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(2004) (Documentary) (PG)

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Documentary: The sport of NASCAR is detailed from its origins through the typical activities leading up to and then on race day.
As narrated by Kiefer Sutherland, the documentary - presented in 3-D on the huge IMAX screen - takes a look at the fastest growing sport in America, NASCAR. From its less than glorious origins in the moonshine running days to today's big business industry, we learn details about the beginnings of the sport, its changes and various bits about the drivers, cars, support crew, engineers and the fans.
OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
While I'm probably not the world's biggest risk taker when it comes to extreme sports and such, I do like my relatively controlled thrills as much as the next person. There isn't a roller coaster I won't ride and the faster they go, the better they are in my book.

Thus, when I had the chance to take a ride in a real NASCAR stockcar doing the Richard Petty Driving Experience at a racetrack near my childhood home, I jumped at the opportunity. The ride, while short in duration and costly in terms of dollars, was quite a blast and I highly recommend it to everyone.

For those nowhere near a NASCAR track or who'd rather have a safer and less expensive alternative, you can now experience some of what the real thing is like in "NASCAR 3-D: The IMAX Experience." Known for its larger than life visuals, rock concert capable sound system and "you are there" sort of presentation, the IMAX film format makes for a good companion to the sport. And its nearly flawless and crystal clear 3-D imagery is literally and figuratively something to see.

Considering the vast and growing popularity of the spot, I'm surprised that there haven't been more movies using it as their subject matter. Sure, there was Tom Cruise in "Days of Thunder," but that was way back in 1990. Considering the reported fan base of some 75 million viewers and attendees, this 47-minute film could very well turn into a big hit.

That's particularly true since it's a documentary-cum-promo piece rather than fictionalized entertainment and touches upon or showcases the sport's legends such as Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt and more. Starting with the sport's origins from the old moonshine running days up through today's big business corporate aspects, the film - narrated by Kiefer Sutherland ("Phone Booth," TV's "24") - covers most every tangent including the drivers, racers, cars, fans and such.

For instance, we learn that the huge racing teams put in 75,000 off-track miles traveling across the country from one race to the next. Each transports 2 cars, numerous engines (at $50,000 a pop), and all sorts of gear to participate in races where the cockpit temperatures can top 130 degrees and a million dollars worth of tires are used.

My favorite part was a brief bit about having the responsibility of test-crashing expensive race cars to see how they fare when tumbling down the track or smashing into a wall. It's noted as being the coolest job in America and I don't doubt it for a minute.

Not surprisingly, we get to see plenty of such footage of the real thing although, alas, none of that's from the 3-D point of view. The seriousness of it all is touched upon, however, regarding the tragic death of racing icon Earnhardt.

Since the film is more of an advertisement for the sport (and the gazillions of sponsors whose ads cover the cars, drivers and more like leeches) than a true documentary, it never really digs that deep into such tragedies or other controversial aspects of the business. Diehard fans won't complain, but the picture - directed by Simon Wincer ("The Young Black Stallion," "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles") -- isn't exactly an unbiased piece of filmmaking.

Considering what all the filmmakers show and from so many angles, my other complaint is that they don't really go into how the film was made from a logistical standpoint. Of course, that will likely appear on the ensuing DVD. Until then, however, we'll have to do with several stills shown over the closing credits that picture the huge IMAX cameras mounted on the cars or track.

Whether you're a diehard fan of the sport or really couldn't care less about cars driving really fast over hundreds of miles of essentially going in a circle, the film is informative and entertaining enough to appease both crowds and everyone in between. And when seen on the giant IMAX screen in eye-popping, you are there realism, it's also a visceral blast to watch. "NASCAR 3-D: The IMAX Experience" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 3, 2004 / Posted March 12, 2004

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