Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, March 23, 2001

Larger than

An IMAX view of the
basketball superstar
opens here today

By Scott Vogel

HE MAY be an icon, but even when poised at half court, giving us his best "High Noon" stare, the champion looks remarkably unthreatening. Then begins the slow motion drive toward the basket, however, the sound of the dribbling ball amplified to a deafening level. He reaches for the hoop, and even as he does so the camera swings around him, "Matrix"-style, a special effect meant to complement the athletic sleight-of-hand on display.

The fake-outs, the passing, the fall-away jumpers, the alley-oops -- if you thought you were impressed before by Michael Jordan's wizardry, prepared to be amazed all over again. "Michael Jordan to the Max," opening today at IMAX Waikiki, is an almost overwhelming look at the life of basketball's once (and future?) king.

Those rumors about Jordan's return to basketball -- courtesy of Sports Illustrated -- may be sputtering out, but that's just as well. In a game of one-on-one, were today's 38-year-old veteran to challenge the five-story genius depicted in this 45-minute movie ... well, it wouldn't be pretty.

Shuttling fluidly between Jordan's early days and his career's final, brilliant moment -- the 1998 NBA championship series versus Utah -- the film moves in two directions at once, not only enlarging and illuminating Jordan's oncourt acrobatics, but also burrowing into the mind of the champion who, once denied a spot on his high school basketball team, vowed he would never lose again. These glimpses into Jordanian psychology, delivered though they are with ear-splitting gravitas, are arguably more interesting than No. 23's court tricks. And taken together, they form a rather complete guide to contemporary sports legendhood.

"Every day I stepped on the basketball court, even though I was on top of the world, I thought I had something to prove," says the Bulls star, his voice sounding weary from the lifelong demands he's placed on himself. For visual evidence of the dedication we travel to Jordan's childhood home of Wilmington, N.C. The backyard hoop -- his original sparring partner -- still stands, though now with the pathetic dignity of a battle-scarred flag.

Behind all the work, all the thousands of hours spent practicing, was a deep and abiding love for the game, and that love was no small part of Jordan's success. "I believe in playing early but learning late," he theorizes at one point, preferring that coaches not enter the scene until the bond between child and ball is firmly established.

"Kids have to learn a love of the game, then the mental part is easy."

The mental part, sculpted by Phil Jackson's Zen training ("I learned how to be in-the-moment"), helped prepare Jordan for his most brutal test, the exciting Bulls-Jazz series that forms the film's climax. Every foul, every crash, every slide across the floor is depicted with a bone-crunching intensity that is, in a word, stunning. This may be as close as you ever get to courtside seats for an NBA final (though with battle scenes as intense as anything in "Gladiator," you may not be sorry). Jordan's marvelous steal of the ball from Karl Malone is examined with surgical precision, and the game's final 16 seconds, culminating in Jordan's thrilling, game-winning jumper, are roughly one hundred times more exciting than they were on TV.

"There will be a player greater than me," Jordan says as the film ends, an uncommonly modest finale for a story chockfull of sports hyperbole. And after all the ear-popping sound effects and gee-whiz visuals that precede it, the movie seems to risk anticlimax. But in another way, the ending is entirely apt. Michael Jordan, that most realistic of sports heroes, is finally too realistic to believe the Imax-size hype surrounding him.

Michael Jordan to the Max

Show time:Opens at 11:45 a.m. today, with several shows daily, continuing indefinitely
Place: IMAX Waikiki Theatre, 333 Seaside Ave.
Call: 923-IMAX
Cost: 9.75; $8.75 for seniors; $8 for children 2-11

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