Michael Mann’s 2001 Muhammad Ali biopic, simply called “Ali”, is one of those films that isn’t bad by any stretch. But somehow it’s been mostly forgotten. No one really talks about it anymore and there’s a sense that, though it’s a good film, it falls just short.
It’s impeccably made with a great sense of detail, and Will Smith, who was considered seriously miscast in the title role at first, does a very good job as Ali. Even his own real-wife Jada Pinkett-Smith admitted, after the film opened, that even she was unsure if he could pull it off, until she saw the film. And he worked hard to prepare for the role, for over a year, studying everything he could about Ali, spending about 8 months bulking up, and taking boxing lessons, all before shooting began. For his efforts, he was rewarded with both an Oscar and a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Actor category; however, he lost both.
Although it goes without saying that “Ali” is light years better than the earlier heavily-fictionalized and sanitized 1977 film, “The Greatest”, in which Ali played himself.
But Will Smith’s “Ali” was a bust at the box office, and perhaps it was simply due to the fact that no film could ever truly capture the essence, the personality and majesty of the Greatest of All Time. It’s too Herculean a task, but “Ali” certainly does get an “A” at least for effort.
Even Mann had second thoughts about the film as well. It was originally released on DVD in 2002, but, two years later, a “Director’s Cut” was produced with some significant changes. Mann, who has a reputation for tinkering with his films – even after they’re released – went back and removed a few scenes, and shortened others. But he extended and re-edited the fight sequences, and added some previously removed footage, including a sequence with Ali and his father, an interaction between Ali and a young fan, and a scene with Ali and his trainer in which Ali expresses his doubts before a major fight. All in all, Mann extended the film’s original running time from 157 minutes to 165 minutes.
Now Sony Home Video has very quietly announced, without any fanfare, that “Ali” will be released for the first time on blu-ray in January 2017. However, there’s no other information at this time on the details of the release; for examine, will the blu-ray contain the original theatrical version, or Mann’s longer director’s cut, or both? And are there any new extras on the disc. One would hope for, at least, a new commentary by Smith and others involved, since the director’s commentary by Mann on the original DVD, is considered one of the dullest and least informative director’s commentaries ever.
Check out the trailer for “Ali” below as a refresher: