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Pumping Iron
1977 - PG - 85 Mins.
Director: George Butler and Robert Fiore
Written By: George Butler and Charles Gaines (book)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Franco Columbu, Bud Cort, Ed Corney, Joe Weider
Review by: John Ulmer
   
It's hard to imagine that, before he became a multi-million dollar movie star and the Governator of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger started his film career with one docu-drama, the aptly named "Pumping Iron."

Basically a documentary about the world of bodybuilding circa 1975, "Pumping Iron" focuses on Arnold Schwarzenegger's last effort at attaining the Mr. Olympia for the sixth time in a row, before officially retiring from the "best sport" and heading off to Hollywood for a film career. (Five years before he had starred in the mighty "Hercules in New York," which I have been quoted as calling "the funniest bad film ever.")

Not much to say about a film like "Pumping Iron," though, so I resort to going over the movie's historical impact and the so-called "controversial questions" often raised after people watch the film for a first time.

First of all, this is the movie that started bodybuilding. It's hard to think of a time when bodybuilding wasn't strange and abnormal, but when "Pumping Iron" was made, bodybuilders were considered insecure freaks with big egos. Bodybuilding ads were printed underneath the comic strips of daily newspapers. People took them as a joke.

Arnold is often referred to as the father of modern bodybuilding (he literally started the entire craze you see today), and a lot of people who criticize his intellect and films and tabloid sexual assault claims forget that everyone is flawed, but not everyone has enough self discipline and motivation to move to the United States from Austria, become the king of bodybuilding (boasting the largest chest every measured--to this day), then moving into film and grossing billions of dollars at the box office in total, then becoming Governor of California.

That's pretty amazing.

I don't believe that the majority of the sexual assault claims filed against Schwarzenegger are true. (I'm sure some of them are, though.) Interesting how they all surfaced right around election time, huh? But regardless of whether he's a womanizer or not (which I know he is, to a certain extent), he's still a very admirable guy who's participated in fitness and after school programs for years, not to mention raising four kids without ever divorcing his wife. (I'm not saying that the key to a lasting marriage is adultery, though.) And he kicks butt on-screen like no other guy in the history of action film knock-offs. There will be your pale imitators like Stallone and Van-Damme, but there's only one Conan the Barbarian.

Yes, I admire Arnold Schwarzenegger, as do millions of people across the world. There's a reason that he started the bodybuilding craze of the past few decades, as well as grossing billions of dollars at the box office (many of his films some of the greatest pieces of action cinema ever made), appearing on thousands of magazine covers, and becoming Governor of California. First of all, he exceeds where most screen heroes fail: he's got bigger muscles (see Stallone), a more likable personality (see Van-Damme), and--even though many people criticize him for it--I think his acting is quite good. It's easy to smile watching one of his comedies and easy to have fun watching his macho man action films. "Commando" is one of the cheesiest films ever made, but would it work without Arnold?

"Pumping Iron" is not exactly a "documentary," since a lot of it was staged just for the film, but as Arnie said before, most of it is true--the competitions, the training, etc. The tension between the bodybuilders, and some of the dialogue, however, is not true. It was all for cinema.

But this is the movie that made people flee to the gym during the 70s and 80s, and it continues to do so. I myself am a bodybuilder, with a gym built into my house, and this movie is a big inspiration for me--there's a lot of great inspirational material in it. And it doesn't matter if your sport is bodybuilding or not even a sport at all: the motivational message stays the same for whatever you do.

In a recent 25th Anniversary Interview (included on the newly-released DVD of the film), Schwarzenegger separates the fact from the fiction. His "psyching out" of Lou Ferrigno was just for the camera; so was the statement about losing his car and not returning for his father's funeral because he was training. Yes, he used steroids, as did everyone back then, since they were in an experimental stage and not illegal. And he handled the biggest question of all in two sentences:

Schwarzenegger: "Yes, I smoked a joint. And yes, I inhaled."

Twenty-five years later, he now also claims that when he said the pump (blood flow to the muscles resulting from weight lifting) was better than "coming in a woman," he was just saying this to get attention and to get people to lift weights more. "It's not better than coming," he says now. "Trust me."
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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