I was contacted by actress Maxie Solters and Scoop Marketing at the end of May to be an official reviewer and get a press pass to the upcoming one night release of “The Spirit of the Marathon II” movie that was being held in 4 theatres in St. Louis (and across the country) on June 12th.
Of course I accepted as it would be my first time being an official reviewer for a film and I also very much liked (and have the DVD of) the first “The Spirit of the Marathon” movie. I think the original is a great depiction of the trials and tribulations of training for a marathon and once the race itself started I really felt like I was right there (I even got nervous before it started just like I do before a real race). So how could I say No! It was very enthused and hoped that the sequel didn’t (as many do) disappoint.
I want to write first off that (having been and possibly getting back into at some point the production business) I was very impressed that an independent film was able to get (even if it was only for one showing on one night) a national release in first run theatres. That is a testament to a tremendous amount of hard work and collobaration. No matter what the subject, to get an indenpendent film shown in national chain theatres is impressive. So my hats off to them for that.
There were only 4 theatres that were showing it in St. Louis and I chose the Chesterfield Galaxy as I don’t go there much and it is a very nice state of the art theatre. The theatre was great and one thing I noticed (being involved in fitness) is that they detailed the calorie counts for everything that they served at the concession stand up in bright lights next to the cost! I haven’t seen this in St. Louis before (it is probably the norm in many bigger cities) but I found it somewhat amusing for some reason. I mean everyone knows that you don’t get something from the concession stand at a movie theatre that isn’t high in calories, but I am generally pro “being in the know” as to what you are consuming. The one thing that I remember from this is… only eat the nachos if you want to consume 1400 (basically empty) calories very quickly! More calories than the jumbo tub of popcorn!
Ok.. so on to the movie…
The original “Spirit of the Marathon” was focused on the Chicago Marathon (which is one marathon I haven’t done but after seeing the movie multiple times I definitely want to!). This sequel focuses on the Rome Marathon. I initially thought this to be quite interesting and exciting as I didn’t know much about that race, it was a European marathon and I will be doing those in the future, and it is one European city that I haven’t been to.
It starts off with the race starting. At first I found this somewhat nice, but the more I thought about it then and now.. I liked the way that the original Spirit of the Marathon really built up the suspense of the race itself throughout the film and you really didn’t get to experience it until the latter third of the movie when the race actually started. The shot of the runners at the starting line in Chicago where they pulled back and gave the blimps view at the beginning of the race (and the way that they orchestrated it visually and in virtual silence) was literally breathtaking.. I felt a shot of adrenaline shoot up my spine and felt nervous. It was awesome.
I am sure that they intenionally changed up the sequencing of the movie (in regards to the race) for this one so as to set it apart from the first, but I felt like it reduced the excitement of the race start itself. There was no buildup… the race started at the beginning of the movie and it therefore lost something because of that.
It did show the glory and beauty of Rome though and this must be an amazing race to run.. throughout some streets that have existed for 1000’s of years and have been run on by actual warriors. Running by classic structures (like the Coloseum) and amazing fountains would make for much more interesting viewing (especially when hurting late in the race) than “one more” drab building as you do in many big city marathons. Without a doubt… it looks like a very exciting marathon to run and could be on my bucket list. It seemed to be run by mostly locals (as most marathons are) with other Europeans and some international runners as well.
The race followed 7 runners as they trained for and raced this race.
Cliff Scott – a first time Marathoner (was 61 I believe) whose son had died and he was running to both deal with that tragedy and honor his memory. The one thing I remember about him was he had a very good stride and seemed to be a strong fast runner in his training.
Domenico Anzini – a 73 year old who was prodded by his brother (also featured below) to run a marathon and has since run every Rome Marathon since its inception. I will say that quite easily Domenico was my favorite character for a few reasons… he seemed like a very nice guy, he trained hard, he looked amazing for a 73 year old!, and had a great strong stride when running (and even late in the race). I commented on that a number of times to myself… that guy runs well! Very likable and a naturally good runner.
Domenico Scipioni – The very likable and hard working (it was impressive how he fit in running with his brother above with the hard work of running a pizzeria) owner of a pizzeria who has run 40 marathons. He was dealing with a (to be honest not particularly suspenseful) injury prior to the race and (without giving anything away) had “trouble” during the race itself. He seemed like a very ordinary guy and I didn’t find very much to latch on to him with.
Epiphanie Nyirabarame – a Rwandan runner that did have a pretty good (if relatively basic) story of growing up poor and using running as an outlet and a chance to better things for herself and her family. I became fond of Epiphanie because she did seem genuine and the shots of her running in the mountains of Rwanda were pretty awesome. Some great hard packed trails that a barefoot runner like myself would love! She seemed like a genuinely good person and I was rooting for her to break her PR (which she said was her goal for the race) of 2:35 at the race.
