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DVD Review: Champions Forever: The Definitive Edition (Muhammad Ali—The Lost Interviews)

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Released last month on DVD by Image Entertainment, Champions Forever: The Definitive Edition (Muhammad Ali—The Lost Interviews) offers the feature film—which profiles the career and enduring legacy of the boxing legend dubbed “The Greatest”—along with commentary and assorted clips not included in its original presentation nearly twenty years ago.

What makes the added commentary, in particular, so compelling—and considering the realities of his health today, a bit saddening with hindsight—is that it’s provided by Ali. Recorded in 1989/90 and left on the cutting room floor until now, the footage shows the champ in near-lucid form, the debilitating effects of his Parkinson’s disease at this point only hampering his reactions and responses to a moderately small extent. For all that's been said, written, and theorized about circumstances and historic events that have defined his preeminence in the world, watching and listening to Ali reflect on some of them—in his own words, his own mannerisms and reactions to questions and remarks posed to him on camera—is riveting.

As for the feature film, however, it doesn’t offer much beyond a cursory overview of Muhammad Ali’s life and career; and the editing, unfortunately, maintains a lo-fi, sketchy quality throughout that makes it all the more difficult to enjoy. Even when it broaches certain pivotal events of Ali's biography—such as his refusal to be drafted due to his religious convictions and his loss of the heavyweight title as a consequence—such circumstances aren’t examined in depth or with any valuable insight. Basically, viewers with even modest knowledge of Ali’s past deeds and accomplishments would already know most of what’s rendered in this documentary.

Of negligible importance to anyone except die-hard boxing fans is the inclusion (also newly added supplementary material) of a segment called "Dinner with the Champs," dating back to the feature documentary's original premiere. Hosted by baseball great Reggie Jackson, it features—together for the first and only time ever to date—Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, and Larry Holmes, around a table essentially reminiscing (and gibing and taunting) all about their triumphs and travails in the ring. As illustrious as are its participants, the occasion soon serves as a bitter pretext for them to rehash their glory days and grudges amongst each other. It's not all that interesting or entertaining to watch and, ultimately, it doesn't live up to the hype.

With the exception of the newly discovered interview footage of Muhammad Ali, the same could also be said for Champions Forever: The Definitive Edition

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About Donald Gibson

Donald Gibson is the publisher of www.writeonmusic.com and a freelance music journalist whose byline has appeared in such publications as No Depression, Spinner, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, Cinema Sentries, Blinded by Sound, and Blogcritics, where he was the Senior Music Editor (2011-2012) and Assistant Music Editor (2008-2011). He has interviewed and profiled such artists as Tony Bennett, Lucinda Williams, Jakob Dylan, Allen Toussaint, Boz Scaggs, Johnny Marr, Charli XCX, Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), Susanna Hoffs, Bruce Hornsby, Delbert McClinton, Jonny Lang, Alan Parsons, Bill Frisell, Rickie Lee Jones, Christina Perri, Don Felder (The Eagles), Jimmy Webb, Katie Melua, and Buddy Guy, among many others.