Monday, October 18, 2010

Gear Review: Running Movies

Seeing as I watch a lot of movies while on the trainer, I've been doing much more watching movies about running than actual running lately. Additionally, since I doubt none of you care too much to hear about my bike trainer adventures, I figured I'd throw some reviews of movies I've been watching for motivation lately.

Chariots of Fire (1981)
I didn't re-watch this movie. I put it here mainly to warn you that it's not nearly as good as the famous opening credits may lead you to believe. Far too slow moving and definitely not trainer material. Starring Ian Charleston and Ben Cross as real-life sprinters Eric Liddell (a devout Christian from Scotland who doesn't run on Sundays) and Harold Abraham (an English Jew who runs to escape prejudice).

Running Brave (1983) 
Running Brave tells the story of Billy Mills (Robby Benson), 1964 10,000m Olympic gold medalist. Unlike some of the other movies on this list, Running Brave is really a runner's movie, the kind of movie that you appreciate far more if you actually run. Running Brave details Mills's struggle with leaving his Native American reservation for the University of Kansas and the racism that he encounters while at the University. The middle parts of this movie are a little slow, but the Tokyo Olympics scene is unforgettable, made even more powerful by the fact that that's what actually happened on the final straightaway. Holy crap.

Prefontaine (1997)
Prefontaine was the first of two movies (second of three if you count the 1995 documentary Fire on the Track) chronicling the life of American 5000m runner Steve Prefontaine (Jared Leto). Prefontaine has a documentary feel to it, featuring "interviews" with the actors playing the parts of Pre's acquaintances. It also details the political side of Pre's career, turning a large focus to his battle with the AAU and touching on the 1972 Munich massacre. The 5000m in Munich is the high point of Prefontaine, excellently done to Mason Daring's "Munich Race," and featuring clips from the actual 1972 Olympics (and a rather pretty boy Lasse Viren). Also, R. Lee Ermey (Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket) is excellent as Pre's coach, Bill Bowerman.

Without Limits (1998)
A year after Prefontaine's release, Robert Towne's Without Limits hit theaters. Without Limits has a polish that Prefontaine lacks. It feels better produced and more professional, as well as more accessible to the mainstream audience, glossing over the politics and focusing more on Pre's relationship with Bowerman (Donald Sutherland). While Emery's Bowerman comes off as tough and unforgiving, Sutherland's Bowerman is a little warmer and more eccentric. I'm actually not sure which portrayal is more historically accurate, though I tend to favor Ermey as being more convincing (that may be at least partially because I'm a Full Metal Jacket fan). Billy Crudup is a fantastic Prefontaine, coming off as tough, arrogant, and a bit of a womanizer. On a whole, Without Limits' race scenes are more powerful than Prefontaine's, though I'd still give Prefontaine's Olympic race the edge. Also with the exception of Daring's "Munich Race," Without Limits' soundtrack is superior to Prefontaine's.

Running on the Sun: The Badwater 135 (2000)
Running on the Sun differs from the previous movies on this list in that it's an actual documentary, rather than a movie based on real life events. Running on the Sun follows several athletes through their experience at the 1999 Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135 mile race that begins in Death Valley (282 feet below sea level) and ends at the Portals of Mount Whitney (8360 feet above sea level). Runners face temperatures of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as dehydration, fatigue, melting shoes, and the worst chafing I've seen in my life. Inspiring movie, even if it does further convince me that there will be no more ultramarathons in my future.

Saint Ralph (2004)
Saint Ralph is the first fiction movie on this list. Ralph Walker (Adam Butcher) is a 14 year old Catholic school boy who is constantly getting in trouble, and is forced to join his school cross-country team as punishment by the headmaster priest. When his mother falls into a coma, he is told it will take a miracle for her to survive, a miracle he thinks can make happen by winning the 1954 Boston Marathon. Full of cliches, a stretch to believe, and having a plot that doesn't quite make sense, Saint Ralph can be a tough movie to swallow. However, despite its shortcomings, I still enjoyed parts of it, particularly the marathon and the scenes following the race, which carried some emotional weight with them.

