Bigger Stronger Faster* (2008)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 2-Jun-2009

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Featurette-Behind The Scenes
Deleted Scenes-sixteen deleted scenes
Trailer-Madman Trailers
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2008
Running Time 102:12
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (31:44) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Chris Bell
Studio
Distributor
Magnolia Pictures
Madman Entertainment
Starring Chris Bell
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $29.95 Music Dave Porter


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.75:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Documentaries, like the development of motion pictures, have come a long way since Robert Flaherty's look at eskimo life in his 1922 feature, Nanook of the North. Back then, the filmmaker sought to tell a story via re-enactments, or by splicing together live action sequences, like in Dziga Vertov's Man with the Movie Camera. In the 1960s and 1970s, with the advent of technology, documentary filmmakers sought to shoot films as they happened with smaller crews and portable equipment. Retrospective, archive footage and subject interviewing would come later. Examples of this include the Maysles Brothers' Salesman and Grey Gardens and D.A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop Festival and Don't Look Back, the famous documentary that covered Bob Dylan's 1965 tour of the United Kingdom. Beyond the 1970s, documentaries have developed further into unique works worthy of cult status, such as Eleanor Coppola's narrated film on her husband's 1979 feature film, Apocalypse Now called Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse and Les Blank's similar look behind the scenes of Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, 1982's Burden of Dreams. The 1980s then took this behind-the scenes exposure to a new level when Rob Reiner's 1984 cult hit, This is Spinal Tap was released, a satirical look at a modern rock band. The mockumentary has so far defined Sasha Baron Cohen's film career and it has had it's influence upon the documentary genre as a political or social issue vehicle, with an emphasis on satire and the role of the filmmaker becoming the narrator, both off-screen and on-screen.

    It is in this style that Chris Bell brings us Bigger, Faster, Stronger* (The asterisk is a clever pun against athletic records that have been achieved with the aid of anabolic steroids). Bell's voice-over narration of his expose on America's attitude to anabolic steroids and its conflict with the American way of chasing a dream via fair means, mimics Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11) and Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), and is quite thought-provoking. He begins by championing what it means to be American, for him and his brothers it meant looking up to your heroes and emulating them in achieving success, so long as you work hard at it. The heroes Bell mentions specifically are Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hulk Hogan and Sylvester Stallone, for him and his older brother, Mike and younger brother, Mark, wrestling and body-building was the epitome of American manhood and strength.

    The film is subtitled 'Is it cheating if everyone's doing it?' but it really should be subtitled 'The side-effect of being American'. Bell convincingly presents an argument that anabolic steroids are a tool for helping Americans achieve success in all sorts of endeavours such as athletics, baseball, NFL, music or even war. He quotes George S Patton's speech, as depicted by George C. Scott in the 1970 film, Patton, "Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time." It is this spirit of competitiveness and intolerance to failure that drives America's over-achievers to use steroids to maintain their competitive edge. Bell further emphasises his point by portraying or implying Arnold Schwarznegger, Hulk Hogan, Sylvester Stallone, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Carl Lewis, Ben Johnson and Marion Jones all achieved success with the use of steroids.

    Bell seeks to debunk the health concerns of steroids by showing other ordinary Americans who use steroids to achieve their goals, such as military pilots, porn stars, fitness models, gym junkies and AIDS patients, all who have benefited from taking steroids. Dr Wade Exum, the director of Drug Control Administration for the US Olympic Committee from 1991 to 2000 states that there are archived, written records detailing 2000 athletes that failed drug tests during his nine years in his role. If everyone's doing it, is it cheating? Bell and his brothers' dreams to become body-builders/pro-wrestlers and their struggles are documented throughout the film, with many coaches and experts espousing the benefits of taking steroids to achieving the American dream, otherwise, as Greg Valentino in the film points out, "being like your heroes (without the aid of steroid use) is a pipe-dream."

    Although Chris Bell presents a well-researched documentary, it needs to be mentioned that his older brother died in late 2008, after the film was released, from complications relating to substance abuse. In a deleted scene, from the extras, we can already see how Mike's abuse of his body in chasing his dream of becoming a pro-wrestler has affected his health, with all three Bell brothers getting a heart scan and receiving feedback from a Cardiologist. In the documentary, Sheldon Bell, the father of the three aspiring Bell brothers, sums up the alternative view to the American dream by stating that America's heroes are the ordinary people who do their jobs and raise their families. He laments his older son's attitude, and correctly predicts that Mike, if he seeks to keep chasing a pipe-dream will probably end up dead.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    There is substantive use of archive footage in this film which has come from analogue sources. From time to time the film varies in it's quality.

