Chariots of Fire (1981)

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The problem with sports movies is that there’s really only two ways the story can go – either they win or lose, and if it ends in a loss, there’d better be a damn good reason for me to be watching a movie about a bunch of losers.

If you don’t care much for running, you might wonder how someone could stretch out a two-hour movie leading up to a ten-second long race and somehow keep it interesting.  If you learn the answer to this question, please let me know, because I feel like I would have happily watched the ten seconds and been done with it.

Okay, I’ll admit it – it’s difficult to sustain interest when the stakes are only as high as whether someone wins a particular arbitrary race.  Nobody’s life is at stake.  Any of the runners could have just as easily won an Olympic gold medal, and they could have made a movie about that person.  That’s why they always do those clips on reality TV shows or competition shows that show somebody’s life story and all the travails they’d encountered before they reached this Extremely Important Point in their life where they could put everything on the line.  And then they faceplant into a pool of dirty water – or have I just been watching too much American Ninja Warrior?

All I knew about this movie was the majestic theme song, which they totally wasted in the first few seconds of the film.  Build up a little anticipation, why don’t you?  What I didn’t realize is that Vangelis also composed plenty of other classical-electronica for the rest of the film, including a crazy synthesizer-heavy training montage (another absolute necessity in any sports movie – not just the training montage, but the 80s synth music).  In other Oscar-winning movie tropes, I can’t help but notice the “old people, possibly at a funeral, looking back on the era of past glory, exchanging some apparently significant-if-innocuous words about said glory which are repeated later in case you missed the Theme).

It’s not worth dragging this out – Chariots of Fire falls into that style of 80s movie that is a little too ponderous, about a topic that should be exciting but doesn’t quite pull it off.  I’ve seen them before in this quest, and I still have enough 80s movies to watch that I know I’ll encounter it again.  Such is the burden I bear.


Theme:  Chariot

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  Run for your life!


Rocky (1976)


Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a secret fascination with boxing. I’ve never really watched the sport much, to be honest, and don’t understand the strategies or the scoring rules. Despite that, it still has a hold on me.

Probably my first boxing-related memory was of watching an episode of the Twilight Zone, in which a down-on-his-luck boxer gets in the ring with a robot. Though it wasn’t intended as horror, something about that episode terrified me. Maybe I was too young, or my imagination ran with the impossibility of man battling machine. Even then something in me understood the fundamental truth of boxing, that the odds are always against you.

In middle school, we did an icebreaking exercise in which everyone filled out a list of our favorite things and then found matches among our classmates. I guess I didn’t understand the purpose of the activity beforehand, but I wrote boxing as my favorite sport – and didn’t find anyone else who agreed. Was I just trying to be contrary? I could have said baseball and it would have been more truthful. That must be the pull of boxing – something about it gets under your skin, opens you up like a good punch. Even if you hate it, you still kind of love the pain.

Fighting, in a way, is not a sport, but something more fundamental, baser and beastly. Boxing appeals to that animal instinct inside us all, makes you want to prove yourself, prove that you could survive battle.

Rocky is one of those films that is so well-known that you don’t need to have seen it to know the basic story: down-on-his-luck boxer (is there any other kind?) gets a once-in-a-lifetime shot to prove himself, and even when he loses, he’s still better for it. Admittedly, if I didn’t already know the ending, I don’t think I would have realized that Rocky didn’t win the decision. The ending was a little confusing. On the bright side, I’ve been to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, so it was nice to actually watch the scene that inspired that statue of Rocky on the steps outside.

For the most part, I enjoyed this film. The characters felt like real people, though I had a little trouble figuring out the deal with Adrian. First she’s mousy and silent, and then suddenly she takes off her glasses and is a babe? And I don’t remember a single thing she said, except at the end when she declares her love for Rocky. That’s the real victory, of course – love conquers all.

Boxing used to be a national sport. Now it’s relegated to a few pay-per-view matches for the big-name heavyweights, overshadowed by even bloodier sport, like MMA fighting. In 1976, though, I suppose it was still clinging to the American consciousness, just as Rocky held out hope that he might eventually get his shot. And still it lingers, because some of us still like a good fight.

Of course, even Rocky is still going. There is, after all, a new movie out, Creed. Maybe I’ll watch it at some point, but then, I’ll first have to work my way through Rocky II-V (and beyond?).

A few years ago, I took some boxing classes at a local gym. It wasn’t really fighting, only the workout that a boxer would go through in training: jumping rope, heavy bag, speed bag, combination drills, burpees, ab work. I liked it, but I never really got fit enough to be any good at it, and after a few months, my knee couldn’t handle all the stairs and stresses. I wasn’t cut out to be a boxer, even as a hobby. There’s still a part of me that would like to go back to it, shed some pounds, build some muscle, and maybe I will if I can protect the parts that hurt.

But boxing requires endurance. Persistence. The belief that you are a conqueror. Or at the very least, that no matter how much of a beating you take, you can still stay on your feet.

Theme:  Boxing

First Time Watching?  Yup.

Loved it/Liked it/Hated it:  Yo!