Pumping Iron: 25th Anniversary Special Edition (1977)

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Released 31-Mar-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Docudrama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Iron And Beyond
Biographies-Cast-Arnold Schwarzenegger (Video Bio)
Featurette-Making Of-Raw Iron
Interviews-Cast-Iron Insights - Arnold Schwarzenegger
Trailer-HBO Promos
DVD-ROM Extras-Three web links
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1977
Running Time 82:17
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By George Butler
Robert Fiore
Cinema 5
Warner Home Video
Starring George Butler
Charles Gaines
Roger Callard
Marianne Claire
Franco Columbu
Ed Corney
Bud Cort
Lou Ferrigno
Matty Ferrigno
Victoria Ferrigno
Mike Katz
Serge Nubret
Robbie Robinson
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Michael Small
Lee Dichter
Bob Rose

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes, Arnie takes a toke AND inhales.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Initially promoted as a documentary about the then underground world of bodybuilding, Pumping Iron has since been revealed to be more of a docudrama, as the cast and crew have admitted some of the scenes were entirely set up for the show. This knowledge in no way detracts from the film, however, which has only become more and more fascinating over time.

    Arnold Schwarzenegger had actually set his mind on retiring from the world of body building when director George Butler approached him with the idea of making Pumping Iron. Butler insisted that the film wouldn't work without Arnold and talked the big Austrian into competing for one more year. Pumping Iron follows Arnold and his competitors for about a year leading up to the contest, though no reference is made to times and dates throughout the feature so there isn't much sense of time passing as events play out.

    Most of the filming was done in 1975, leading up to that year's Mr. Olympia contest in South Africa. However, as we find out in some of the special feature docos, there were some scenes shot after the fact and edited in to make the film more interesting, but more on that subject in the extras section of this review. Essentially this was a film intended to expose what was then regarded by post-hippy mid seventies society as a seedy, freakish subculture to the world, and it did it so brilliantly that within 5 years of Pumping Iron's release, the fitness and gym craze had become one of the biggest social changes of the eighties.

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Transfer Quality


    This 25th Anniversary edition was actually put together by US cable channel HBO and was meant to be screened on TV so the aspect ratio is the standard 1.33:1 with a non 16x9 enhanced transfer.

    From a quality point of view, Pumping Iron inevitably suffers because of the style of film that it is and from the technology available at the time. Using hand held 16mm cameras was a new technique that allowed the filmmakers to get up close and personal with the bodybuilders, closer than had ever been seen previously in a documentary type feature.

    However, the low light conditions in a lot of the locations in the film, and limitations of the 16mm format meant that much of the footage was very grainy and of what would now be considered poor quality. There are several sequences such as the indoor scenes at 4:54 to 5:06 and 39:36 to 40:09 where there is very noticeable grain of the type you get when using very fast 35mm camera film to take low light pictures. The film stock used for the indoor scenes was most likely similarly processed low light film and this explains the grain effect. The director obviously didn't want to take big studio lights around everywhere and the effect, while visually rough, works perfectly in keeping a natural feel in the scenes where the guys are hanging out in their natural habitat. Another result of this technique is that the shadow detail in a lot of the darker scenes is very poor, not because of the DVD transfer, however, but simply because of the way these scenes were shot.

    There are many minor film artefacts throughout the film such as those in the first posing scene with Arnold at 4:38 to 4:54 where the black background makes them more obvious. All of the major glitches have been cleaned up, however, and the little spots and scratches kind of add to the authenticity and character of the film. This was a low budget documentary after all, and it would look a bit odd if it was too clean.

    The colour comes through in muted tones and has a bit of an old home movie look to it. Low light 16mm film obviously wasn't very good at faithfully rendering colours but it is great that the DVD producers didn't try to improve it by digitally sprucing it up. It is better that it looks the way that it was originally screened back in 1977.

    The subtitles offered for this release cover eight languages including English for the hearing impaired, but no Austrian!

