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The last ten years has seen the world of British romantic movies besieged by Richard Curtis material. I know it’s probably not the case, but in recent years it has felt that every successful romantic film has been written by Curtis. To some of you this may not sound like such a bad thing, but in my opinion his recent works (Love Actually and to some extent Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) have been nothing special, and lacked that certain spark. Therefore when Richard Loncraine announced that he was directing a new British romantic comedy I was intrigued as to what the results would be. It’s fair to say that Wimbledon didn’t really capture the imagination of cinema-goers and the film performed disappointingly at the box office. For this reason there has been no delay in releasing the DVD where I’m sure it will fair slightly better.

Every Tennis player dreams of winning Wimbledon and Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) is no different. However, time is running out for the thirty year old and his best days are behind him. Colt used to be ranked in the top twenty but those glory days have passed, and he now props up the ranking at one hundred and nineteen. He also has the slight disadvantage of being British; just like in real life (cue discussions about Tim Henman!) the British public hope for a Wimbledon champion, but the choice is poor and there are no realistic players to pin their hopes on. Peter is given a wildcard spot at the tournament and his plan is to use the event to announce his retirement. He already has a job lined up at a posh Country Club, and Wimbledon is final swansong.

While preparing for the tournament Peter stumbles across American Tennis superstar Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst). While Peter is suitably embarrassed by the manner of the meeting, Lizzie seems keen to get to know him more intimately. The pair embark on a few secret dates and appear to get on very well. Colt’s off the court activities start to have an effect on his form, and surprisingly he game starts to improve. As he progresses through the tournament it becomes obvious that while his game is getting better, Lizzie’s is starting to deteriorate. Not only does Peter find himself having to convince Lizzie that their relationship is special, but he also has to try and win over her father and coach (Sam Neill). No mean feat in itself!  

I don’t think I am doing the film any injustice by saying that Wimbledon is hugely predictable; even without seeing the movie you can probably guess what happens at the end. While this can be a major downside to some movies it didn’t really spoil my enjoyment of Wimbledon. A lot has been made of the fake/staged tennis rallies that are located throughout the movie, and yes some of the scenes are not of the standards you would expect from a Grand Slam tournament. However, taking into account the fact that both Dunst and Bettany are not tennis players and only had a limited amount of training for the roles, I was willing to look past this minor discrepancy. Most of the tennis scenes also relied heavily on CGI and for the most part you wouldn’t notice. There are some shots where the flight of the ball just doesn’t look right, but generally the CGI scenes are beautifully crafted, to the extent that you wouldn’t be able to tell that the balls were not real!

I briefly mentioned above the fact that Bettany and Dunst did not have any tennis experience before undertaking this movie, and while their tennis skills are not the best they certainly have the onscreen aura of tennis players. I’ve only seen Kirsten Dunst in a handful of films, but she is obviously a very talented woman and plays the role of Lizzie with all the confidence/arrogance of an American hotshot. Paul Bettany is more convincing in the action shots, but he is also the ideal actor to play the character of Peter Colt. Bettany saunters through the film with relative ease and there is no better actor for playing posh English characters! Sam Neill only has a small role to play in the film but he pulls off the intimating father role in exemplary fashion. The casting team for this movie deserve a pat on the back because they really have chosen the best people for the jobs.

Now on to the bad things about Wimbledon, and there are quite a few! During the commentary, which you will find on this disc, director Richard Loncraine talks about how he specifically chose many real-life tennis stars to be in the movie. While it is good to see people like John McEnroe and Chris Evert in the movie, they also happen to contribute to the most irritating aspect of the movie. McEnroe’s commentary for some of the matches is so contrived that it makes for painful listening. The director has also chosen to concentrate on the inner emotions that the players go through while playing a match, and while I am sure a lot of it is accurate, it does get a little tiresome after a while. Combined with the sometimes obvious statements that McEnroe comes out with and it is easy to see why I felt like shouting obscenities at the screen while watching! I’m normally a placid person, but there were certain aspects of this movie which really got my blood boiling.

Early reviews of this movie questioned what genre to tag this movie under. It’s fair to say that it tried to be a jack of all trades and didn’t really excel in any. The tennis aspects are fairly entertaining, if not predictable; while the romantic elements don’t really reach the dizzy heights you come to expect from boy meets girl films. I was a little disappointed by the whirlwind way that Lizzie and Peter got together. I’m sure the film would have benefited by showing more of their first date. Instead they seem to fall in love in a split second and the chemistry between the two characters is never really convincing. This is not the fault of Dunst or Bettany; I’m sure the film would have been better if the finale was cut by ten minutes and the additional time was used at the beginning of the film to establish the characters.  

