ESPN’s Ultimate X was originally shot for the IMAX experience and is presented here in a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. The picture looks absolutely gorgeous and doesn’t suffer from many of the IMAX transfer issues seen years ago – mainly, the image looking like it’s being presented in miniature rather than actual size. There are no such issues here and ESPN’s Ultimate X looked exactly as it should for such a recently released film.
The image is very sharp and stable from beginning to end and whether the action is being shown sped-up or in slow motion, it all looks intricately detailed and grand. The color palette in the film is very bold and vibrant, as everything from the athlete’s colorful and eccentric uniforms to the advertisements that adorn the stadiums and parks stand out well in Touchstone’s transfer. If you’re at all familiar with the X-Games of the last 4-5 years, you should recall that there’s as much advertising here as there is at a NASCAR race and if nothing else, it makes for a very colorful presentation and Touchstone handles it just fine with their marvelously accurate hues. Bleeding and oversaturation were never an issue and fleshtones were always accurate and natural – all the way down to the multiple tattoos on the athlete’s bodies. Black levels were spot-on, allowing for excellent shadow detail and delineation, and Ultimate X held up well as a very three-dimensional image.
Problems with the transfer were minimal, as the only flaws I noted were some slight shimmer and some very minimal edge enhancement and grain. Outside of that, the image was a few flaws short of perfection.
Ultimately, the film was enormously pleasing from beginning to end and Ultimate X was easily one of the better viewing experiences I have had in months. This was simply an excellent transfer from Touchstone Home Video and must be seen to be believed.
Touchstone has given Ultimate X some really sweet audio treatment, with dueling Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks. Both sound marvelous and help make Ultimate X an incredible home viewing experience, although I found the DTS track a bit more pleasing to my ears. While the Dolby Digital 5.1 track for the film was top-notch and absolutely light years ahead of most of what I’ve been listening to lately, the DTS track seemed to be a bit more rich and robust; containing fuller highs and more taut lows with slightly more fine dynamics and fidelity.
The film is actually more soundtrack driven that dialogue driven, as the alternative/hard rock soundtrack received outstanding treatment from the fine folks at Touchstone. Every speaker in your home theater setup will literally spring to life, as the soundtrack dominates the majority of the proceedings and each and every song that was used was totally appropriate for what was happening on the screen in order to make the film that much more involving. I haven’t seen concert films that have received the extraordinary treatment that ESPN’s Ultimate X received and the studio deserves some major kudos for making the film’s transition over to DVD so impressive. The soundtrack contains tunes from groups like Black Sabbath, Incubus, Pennywise, P.O.D., Cypress Hill, Fatboy Slim, and others. Effects were very natural and were usually limited to bikes (Moto and BMX), luges, and skateboards cavorting extensively around the soundstage in order to provide multiple instances of impressive pans and split surround usage. Dialogue was always front, center, and easily understood, while the .1 LFE received a marvelous workout throughout the entire film.
This was simply an amazing mix and one that was absolutely enjoyed for the entire running time of the short film. Even if you aren’t interested in the athletes, the soundtrack transfer in and of itself was worth the price of admission. Touchstone has not included any alternate language tracks and has provided French and Spanish subtitles, along with English Closed Captions.
Touchstone’s Ultimate X DVD comes with one of the least intuitive menus I’ve ever had the pleasure of coming across and by clicking on the ‘?’, I was thankfully taken to an Icon Key that would help me navigating around the disc.
There’s an icon that looks like a ‘Movie Camera’ that takes us to some Sneak Peeks for other Touchstone films - Reign of Fire and Bad Company to be more precise. Both of the DVD previews are presented in widescreen and Dolby Digital 2.0.
The ‘+’ icon represents the remainder of the bonus materials for the disc, with many more confusing sub-selection icons contained within. There’s gonna be a lot of redundant material in this section, so I’m gonna paint certain sections of the extras with a very broad brush to avoid that redundancy and hopefully, you’ll be able to easily follow the layout of the supplements for Ultimate X.
