Thursday, 20 March 2014

Film Review: 1 - Life on the Limit

1 - Life on the Limit is a DVD documentary about Formula 1 motorsport, its rich history, and long battle with driver safety and mortality in the 1960's, 70's and 80's. It's informative, captivating and rich in detail, as well as narrated by Michael Fassbender. 

Here's my full length review...

For 60 years, Formula 1 drivers have danced a dangerous dance with death and their own looming mortality. From the horror years of the 1960's to the shock deaths of Imola 1994, death and driver safety has always been on the periphery of the sport, waiting to strike from the shadows.

In recent years, safety in F1 has improved greatly. In fact, a F1 driver has not died since Ayrton Senna was sadly struck down in his prime at the San Marion Grand Prix in 1994, much to the dismay of millions. 1 - Life on the Limit chronicles the journey the sport undertook to institutionalise safety regulations and minimise the threat of injury.

The narration is provided by self-confessed F1 fanatic and star of the X-Men series, Michael Fassbender, whose passion for the sport comes across throughout. It's a great pick, as Fassbender has long followed the sport, often being spotted by the TV cameras hanging around the Ferrari/Mercedes garage during race weekends. It also adds a touch of celebrity to an otherwise niche topic. I found his narration to be well-written and interesting.

As with any documentary, providing captivating footage and images is the key to engaging the audience with niche topics, often with detailed and rich histories. Thankfully, the file footage of F1 races of yore (from as far back as the 1950's) is superb, some of the best and most captivating this F1 fan has ever seen. Simply witnessing colour footage of Jim Clark's silky-smooth driving at the wheel of his Lotus or Niki Lauda leaping across bumps around the Nurburgring is fantastic.

Director Paul Crowder even chooses to include interviews and clips from those who are sadly no longer with us; Enzo Ferrari, Fran├žois Cevert and James Hunt. These insights will be extra nuggets of detail for fans to lap up and be sucked in by.

Casual viewers will recognise recently prominent figures like Lauda and Hunt (from Ron Howard's Rush) and Ayrton Senna (from Asif Kapadia's Senna), but I liked how the film ensured it focused on other figures as well; Jim Clark and Colin Chapman are featured heavily, as is Emerson Fittipaldi, Francois Cevert, Ronnie Peterson and David Purley.

It's this era (the early 60's to mid-70's) that the film focuses on predominantly, with the 1976 season, and the Hunt/Lauda binary, marking the film's turning point towards safety being introduced into Formula 1. Obviously, by attempting to cover 60 years of sporting history, there are some areas that are given greater weight than others. Senna and Prost are covered briefly, but the tragic death of Gilles Villeneuve is sadly absent.

I did however like that the film didn't attempt to sugar-coat the past; the fiery crashes shown are really happening, it's not recreated or cut away from. Yes, that really is Niki Lauda's infamous 1976 Nurburgring crash, and yes, that really is David Purley trying to save Roger Williamson trapped, burning alive, under his wrecked March-Ford.

However, it is important to note that the film doesn't glamorise the danger; rather, it places it in the context of the sport's evolution - I found the footage choices, combined with musical cues and editing crafted a film that effectively conveyed the pain and turmoil the drivers went through.

The film is also heavily critical of F1 at times, an element which I found refreshing and very interesting. I also liked that the film brought the narrative into the present day near the end, and include interviews from current day heroes like Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

Some of the musical choices are a little odd/cheesy (Snow Patrol? Really?) but on the whole, the individual elements combine to create a film that is suitably uplifting and educational to be worthwhile watching, whether you are a fan of Formula 1 or not.

The Verdict: 8/10

1 - Life on the Limit is a fascinating, slick and triumphant tribute to grand prix racing that serves two essential markets; hard-core F1 fans who both cherish and revere the sport's dangerous past, and casual viewers who will (hopefully) take something away from the film. It treats its subject matter with respect, dignity and accuracy, with insightful interviews, captivating footage and fantastically edited segments.

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