Venus and Serena Blu-ray Review
Documentary filmmakers Maiken Baird and Michelle Major were afforded the rare opportunity to follow two elite athletes for an entire year in 2011. And even though it happened to be a year in which the subjects of the film, tennis champions and sisters Venus and Serena Williams, had what is sure to be the most tumultuous year of their careers and possibly their lives, the film VENUS AND SERENA never really digs deeper than what most fans already know about the duo through watching Sportscenter and few Bryant Gumbel interviews.
Health issues plague every professional athlete and, for the most part, Venus and Serena have been on the fortunate side of that proverbial coin. However it seems their luck ran out all at once in 2011, when Venus was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and a pulmonary embolism threatened the career and life of Serena. This kind of fodder is usually gold for a documentarian, but the sisters’ health concerns were so highlighted in the media that year, it left little room to hone in on who these two women really are off the court. On the opposite end of the spectrum though, VENUS AND SERENA is as in-depth an account of how a pro athlete handles the disappointment and lack of control of a sidelining injury as you’ll ever witness.
The film also showcases the achievements that have made the Williams sisters a global brand. Their multiple Grand Slam event titles and product endorsements have turned them into role models for all women athletes, and they have given African Americans some much needed representation in the sport of tennis, which has been lacking since the days of Arthur Ashe. But the accolades of the sisters came at a great cost, a cost that was rung up by their father Richard. Like most phenom athletes, the Williams sisters had an overbearing parent that shoved them onto the court as soon as they could walk. This double-edged sword is most likely responsible for where the sisters are today in terms of their success, but the film fails to delve into the intimacy of the other side of the issue where two childhoods are sacrificed with little to no input from the little girls it was taken away from.
VENUS AND SERENA is by no means a waste of time, especially if you’re even a casual tennis fan. The documentary exhibits some very interesting archival footage of the sisters as they came up through the amateur ranks and on to dominating the sport of women’s tennis. It also takes a peek at how the siblings encountered racism growing up, how they treat each during competition and down time and contains interviews with celebrities like former President Bill Clinton, John McEnroe and Chris Rock. However, for a project that gave unprecedented access and an allotment of time to the filmmakers concerning these two great athletes, there is a deeper expectation of content than the standard sizzle reel of highlights mixed with some private yet ambiguous moments in their real lives.
VENUS AND SERENA BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.78:1 Widescreen, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4: The fresh footage for the film is exactly the type of high quality digital footage everyone has come to expect in the HD era. Of course the archival footage is very grainy and sometimes fuzzy, but that’s always expected and understood with such material. Where the filmmakers made a mistake was trying to stretch the archive footage from a 4:3 aspect ratio into a wide 1.78:1 so that it filled the screen. This made the picture much worse than it had to be and further distorted the older footage.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: Not much to comment about here, it’s a documentary and the dialogue is crisp and clear, so it’s a WIN!
Deleted Scenes (46 min): One of the longest deleted scene features you’ll ever see on a disc. There are actually some interesting “reality show” type scenes that were cut probably for time. They are not that deep or emotional but definitely interesting if you’ve already spent the time to watch the entire documentary.
Interview with Director Maiken Baird (4 min): A short interview with one half of the female directing team for this documentary. Baird explains how she and her co-director had to change the entire focus of the film when both sisters started to go through their health issues.
Interview with Director Michelle Major (8 min): A slightly longer interview with the other half of the directing team. Major further explains some of the topics in Baird’s interview and how they had to cut from over 450 hours of content.
AXS TV: A Look at ‘Venus and Serena’ (3 min): Promo piece created by AXS TV.
Trailer – Theatrical Trailer