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Pumping Iron has a basic Dolby Digital 2.0 English soundtrack only, however, as this is a docudrama, two channels are sufficient to do the job well. The dialogue is perfectly in sync throughout the feature and all the extras, and since Arnie's comments are so much a part of the feature's charm the producers have made sure that it is clear and clean such as in the scene at 49:29 where Schwarzenegger is talking about psyching out his opponents before a big competition.

    There is not much music to speak of other than incidental and environmental audio such as the background noise at parties and functions which comes across well enough.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Iron and Beyond

    Iron and Beyond is a fascinating look at how this small low budget film had such a massive impact on not just American but Western culture in general. That may sound like a rather large claim but when you see this extra featurette you get a sense of how much of a precursor Pumping Iron was to the massive fitness and gym craze of the eighties and, as the title says, beyond. The other major change that Pumping Iron indirectly spurred along was in the image of Hollywood's leading action stars. Interviews with action stars such as Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Carl Weathers and with directors George Butler and John Millius (Conan the Barbarian) all cover the topic of how Arnold Schwarzenegger's look in the film, and subsequently in Conan the Barbarian, raised the bar for action stars, who after Schwarzenegger, could no longer rely on body doubles to look the part.

Raw Iron, the making of...

    This featurette was also made for the 25th anniversary HBO special celebrating the first screening of Pumping Iron and is the most interesting of all the extras on the DVD. Director George Butler had over one hundred hours of unused footage stacked up in a warehouse to make this extra and so there are a lot of great scenes and sequences here that have never been seen before.

    During the shooting process, the filmmakers were always trying to add more drama and human interest to the story as they were aware of the potential of the subject matter to become too dull for a general audience to appreciate. So they tried all kinds of setups and situations, many of which didn't work, providing some interesting extra footage for this making-of segment. One example was the director's attempt to bring a 'regular guy' touch to the cast by introducing Bud Cort, star of Harold and Maude, into the gym to go through a training regimen with Schwarzenegger. Obviously all of this footage was cut from the film, as Cort and Butler thought it was too distracting from the main theme.

    There is also a fascinating sequence taken at the National Gallery in New York where Butler had organised an art exhibition featuring the well sculpted bodies of Schwarzenegger and friends as a way of financing the editing and completion of the film. Butler states that he had expected about 300 people, however over 5000 arrived at the door and the ticket clerks ended up piling up the takings on the floor as the register was too small to hold it all.

    There are also some wonderful moments with Lou Ferrigno's semi-tyrannical father urging his son on in a way that would be considered very uncouth by today's standards. This featurette also includes some revealing interviews with some of the main cast members such as Franco Columbu, Mike Katz, Ken Waller and Lou 'The Hulk' Ferrigno about the behind-the-scenes goings-on, and most importantly about how much of the conflict and drama was real and how much made up for the camera.

Iron Insights

    Iron Insights is basically just one interview done with Schwarzenegger, filmed to show as a part of the 25th anniversary promotion run by HBO for Pumping Iron. In this interview, Arnold lays it all out as to exactly what was and wasn't made up, and even admits to really having smoked that joint, and inhaling. Not many people are aware of the fact that Schwarzenegger had already made two films prior to Pumping Iron's release and so wasn't quite as naive as the film makes him out to be. In fact, between the shooting of Pumping Iron and its release, Arnold Schwarzenegger had actually won a Golden Globe award for best new comedy actor for his work in the Sally Field comedy Stay Hungry.

    In other words, Schwarzenegger was fully aware that he had to make the film interesting, and you get an impression from the interview that he very much wanted to use this opportunity to further his own career and was quite involved in the making of Pumping Iron, not just one of its subjects. He explains, for example, how Butler had originally seen Ferrigno as being the 'bad guy' of the film, the serious young contender trying anything to knock Arnold from his perch (Schwarzenegger had won the Mr. Olympia title five times in a row prior to the 1975 season). This changed when Ferrigno revealed himself to be a vulnerable, partially deaf character who was very dependant on his father for support. So instead Arnold decided to 'ham it up' and make himself into a cold hard emotionless machine so that he would be the villain. There is a famous scene in Pumping Iron where Schwarzenegger tells the director that to compete properly he has to emotionally cut himself off from everything so much that once when his girlfriend had given him the news that his father was dead he didn't feel anything at all about it, and that he wouldn't feel anything if someone stole his car "right now".