Each sport is represented by it’s own graphical icon, as skateboarders have a ‘Skate’ icon; the motocross guys have a ‘Moto’ icon, the BMX guys have a ‘BMX’ icon, and the street luge athletes have a ‘Luge’ icon. By clicking on these icons, we are taken to a sub-selection that contains information on many of the well-known athletes in that discipline. Then, once inside of the section we are interested in, we can obtain loads of information on the particular athletes we choose. By selecting from one of many more graphical (and somewhat confusing) icons, our information is broken down further into "Athlete Profiles" - represented by a ‘Person’ icon; "2001 Medal Moments" - represented by a ‘Medal’ icon; and even more random footage featuring the athlete under a selection entitled "X-Tras" - represented by an ‘X’. Trick Breakouts are also included in the ‘Skate’ and ‘BMX’ sections and are represented by a graphical icon with a ‘Grid’ behind it.
As far as the information provided, the Athlete Profile is a video that offers up a quick biographical sketch on the athlete in question, with footage from many of his events, as well as interview snippets with the athlete himself. Medal Moments are video-based as well and offer up some highlights of the athlete’s performance at the 2001 X-Games. Finally, under X-Tras, we get more video footage of the athlete in action with a bit more in-depth information on a particular trick and/or situation. The Breakouts selection features a particular athlete as he walks us through a trick. Then, video is shown in super-slow-mo so we can watch what’s happening in the air. All of the videos contain the fast-editing and loud music you’ve come to expect from the X-Games and they all contain interview snippets from various athletes.
Under ‘Skateboarding’, we get three sub-selections to choose from – namely, Tony Hawk who receives an "Athlete Profile" (0:47), two "Medal Moments" (1:01 and 1:39 respectively), and some "X-Tra" footage (5:31 – featuring Tony’s 900 degree spin – very sweet); Bob Burnquist who gets an "Athlete Profile" (0:55), a "Medal Moment" (1:34), some "X-Tra" footage (5:03), and a "Trick Breakout" (1:22); finally, Bucky Lasek receives a "Profile" (0:46), a "Medal Moment" (0:58), "X-Tra" footage (5:03 – and exactly the same footage viewed for Burnquist’s X-Tra), and a "Trick Breakout" (1:20).
The ‘Moto’ section contains information on three athletes - Travis Pastrana who receives an "Athlete Profile" (1:04), a "Medal Moment" (1:47), and some "X-Tra" footage (4:11); "Brian Deegan" who is given a "Profile" (0:59), as well as a "Medal Moment" (1:08); and Carey Hart has a selectable "Profile" (0:46) and "X-Tra" footage (3:43).
’BMX’ contains many sub-selections which include riders Cory Nastazio (one clip lasting 0:53); TJ Lavin who is given an "Athlete Profile" (0:54), as well as a "Medal Moment" (1:27); Ryan Nyquist has an "Athlete Profile" (0:59), a "Medal Moment" (1:27) and a "Trick Breakout" (0:53); Stephen Murray (one clip lasting 1:00), and of course, Dave Mirra who gets a "Profile" (0:50), a "Medal Moment" (1:05), and a "Trick Breakout" (1:05).
Also included in the ‘BMX’ section is a selection entitled BMX-Tras that contains three more video snippets – ‘2001 Downhill Run’ (1:23), ‘BMX Dirt Stunt’ (3:54), and ‘BMX Legends’ (4:22). Hopefully, the names of the clips are self-explanatory enough for you.
Under the ‘Luge’ section, we only have one athlete to learn about – David Rogers – and included in his section is a "Profile" (0:59), a "Medal Moment" (1:06), and one clip of "X-Tra" footage (3:11) that features many of the lugers you may or may not know from the X-Games.
The differentiation in the footage was minimal and the information would have been just as fun to work through had Touchstone simply devoted 4-5 minutes to each athlete. Anyway, it’s a small gripe and viewers should appreciate the fact that Touchstone has included so much extra footage.
