Spike Lee sets the stage with almost 30 different cameras on April 13, 2008 in this unique 86-minute documentary featuring Los Angeles Laker star Kobe Bryant. Bryant provides the commentary, which gives audiences some insight into the game of pro basketball. Lee directs with style and asks Bryant occasional questions in the standard audio commentary track.
This key game represents a home field advantage for the Lakers at the end of the 2007-08 season against the defending champion Spurs. Manu Ginobili is out for the Spurs while Lee covers before, during, and after the game from the Lakers’ point of view.
The game represents a great snapshot of NBA seasons – competitive sections along with time-managed lead retentions. The Lakers benefit from a team full of players with “high basketball IQs,” which takes the pressure off Bryant. Their skill levels continually increase as Bryant shares his knowledge with teammates; mentioning them much more than himself. Comments like “he made that play” come naturally while the multilingual team aspects provide surprising humor.
The analytical input from coaches and players can be hard to follow at times for lay viewers, but family life, physical preparation, and pre-game prayers show the relatable routines and challenges. The dialogue between Bryant and his teammates on the bench scenes are the best plus viewers get other bonuses like Kareem Abdul-Jabber sitting behind the Laker bench, looking as if he might lean over and say something to the team at any moment.
Even amid his own high profile MVP race, which involves some touching family support in the stands at the game, Bryant concentrates on the audience by explaining important aspects of the game. At the beginning of the second half, Bryant gives a great exposition on the triangle defense. This “sequence of options” intimidates players and coaches alike because it’s “tough to teach.” After the risk, the rewards are evident with the Lakers' success. “It’s impossible to defend because teams don’t know what you’re going to do,” says Bryant.
Other than his introduction, which contains some odd pauses, Lee’s involvement enhances the experience. He instructs camera operators to capture Kobe’s foot work and other body parts throughout the game. His contagious enthusiasm is supported by cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Pi, Iron Man).
Lee’s blend of television footage, slow motion, black and white snapshots, and overhead shots creates a smooth, flowing experience which parallels the game. Most medium shots have a player point of view from the floor. The quality sound, mostly originating from Bryant’s wireless microphone, really catches player dialogue and enhances the game experience while Bruce Hornsby provides some smooth background music and the ending credits song titled “Levitate.”
ESPN films have some nice bonus features to give hardcore NBA/Laker fans and filmmaker/basketball fanatics a good reason to get the DVD. Bonus features include Spike Lee commenting on Kobe’s commentary and two deleted scenes: a press conference and the unseen fourth quarter (which might give away the ending). The E: 60 behind the scenes feature has great content, but quickly ends after two minutes and 16 seconds. Additional commentary from Laker and Spur players who played in this game would have been ideal here.
Audio features include “game only” and television broadcast audio tracks plus a music video of “Levitate.” Other features include a widescreen option, Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound, and Spanish and French subtitles (sorry, no Italian). Recommended and rated TV 14 for profane “punctuation” language in English as well as others.
More pre-game activity originating from Kobe’s house would add a nice bookend to the ending. Future series in a player versus player format with both players providing commentary would be great and might resurrect those classic “vs.” videos I loved growing up. Continued match-ups with Kobe Bryant would work too, but “passing the ball” around to other NBA stars would be better. An amazing “day in the life” sports documentary equaling Year of the Yao.