Last Thursday evening (1/24/08) I went to the premier showing of the documentary Spirit of the Marathon, a film showcasing the journeys of various runners preparing for the 2005 Chicago marathon. As a person who enjoys the sport (though I’ve only completed a half marathon) , I expected a lot more depth from this film. In the words of Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride, “Let me explain - no there is too much - let me sum up”:
Basically (without giving too much away), the movie documented the training season of several main characters: the pro-athletes, the average married couple, the first time runner, the recently-divorced single mom, the 70 year old man and his daughter… you get the picture. Though I liked the idea of juxtaposing these characters to illustrate the various reasons people participate in marathons, it simply failed to capture their energy and reflect their spirit. I’ve seen reality shows on VH1 with better storylines.
Who was the audience for this movie? For the athlete or fitness enthusiast, the movie will barely strike a chord. There are runners who - give them an hour - will recount their experiences with much more emotion, detail and animation.
Was it for the general public? Perhaps a way of bringing awareness to a popular sport? If so, this too fell flat. Outside of some fascinating bits on marathon history, the majority of the movie revolved around training schedules. “This week we are running a 10K” “Today we’re out for our 18 mile run” “This weekend watch us run our 20 miles” After 30 minutes… I wanted to run out of the theater, myself.
Was this a bad movie? No. Though I do think the 5-minute docu-dramas during the Olympic coverage are far more interesting. I suppose if I’d seen this movie on TV, I might not be so critical. But there is something to be said about watching a movie in a theater. You expect to experience something more profound. I wanted to walk out feeling inspired and in awe of what the human mind & body was capable of.
For instance, I’ve seen plenty of documentaries on the discovery channel about penguins (who hasn’t?) But the 2005 film March of the Penguins simply blew me out of the (cold) water, witnessing something truly magical. Same idea - if I have to spend money to buy a movie ticket, clear my schedule to watch on the ONE night it’s showing, drive all the way from my house to ONE theater that’s showing it - it better be damn good.
So, my advice to the next person who decides to make a movie about marathons - if you want people to engage (and possibly encourage a movement towards more participation in the sport) either get Morgan Spurlock to direct the movie or Morgan Freeman to narrate it.