Now that we’re through with information on the individual athletes, we click on a big –X- in order to get to some more extra footage. This footage is presented in a more traditional sense – mainly without icons and with a text-based description. Starting things off is the X-Gallery Mega Mix and it’s here that we can select music videos from some of the more hardcore bands featured on the DVD. The videos are paired with a certain X-Games discipline and the bands/songs featured include, Fallen From Earth – “Save Me”; Sloth – “Falling Down”; The Full Nine – “Not Over”; 3rd Strike – “Flow Heat”; Schatzi – “Death of the Alphabet”, and 3rd Strike – “No Light”. The songs are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, with the videos being framed in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
Old School (4:33) was next and it introduced us to Ray Flores, owner of “The Board Gallery” in Venice Beach, CA. He gives a bit of history on “extreme” sports and offers up some reasons on why skateboarding and the like have become so popular. There’s some nice history and archival footage contained here (especially on the Z-Boys and Dogtown) and unfortunately, the supplement was too short to be completely engrossing.
Next up is Hits and Misses (2:13) and it contains exactly what you think it does – some beautiful landings and some horrendous crashes. It’s nothing more than a long music video that doubles as a highlight reel. However, it was worth checking out nonetheless.
This is followed by Broken Bones (4:21), which is more of the same, but only highlighting the crashes. It does interview a lot of the athletes however and they discuss the inherent dangers in the sport. Their comments are backed-up by Dr. David Chao, who I assume is a chiropractic surgeon of some sort, and he goes in to some rather specific detail on the types of injuries these athletes sustain.
The Girls of the Games (3:37) is the last “real” extra and provides us with some information on many of the female athletes that compete against the guys in the X-Games. Interviews are conducted with the predominantly male athletes, as well as their female counterparts, and we get a very breezy extra on how the barriers between men and women are broken down when the X-Athletes get down to business.
Last up, we have the option of "Registering Your DVD" via a DVD-ROM drive and Internet access, as well as have the ability to browse a Bonus Material Song List. That way, if we were smitten with any of the songs we heard on the DVD, we’ll know what the song was and who sang it. The list is logically broken down and easy to follow for those of you so inclined.
There’s also an easily accessed Easter Egg on the disc that contains DVD credits. Press –DOWN- on your DVD remote while on the "Bonus Material Song List" and you’ll see a little ‘Radioactive’ icon appear. Press –ENTER- and find out whose responsible for the Ultimate X DVD.
The disc also contains a THX Optimizer under the AUDIO SETUP menu (which is represented by a ‘Speaker’ icon) that will calibrate your settings for optimal A/V on the Ultimate X disc only. If you’re so inclined – knock yourself out – I tend to shy away from this feature and have no intention of trying it out now.
Interestingly enough, also under the AUDIO SETUP menu, we have two viewing options for Ultimate X – one for the Original Theatrical Version (which I reviewed) and one for an Ultimate Interactive Version. The best way to describe the "Ultimate" version is to apply New Line’s –infinifilm- model to Ultimate X. As you’re watching the film, at certain moments, the icons for "Athlete Profile / Medal Moments / X-Tra Footage" will pop up (or some combination thereof) and by choosing one of those icons, you’ll be taken to some of the footage from extras contained on other parts of the disc. When you’re done with the snippet, you’re taken right back to the point in the film that you were in before you left. With the film being so short, this isn’t a bad way to view it, but I’d definitely recommend watching it through at least once without this option turned ‘ON’.
Touchstone has added a nice cross-section of extras to supplement Ultimate X and fans of the sport(s) are greatly rewarded with extras that actually run longer than the film itself. While most run around a minute or so, there are quite a few that are 5-minutes plus and ultimately, each and every one was worth checking out and did a fine job of highlighting a particular athlete and his/her chosen sport.
I imagine your enjoyment of the X-Games or “extreme sports” will directly impact your enjoyment and/or reactions to ESPN’s Ultimate X. However, if you’re interested, rest assured that Touchstone has covered all the bases and made sure that the upcoming DVD is extraordinarily tight in every respect. In a nutshell, Ultimate X comes highly recommended.