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Paramount Home Video presents
Murderball (2005)

"It's kind of interesting because I've done more in a chair than I did able-bodied. Don't let this thing limit you from doing anything you want."
- Mark Zupan

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: November 28, 2005

Stars: Mark Zupan, Joe Soares, Andy Cohn, Scott Hogsett, Keith Cavill, Bob Lujano
Other Stars: Christopher Igoe, Robert Soares, Patti Soares, Jessica Wampler, Joann Cavill, Robert Cavill
Director: Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro

Manufacturer: Juice Productions
MPAA Rating: R for language and sexual content
Run Time: 01h:25m:31s
Release Date: November 29, 2005
UPC: 821575533652
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+BB- B-

DVD Review

The sport of quadriplegic rugby used to be known officially as "murderball", but the name was dropped because apparently it was too difficult to get corporate sponsors with such a violent title. But the name fits, because the sport is not simply full contact, it's an out-and-out, collision-caliber death match similar to something out of The Road Warrior. The four-on-four gladiator-style game is played on a regulation basketball court, consisting of four eight-minute quarters, with players required to pass or dribble the ball every ten seconds. The participants, all of whom are quadriplegics of varying degrees (teams are built on a point system related to the type of spinal cord injury), are outfitted in specially-designed wheelchairs built specifically to ram and/or topple opponents. When one player is asked if there is a special way to fall, the sensible response is, "don't lead with your head."

For this documentary, filmmakers Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro introduce us to the various colorful members of Team USA, and we get our first glimpse of them during a 2002 championship game in Sweden against rivals Team Canada, who are managed by a volatile former American quad rugby star, painted here as a variation on The Great Santini's Bull Meecham. The game is brutal, intense and personal, setting up the film's climactic rematch, held during the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, where tensions, expectations, and drama run extremely high. But in-between scenes of high impact quad rugby—which in reality makes up just a small part of the entire film—is an opportunity to hear from the athletes, families, and friends about the player's personal lives. And it's not just how they adjusted and adapted to life in a wheelchair, but the competitive drive that layers onto the high drama of the big US vs. Canada game that closes the film.

The film bobs and weaves in its treatment of the subject, avoiding becoming simply a syrupy "edu-tainment" piece on the physical rigors of quadriplegia. The preconceptions and misconceptions do get addressed first hand, including the issue of sex, though it is generally with a level of frustrated sarcasm or matter-of-fact frankness. Bob Lujano, a quadruple amputee member of Team USA, offers one of the film's most emotional passages, talking softly about a dream he had where he was out of his wheelchair, magically flying high over the tops of trees. The filmmakers play his description of the dream over some simple black-and-white animation of a stick figure moving through the sky, and it is truly a moving moment, one of the few in a film that sidesteps slathering on pity-inducing sequences, because in hearing the men and their families speak, it is clear they don't want to be pitied.

My next-door neighbor was in his mid-thirties when a diving accident turned him into a quadriplegic three years ago. Prior to the accident he was literally the jovial "give you the shirt off his back" kind of guy, and watching him adjust to his new life has been nothing short of heartbreaking. For me, that is. But like the athletes featured in Murderball, he has somehow adjusted and accepted his situation, something that I often think I never could have done if it had happened to me. There's an inner strength there that is powerfully inspirational, and a film like Murderball—filled with athletic drive and competition in the wake of physical challenges—has that very same undercurrent.

Life goes on. Deal with it, or move aside.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Issued in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Murderball certainly looks the part of a modestly-budgeted documentary that was shot digitally. The transfer itself is very clean, but image quality varies from scene to scene, dependent on lighting conditions, and while much of the film looks decent, it rarely looks razor sharp. Colors seem slightly muted, as do fleshtones.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio choices are 5.1 Dolby Digital surround or 2.0 stereo. For a documentary, either track will suffice nicely, though the 5.1 offers a more spatial feel to the music portion of the soundtrack, with guitars rising up more pronounced out of the rear channels. Voice quality is clear and certainly adequate, except during loud scenes, where words tend to clip and distort somewhat.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Aristocrats, Born Into Brothels
6 Deleted Scenes
3 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Mark Zupan, Scott Hogsett, Andy Cohn, Jeff Mandel, Dana Adam Shapiro, Henry Alex Rubin
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Paramount has included two commentaries, a traditional technical track from producer Jeff Mandel and filmmakers Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro, as well as a "player" track, with Mark Zupan, Scott Hogsett and Andy Cohn. The filmmaker commentary, sprinkled with a few silent gaps, discusses the assemblage of each scene, the importance of music, and overcoming what they call "speedbumps" in wanting to educate and entertain. The player track, in which they readily admit to being in recovery from a hard night with the Jackass crew, is a low-key affair, also marred by some long gaps. Their insight is nice addition to some of the scenes, and the track is worth a listen just for their comments on Team Canada coach Joe Soares and Andy Cohn's good-natured lament re: the slo-mo shot of him dropping a ball during a key moment in one of the games.

Most of the remaining extras sort of rehash the film. The CNN Larry King Live Interview (39m:46s) is an entire episode of questions, answers and film clips, featuring Team USA's Bob Lujano, Mark Zupan, Andy Cohn, Scott Hogsett and Keith Cavill. Murderball: Behind The Game (18m:24s) is made up of more film clips and interviews, and comes across as a condensed version of the film itself, where at least the Joe Soares Update Interview (10m:29s) offers some frequently asked questions of the Team Canada coach, including an essential followup to something that is revealed over the closing credits of Murderball. The NY City Premiere (02m:11s) footage is poorly lit and the sound quality is little low.

It wouldn't be an MTV product if we didn't get a pointless tie-in like Jackass Presents Murderball (21m:00s), where human oddities Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius and Wee Man screen the film, talk about it, and hang with the players. There's also a brief set of six Deleted Scenes (07m:10s), mostly showing a few of the athletes doing things like baking cookies or playing softball.

The disc is cut into 20 chapters.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Murderball is a juggernaut of a documentary, full of excitement, emotion and human drama centered on the manic exploits of the U.S. Quadriplegic Rugby Team. It's not just a film about quadriplegia, it's a "thrill of victory, agony of defeat" story crammed with archenemies, diverse personalities and competitive drive. Paramount has included a fair amount of extras, including a pair of commentaries, but even if this one had been issued bare, it would be worth seeing.

Highly recommended.


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