Julie Weiss – At the Rome Marathon, Julie began a quest to run a marathon a week for a year to honor the memory of her father on an emotional journey to spread awareness and raise money for pancreatic cancer – the disease that claimed his life. This is quite an impressive accomplishment in my book! Her husband is a running coach and told her that she could do it. I will say that Julie was probably the most interesting and fun to watch during the race itself. She is the runner that we all know that is always encouraging everyone else. She also had some pretty humorous conversations with some of the locals as she ran the race. She seemed like a nice person.
Vasyl Matviychuk – An elite marathoner that trains with the pride of country in his heart in hopes that a fast time at the marathon will earn him the last spot on the Ukrainian National Olympic Team.I liked his story and he seemed like a guy to root for. I could relate to the story of how much the training takes on a big part of ones life, how it affects when he went to bed, what he ate etc. You have to live marathon training at times, not just run for it. They showed him with his fiancee throughout the film and then his getting married to her in Ukraine near the end.. to be honest it wasn’t a particularly dramatic or tear jerking moment. Kind of forgettable. But I was definitely interested in seeing how he did in the race and there was a bit of suspense in that.. that I won’t give away.
Ylenia Anelli – Without a doubt I found her to be the most annoying character. I can’t think of anything that I really liked about her. It is nice and all that she owned a running/triathlon store in Rome (where apparently there aren’t many) with her husband (whom was sort of frigthening for some reason) but I could find very little particularly likable about her and really didn’t care for her story (or her result at her first marathon) at all. She really didn’t add anything to the movie and was a distraction more than anything. Yeah could have done without her.
So we follow these individuals as they train for the race and talk about their particular circumstances, and this is interspersed with the race itself until the final quarter of the movie where we are mostly focused on the actual race.
Here is the thing… I didn’t really find any of them to be particularly engaging and memorable. I found them basically forgettable and I don’t think that was the intent. The cast of the first Spirit of the Marathon I found to be much more memorable and I was really cheering them on.
One thing that I wish they would have touched on is what the conditions of race day were. Some runners missed their goals and all seemed challenged by what must have been significant heat but they never talked about what the conditions were on that day. As runners we know how incredibly important the race conditions are on ones performance so I think they should have touched on that.
I will say that I did enjoy the many commentaries throughout by many of runnings top brass like Hal Higdon, Bill Rodgers, Jeff Galloway, Frank Shorter and Paula Radcliffe. These bits were some of my favorite parts of the movie and seemed very genuine and refreshing. I enjoyed the recounting of the travails that women had to overcome in the early days of modern running in the 1970s.. it was so terrible how they were treated and hearing from some of those that had a part in changing that landscape was powerful.
One thing I really enjoyed was their treatment of Ethiopian Abebe Bikila and his winning the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.
Bikila is a barefoot running legend as he ran (and won) that marathon barefoot and stunned the world (and the other runners there). I smiled wide as some of running legends talked about being there and finding it “unbelievable” that he was still running barefoot near the end of the race where there was alot of cobblestones. “How in the world could anyone run barefoot over cobblestones?” they asked. It’s really funny but cobblestones aren’t bad! They are smooth and actually pretty fun to run over as a barefoot runner! Really bad chip and seal ashpalt is what is impressive to see run over barefoot. I just thought that was pretty awesome and give them credit for doing a piece about a barefoot running legend. Although I am very much not a fan of the Vibram monkey shoes that took his name and applied it to one of their shoes.
Another thing that I thought while watching this film is “How much would a non runner enjoy it?” and I am not sure that I can say a tremendous amount. It just wasn’t a greatly produced film that attempted to transcend the running community and didn’t have characters that were particularly engaging. If you are involved in a relationship with a runner (but aren’t a runner yourself) perhaps you would gain some insight into why we do this crazy sport.
There was a pretty interesting piece after the movie was over about an organization that the producers are involved with (and did the short documentary that we were watching) that works with runners and racing to help provide clean water for areas of the world that don’t have it. You can become a sponsor through your race to help this organization named “The Water Project”. I will say that it seems like a pretty awesome organization and I am considering become a sponsor with them for future races. Check out their website and consider pledging to what is a very worthy cause. I was very glad to see the documentary. It was very well done and inspiring.
The Rome Marathon seems like a pretty awesome race! Running through one of the great cities in the world must be an adventure to pursue at least once in your life. I am even more enthralled by the race itself after seeing this movie. That having been said.. I most definitely found this sequel to not be up to the standards of the original. The Spirit of the Marathon truly was an original and a very inspiring film for runners and probably non runners alike. It really made me want to run. This film was very much worth seeing if you are a runner (I mean there aren’t many films about running in general) and a nice representation of one of the great cities in the world, but in the end was basically pretty enjoyable but not memorable.
I have watched the Spirit of the Marathon multiple times (and wanted to and did watch it before seeing this sequel) but I doubt I will see the Spirit of the Marathon II again.
It is worth seeing if you are a runner but don’t go into it having especially high expectations.
The Spirit of the Marathon (the original) would get 8.5 Black Cats (out of 10)
The Spirit of the Marathon II I give 6.5 Black Cats (out of 10)
Best of luck in your training,