    The film is 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions, but it is slightly cropped (1%) on the left and right sides of the frame so that the measured aspect ratio is just under 1:74:1. The deleted scenes on the DVD, while not 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions, shows the original 1:78:1 aspect ratio.

    Bigger, Stronger, Faster* was shot using a Panasonic HVX-200 high-definition camera. This camera is popular for independent filmmakers because it is light and portable. Apart from the archive footage, which depicts low level noise and compression problems, the film is quite sharp and well-shot.

    The look of the film is quite good, colours look solid because the film has been shot with good light sources. This is not the case at the beginning of the film when the scene depicting Chris getting up at 3.30 am shows low level noise, but this was a deliberate creative decision.

    MPEG artefacts are only prevalent in scenes showing archive footage from the 1970s and especially the early 1980s, with microphony, low level noise, film artefacts, chroma noise and overmodulation detectable. Home video footage and stills from the Bell family have been used and damage effects have been added to emphasise the age of the material.

    Unfortunately, there are no subtitles included with the main feature.

    The RSDL change occurs at 31:44, right in the middle of a scene. Visually, a still continues uninterrupted, but aurally the dialogue is cut-off mid-scene.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The film is mainly dialogue-driven, but there is some clever usage of music to support the theme of competition, victory and strength sourced from the Rocky films.

    There are two audio tracks included on the DVD. The first is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 448 kbps, the second is a Dolby Digital 2.0 track encoded at 224 kbps.

    Dialogue is clear and the audio is synchronised.

    Music, as mentioned is used cleverly with songs included from the Rocky films (e.g. Survivor's Eye of the Tiger) and Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out for a Hero, but I also appreciated the satirical use of Judas Priest's Breaking The Law and Disturbed's heavy metal cover of Genesis' Land of Confusion. The original version by Genesis is a political satire against the world superpowers from the mid-1980s, but Chris Bell has used the song as an attack against the heroes and role-models of current day American society who need to 'cheat' to get ahead. The opening lyrics to the song are quite apt:

    "Oh Superman where are you now

    When everything's gone wrong somehow

    The men of steel, the men of power

    Are losing control by the hour."

    Surround channel usage is mainly confined to the front left and right speakers, but there is a clever audio effect used at the 32:00 mark of the film that uses all the speakers.

    The Subwoofer is mainly used when the soundtrack is engaged, which is not often.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Featurette-Behind The Scenes (3:12)

This is a short extra showing the crew who took 2 years to make the film, editing the film from 400 hours of shot footage and 600 hours of archive material. The dialogue in this extra is text-based and on-screen.

Deleted Scenes (39:31)

These deleted scenes did not make the final cut but are well worth looking at. They are not 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 encoded at 224 kbps. These sixteen scenes are presented as follows:

    "Steroids for HIV" (1:40),

    "More Porn Stars" (1:25),

    "Bodybuilders/Gym Rats" (3:30),

    "Side Effects" (1:15),

    "David Callahan" (2:24),

    "Olympic Drug Testing" (3:34),

    "Floyd Landis, Hometown Hero" (1:03),

    "More Pilots" (1:29),

    "More Musicians" (3:24),

    "Eating the Belgian Blue" (1:11),

    "Bell Brothers' Heart Scans" (2:07),

    "Chris and Smelly" (1:43),

    "Roid Rage" (4:05),

    "Mad Dog's Wrestling Match" (3:48),

    "More Valentino" (4:18),

    and "Anti-Aging" (2:37).

Trailer

The DVD case states that a theatrical trailer is included. This is not the case, instead some trailers are included for the Madman films: Amandaluia! A Revolution in four-part harmony, Wal-mart: The High Cost of Low Price, In the Shadow of the Moon and Life and Debt.

R4 vs R1

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

   The Region 1 US version was released on September 30th, 2008. It is identical to the Region 4 release. The only difference is that the Region 1 release includes Spanish subtitles.

Summary

    This is a clever documentary by Chris Bell, with amusing anecdotes used such as Bell's profile of steroid use in the porn industry and in the military and his hilarious effort at making and marketing a legal, yet useless, health supplement. The death of Chris Bell's brother after the film was released sours the main argument of the film, but it is well worth having a look at this documentary, which was critically well-received when released into theatres in 2008.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 019), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add) NONE