If nothing else, Chariots of Fire stands as a unique entry into the history of cinema: Its soundtrack is much more famous than the film itself. Ask anyone to sing the title song and they'll do it in a heartbeat. Ask them what the movie was actually about and you'll probably get shrugs and a mumbled comment about running.
Today, that Vangelis score -- produced when everyone thought the synthesizer was a really cool idea -- probably wouldn't win the Oscar it won in 1981. And whether Chariots itself would win Best Picture (among the total of four awards it was bestowed) is a matter for debate.
The subject matter is still reasonably compelling: Two runners -- one a Scottish, Christian missionary, the other a Jew -- head for the 1924 Olympic games to compete in sprinting events. The product of intense training (you know, the slow-motion running on the beach -- this stuff eats up a good hour of the movie), they're eventually favored to win. But adversity strikes when -- gasp! -- a qualifying race is scheduled for a Sunday, and the Christian Eric (Ian Charleson) refuses to run in it. Eventually, the problem is solved when someone lets him run in another race on a different day.
Well, by my standards, a scheduling problem doesn't really cut it as the key conflict in a Best Picture drama, and though there are plenty of other components of the story, the entire piece doesn't amount to much. Hugh Hudson's love affair with slow motion reduces the film to a cliche every time any character moves beyond walking speed. Some people just don't look right running in slow motion, their arms flailing about like drunk monkeys, and by the end the energy is sucked out of the race scenes. There's drama here, but it's work getting to it. On the other hand, the acting, though completely competent, is largely cold and distant -- with the exception of Ian Holm as a trainer on the verge of giving up.
Now available on a two-disc DVD set with copious extras, including commentary from Hudson, a number of deleted scenes, interviews, and a curious modern day re-enactment of the famous race around the quad (see Ian Holm run!) by several of the film's crew members.