Run, Fatboy, Run (2007)
Run, Fatboy, Run is not your conventional running movie, and is probably your best bet to get your non-runner friends to watch a movie about marathons. Starring Simon Pegg (Sean of the Dead), Run, Fatboy, Run is a romantic comedy with plenty of British humor (British humour?). Pegg plays Dennis Doyle, a bachelor who is still lovesick for Libby, the woman he abandoned at the altar. When Libby falls for marathoner Whit, overweight and out of shape Dennis resolves to finish the Nike River Run marathon. Cliched and predictable, yet funny nevertheless. Leave everything you know about running behind, just assume that fat men can keep up with the Africans for the first mile or so of a marathon, and enjoy the hilariousness that is Simon Pegg.

And just for fun, some other sports movies:

Breaking Away (1979)
Breaking Away is a coming of age story about four high school graduates who are trying to figure out what to do with their lives. One of the cutters (slang for stonecutter, referring to the boys' lower class background) is Dave (Dennis Christopher), a cyclist who is obsessed with Italian cycling culture and who is trying to win the heart of a University girl, despite difference in their social class and the rocky townie-student relations. The movie culminates in a cycling race between the cutters and the college kids. Breaking Away is predictable, but it's still an inspiring feelgood movie that seems to make its way into the movie library of anyone who enjoys riding a bike.

American Flyers (1985) 
While Breaking Away is considered the quintessential cycling movie by many, I personally found American Flyers to be the superior movie. American Flyers shares writer Steve Tesich with Breaking Away, and stars Kevin Costner and David Grant as two cyclist brothers who compete as a team in the Hell of the West, a 3 stage race in the Colorado Rockies, and who are haunted by the fear that the congenital ailment that took their father is going to strike one of them next. Breathtaking scenery and lots of great race scenes make it a fun movie to watch. The acting is a little hit or miss (though Grant is great as David), and the 80s music is pretty bad, but as far as inspirational trainer movies go, this one is a good one to hammer to.

Miracle (2004)
Another movie based on real life events, Miracle follows the 1980 U.S. men's hockey team. Coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) is faced with the task of taking a team of young hockey players and uniting them into the team that will take on the rest of the world, including the dominant Soviet team, at the Olympics. Everyone knows how this one ends, but it's still a great movie to watch, with a few excellent scenes that will stay with you (the Herbies "Again" scene comes to mind, as well as Al Michaels's line "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" and the subsequent celebration). This movie is Mighty Ducks all grown up and with a lot more power behind it.

I'm all out of inspirational sports movies. I think I need to find a copy of Rocky IV.


  1. Spirit of the Marathon? More like a documentary, but still pretty good. You could say I'm easily inspired. But I think a lot of people enjoy this one.

  2. Oh I forgot about that movie. I saw it on release day and never cared to buy it, so I probably couldn't review it anyway (not that I own Chariots of Fire, but I remember that one enough to review it). It's up on Hulu (along with The Long Green Line, which is on my list to see, but I haven't gotten around to watching, and I don't have a computer in front of my trainer), so at some point I might watch it again.

  3. I'm guessing The Long Green Line isn't anything like The Green Mile?

  4. Running the mile...running the mile...running the long green...wait no! It's about Coach Joe Newton's XC team! :P

  5. Becki,

    Come on now. Chariots of Fire was rather slow moving, but .5 out of 5.0. That just seems mean. Ha, Ha. I'd give it at least a 2.0.


  6. A while ago there was a thread on LetsRun about terrible movies that people pretend to like but really don't. I lost count of how many people named Chariots of Fire.

  7. Let me say upfront that Chariots is not one of my favorite running movies. I prefer the Prefontaine and Billy Mills movies. With that said, there are images of that movie that stick with me like the theme music, the subplots, the running on the beach. Anyway, I just thought I'd mention a few things that made me remember it.

  8. I agree, I do enjoy the running on the beach to Vangelis scene. That said, it's never a good sign when the opening credits are the high point of a movie. ;)

  9. You've got me there.

    BTW, I really enjoyed that Breaking Away cycling movie too. Boy, it came out in 1979. Wow, that's an old one.

  10. "Running," which starred Michael Douglas as a marathoner, sticks in my mind, although it's been years since I've seen it.


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