Roy Topp, Jody Schekter, Lord Hesketh, Eddie Jordan, Jane Birbeck, Patty McNally, Freddie Hunt, Brett Lunger, Niki Lauda, Dr. Sid Watkins, Sebastian Vettel

1.78:1 Widescreen / Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish / Not Closed Captioned; Extra Not Subtitled
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25) / Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($19.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

Buy 1 from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD Instant Video

America loves football. The rest of the world loves soccer. America loves NASCAR. The rest of the world -- well, Europe, anyway -- apparently loves Formula 1. Personally, I don't care for any of these activities. Forget auto racing for recreation; I'm not even crazy about driving out of necessity. But my preferences don't preclude me from giving a movie with that subject matter a chance to impress.
The documentary 1 is not something I'd ever seek out on my own. Send me a Blu-ray of it, though, and I'm more than likely to give it a look the week it's released.

1 celebrates Formula 1 racing, paying special notice to the sport's international competition in the 1960s and '70s. Since "racing's cool!" wouldn't make for the most sophisticated of films, 1 opts for something a little more substantial than that, by charting the sport's evolving safety measures and reflecting on the many notable lives lost at the wheel.

Interviewing drivers (including such achievers as Mario Andretti and Michael Schumacher), their wives/girlfriends and relatives, mechanics, authors, marketers, and owners, the film gives us a chronological history of the sport, starting in the 1950s. It singles out the first big name in Formula 1, five-time champion Juan Manuel Fangio, but despite this impression, the movie will not simply be running through a list of legends. It moves through the 1960s with looks at key specific Grand Prix races around Europe and the culture emerging around them.

Mario Andretti is one of numerous accomplished Formula 1 racers interviewed in the documentary "1." I'm an elf - work, work, work, work, work, work! I'm an elf - work, work, work, work, work, work!

Though it interests such icons as Grace Kelly and Steve McQueen (the actor), that culture is described as dangerous and too often deadly. Safety comes second to speed for the racers. The powers that be, from the manufacturers like Enzo Ferrari to the governing bodies, seem to turn a blind eye towards dangerous road conditions and do not supply adequate on-site medical assistance. And thus, every few months or so, a promising racer dies doing what they love, a fiery public death before thousands of enthusiastic spectators.

Of chief interest to the film's 1970s stretch is the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda, the one dramatized in Ron Howard's recent drama Rush (whose complete Oscar shut-out surprised many). It's easy to see movie potential in this passage, the contrast between rock star-like Brit Hunt and the low-key Austrian Lauda being evident. Their competitive races were closely observed by many and though Hunt emerged victorious, Lauda's bold decision to pull out of a race where he feared his life is deemed to have a greater impact on the sport.

Safety was improved, but not enough to prevent the 1994 death of Brazil's Ayrton Senna, which raised questions and sent shockwaves through the sport. That tragedy is contrasted with the 1996 Australian Grand Prix crash of Martin Brundle, an incident the film opens and closes on, with Brundle himself happily able to tell the tale.

James Hunt and Niki Lauda, the Formula 1 racers whose 1970s rivalry is dramatized in "Rush", claim much screentime in the second hour of "1."

While 1 seems to want to commend Formula 1 for looking out for its racers, noting Senna's death twenty years ago as the last to occur during a race, that this activity could go on accepting death for so long is a head-scratcher, both for the drivers and the fans. I have enough difficulty imagining an interest in most of the traditionally popular team sports
that I can't even fathom following one where competitors wind up dead with any regularity. But that's me. I'm sure there are people out there who can't imagine liking movies enough to watch and write about them daily.

Making extensive use of tasteful period tunes, specifically their instrumentals, 1 does a decent job of holding the attention of those like me who enter with no interest whatsoever in the subject. It's easy to follow with no prior knowledge of racing and not much of a challenge to endure the nearly two-hour runtime. The film is narrated by 12 Years a Slave's Oscar-nominated actor Michael Fassbender in his rarely-heard native brogue. I'll assume he's a Formula 1 fan.

Though, as the packaging notes, this hails from the producers of 2011's Academy Award-winning high school football documentary Undefeated, 1 had no chance at similar accolades, its eligibility shed in the film's Internet debut last October on the heels of Rush. While it apparently made it to theaters in the UK this month and will roll out to the Netherlands in March, it's already hit home video in the US, Millennium Entertainment's DVD and Blu-ray editions wisely reaching stores on Tuesday, the same day as Rush.

Though not rated, 1 features a tiny bit of profanity and a flash of nudity, which might have been enough to have gotten it an R from the MPAA.

VIDEO and AUDIO

As 1 relies extensively on archival footage, the Blu-ray's 1.78:1 presentation very rarely looks like high definition. Considering the various limited sources and age, the licensed footage looks quite good most of the time. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack keeps the new interview audio recordings crisp and does well distributing the fitting needle drops (which include songs by Wings, The Allman Brothers and The Spencer Davis Group), but otherwise doesn't do much you notice, keeping the seemingly obligatory racing sounds to a minimum.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The disc's unadvertised only bonus feature is 1's trailer (2:19, HD), which turns up in a Previews section, joined by the ones the disc automatically plays for Parkland, Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear, Charlie Countryman, and Run.

The scored main menu plays racing clips with sound effects intact. Regrettably, the Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks and does not resume playback.

No inserts join the disc, whose label repositions cover art elements, inside the plain blue case, which is topped by a glossy slipcover reproducing the same artwork found below.

Revlon fortune heir Peter Revson, evidently overshadowed by his girlfriend, is one of a number of deceased Formula 1 racers remembered in "1." The mustache was popular with early Formula 1 racers.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It's possible to watch 1 with no appreciation for Formula 1 racing and stay reasonably invested. Still, a documentary like this seems of chief interest to fans of the sport that could stand to gain some history and perspective. Though well-made, the film could use more human interest to enliven its star worship.

Buy 1 at Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed January 31, 2014.



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