    In this interview Arnold reveals that the whole scene was a setup and that he would have cried if someone had stolen his beloved car, and that the father dying story was one he'd actually heard from someone else. The segments where Schwarzenegger talks about psyching out his opponents were also set up to create the persona that the filmmaker, and Schwarzenegger, wanted to get across. He also clearly states that because of all of the setups involved in making Pumping Iron that the film is really a docudrama rather than a documentary. You might suspect some revisionist history going on here but Schwarzenegger's comments ring true, and you wouldn't expect someone to take the wind out of their own sails if they were going to lie about something. It also reveals Arnold to be a shrewd and astute showman who knows how to please a crowd, something his opponents in the California elections should have taken note of.

DVD-ROM Extras

    The DVD-ROM extras on this 25th anniversary edition are just three web site links, one to the HBO site, one to Arnie's cheesy official web site and another to a site called Arnoldclassic.com which is the most interesting. The Arnold Classic seems to be an annual sporting event sponsored by Schwarzenegger covering body building, martial arts, and even yoga!

Video Bio

    Cast bios are usually just a list of their films but this is something a little different. In black and white stills it gives the viewer a run down of Schwarzenegger's life after Pumping Iron. That might sound a bit dull, however, it taught this little black duck a lot about why California now has a Governator! Schwarzenegger's almost tireless efforts to help underprivileged kids and as a sponsor of the Special Olympics (founded by his wife's grandmother) and numerous other charitable works have won him almost every civic award the US has to offer and reveals a side to the man that not many people are aware even exists.

HBO Trailers

    This is simply a collection of trailers promoting the 25th anniversary special on HBO including trailers for some of the extras on the DVD.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The R1 and R4 versions of Pumping Iron differ in one important way in that the R1 version is being sold with a remixed Dolby 5.1 soundtrack. Why the R4 market didn't get the 5.1 audio is a mystery however it makes the R1 version the better choice.


    You might think from what I have written here that I am a Schwarzenegger fan. The truth is that I've never really thought anything about him either way. After seeing Pumping Iron though, I must say I have a new appreciation of the man, his drive and personality. I also had no idea just how influential this little film really was, and still is. Pumping Iron is a fascinating film for anyone interested in modern film culture, or modern culture in general. It not only captures the world of bodybuilding in all its 70's glory but goes into the motivations of these men, motivations which would later become the driving force behind the fitness craze of the eighties, and even the rise of the social phenomenon we now call 'Yuppie'. Interestingly, even though Schwarzenegger retired from bodybuilding after Pumping Iron was shot in 1975, he won the Mr. Olympia title once again in 1980! My only reservation about this DVD is that because the material is all taken from a TV special we are denied the original cinema format and left to wonder about the bits chopped out with the pan&scan process.

Ratings (out of 5)


© George Soropos (read my bio or the puppy dies)
Sunday, March 14, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using S-Video output
DisplayLOEWE Planus 4670 70cm 16:9. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderMarantz SR7200. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationLuxman LV600 valve hybrid stereo amp for front stereo pair and Marantz SR 7200 for centre and surround channels
SpeakersAltec Lansing Model 15's front stereo, matched Krix Centrix front and rear, Krix matched rear surrounds, Sony rear subwoofer (Altec's provide sub for front)

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
16mm aspect ratio - REPLY POSTED
Not Quite Identical - REPLY POSTED
16 v super 16 - REPLY POSTED
16 mm v super 16 -
Not starring Arnie? - REPLY POSTED