Ultimate X (review)

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.

Is there such a thing as a bad IMAX movie? That enormous screen makes just about anything as exciting as hell, including things you’d otherwise have less than zero interest in… like, in my case, ESPN’s Summer 2001 X Games. But amidst all those exhilarating, exuberant, you-are-there shots of street lugers racing down Philadelphia hills at 80mph and freestyle dirt bikers doing somersaults 100 feet in the air, I realized that Ultimate X is about so much more than watching maniacs court death. This film is a Generation X artifact, capturing a brief era of insanity in the sports arena that surely cannot last. We were the last generation whose parents told us to go play in the gutter — we had no play dates, no Nintendo, no high-speed Net access in our bedrooms. That’s right, back in the day, we had talk to our friends face to face and we had to invent games that could be played in the street around the traffic… and we liked it. If you’ve ever roller-skated down a bumpy sidewalk or build a rickety jump ramp for your bikes, you know what I’m talking about. And here are these guys who turned this kind of play into a profession, and combined it with the risk-taking, do-your-own-thing Xer attitude. Why d’ya think they’re called the X Games, anyway? “Who cares?” one X Game athlete says when asked about potential and actual injuries. (If there was any doubt that these guys are really athletes, the extraordinary talents they display here should put paid to that.) The Games are about “freedom, self-expression,” and the team-wary Xers don’t wear uniforms, though multiple tattoos and piercings are in evidence. It’s breathtaking to watch thirtysomething men racing around on little-boy BMX bikes and showing off on skateboards, especially when you know that they are the beginning and the end of an era. How do we know that? The generation coming up behind them aren’t out chasing broken bones in the gutter — they’re sitting in their rooms, playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater on the PlayStation.

share and enjoy