Before you start thinking I hated this movie, I’d just like to reiterate that it is not all bad. I’m pretty easy to please with movies and as long as I am entertained for the duration of its running time then most movies keep me satisfied. Wimbledon is light hearted and never really takes itself seriously; therefore it makes for easy viewing. There are far better sports movies and even romantic flicks out there to watch, but if you are looking for something to settle down with the wife to watch then I can recommend Wimbledon. Just like the tournament itself, Wimbledon has plenty of things to keep you rooted to your sofa, and as a one off viewing should appeal to most audiences.

Universal has released Wimbledon in a sparkling 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, which if the standard of this transfer is anything to go by we are in for a great year! Our region one counterparts have a choice of either widescreen or pan and scan releases, but keeping with traditions us Europeans only get the widescreen release. Not that much of an issue if you ask me! Tennis is a colourful sport; well Wimbledon usually is due to the time of the year. Yes we do get the occasional drop of rain but for the most part the tournament is a vibrant event. This comes over clearly with the transfer that Universal has provided; the grass is a solid green (this is mentioned in the audio commentary) and the skies are a bright blue. The colour palette is probably the most vibrant you will see this year.

Another impressive aspect of this transfer is the image detail and clarity. It is becoming rarer for me to be amazed by the definition of DVD but this image is crystal clear and a fine example of how DVD should look. There were no signs of defects or edge enhancement with this transfer. Grain levels were not evident and compression artefacts were nowhere to be seen either. This really is a first class transfer and Universal should be applauded for their efforts. Love or loathe Wimbledon, there really is no doubting the quality of this transfer.

Universal can normally be relied upon to support the DTS standard, but for some reason a DTS track is excluded from this release. This decision is made all the more bemusing considering that the region one disc has a DTS track. What is included is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track which goes someway to making up for the missing DTS track. The DD 5.1 track makes really good use of the surround channels; for example you will hear crowd cheering, balls whizzing past and umpires announcing scores, all of which sound lifelike and make you feel like you are on court with the players. A good example of this is when a mobile phone goes off in the crowd; at this point my wife thought it was her mobile phone going off! Dialogue levels are spot on and are always audible, while the musical score also comes across clearly. Overall, this is an impressive all round track which is hard to fault.

Subtitles are provided in English. It is also worth mentioning the menu system, which is designed to be a scoreboard. This is a nice little touch and works well.

If you are a fan of featurettes then you will be reasonably happy with the extras on this disc, but if I’m honest I felt slightly letdown. There are four featurettes in total, each of which focuses on a different aspect of the movie. First up is Welcome to the Club, a three minute featurette which concentrates on how the film was shot at Wimbledon. This featurette contains various snippets of information from the cast and crew, and we also get to hear from some of the staff at the Wimbledon club. This featurette is primarily included to show how accommodating the Wimbledon club were, and how welcome they made the film crew feel.

The second featurette is titled Ball Control and concentrates on how Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst were turned into reasonable tennis players. What amazed me from this featurette was how much of the film was done using CGI. Nearly all of the rallies involved elements of CGI and whilst in some of the scenes this is obvious, for a large part of the movie you wouldn’t know. This featurette runs for just under five minutes.

Focusing a little more on how the actors were made into Tennis players is the featurette titled Coach a Rising Star. This particular extra is introduced by Pat Cash who was the tennis advisor in the movie. This featurette is only three minutes long, but it still covers a lot of detail. The final and most thorough featurette is called Wimbledon: A Look Inside. It starts off with Bettany and Dunst both talking about their characters. It also focuses on the superstitions that players have and also the inner-struggles they face during a game. This featurette lasts for a respectable ten minutes.

Next up is a Feature Commentary with Director Richard Loncraine and Paul Bettany. This commentary is led by Richard Loncraine who takes the initiative and gives most of the information. Paul Bettany appeared a little nervous and seemed like he didn’t want to be involved. Saying that both have lots of informative chats, and if you are a fan of the film you won’t be disappointed. There are several parts in this commentary where Loncraine talks about the cuts in the movie. This leads me to ask why there were no deleted scenes included with this release. Heading up the extras is a trailer section which contains trailers for Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, The Terminal, Billy Elliot: The Musical and Vanity Fair.

Wimbledon is another in a long line of entertaining, but instantly forgettable romantic chick flicks. Judged merely for its entertainment value there is not much you can fault about Wimbledon, but in a couple of year time are you going to remember much about it, or even want to watch again? Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany are excellent in their roles, but even they cannot save this movie from it mediocrity. Universal has supplied a disc which is just as patchy; technically the audio and video aspects are as good as you will get on DVD, but the extras leave a lot to be desired. Yes, there are four featurettes and an audio commentary, but even so I still felt like there was more to offer. The featurettes are very short and this release could have done with some deleted scenes or a longer making of documentary.

Whether this film gets a special edition release later on really depends on how well this DVD sells. If you are looking for an impulse buy then you could do a lot worse then choosing this release, however don’t expect to go back for repeat viewings. Some people may prefer to take the safer option and rent it first.