Review: Generation Iron

16:00, Mar 14 2014
Generation Iron opens in NZ on Thursday.

Without it, The Incredible Hulk, The Terminator and Conan could have had very different visages.

1977 docudrama Pumping Iron made both Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger household names, propelling them for the niche world of bodybuilding into mainstream Hollywood.

Taking viewers from Venice Beach’s Gold’s Gym to Pretoria, Robert Fiore and George Butler’s followed the five-time champion Schwarzenegger and young pretender Ferrigno as they prepared for the 1975 Mr Olympia contest.

Phil Heath and Kai Greene battle it out for the 2012 Mr Olympia title.

Despite attracting controversy for its less than realistic approach (Schwarzenegger has admitted he made stories up to add to the “drama”) and nearly never seeing the light of day due to funding problems, it has become something of a historical document and cult hit.

Now, almost four decades later, Pumping Iron’s producers have return to the Mr Olympia contest. Using the patented and proven Spellbound documentary technique, Generation Iron examines the fortunes of eight competitors in the lead up to the 2012 finale in Las Vegas.

But while Arnie soundalike Dennis Wolf, troubled Victor Martinez, internet obsessed Roelly Winklaar and unlikely Asian champ Hidetada Yamagishi all make for compelling characters, like the original, director Vlad Yudin (Mr Immortality: The Life and Times of Twista) hones in on the rivalry between a swaggering, intense defending champion (the Lomu-esque Phil Heath) and a humble, heroic underdog (Kai “Predator” Greene). That focus actually detracts from the movie’s fascinating wider perspective which takes in steroid abuse, the changing shape of bodybuilding (Arnie dismisses today’s contenders as being “too big and with no talent behind it”) and the differing approaches to achieving “perfection”.


The storytelling is also not helped by some seriously awful portentous and pretentious utterings not only from the competitors (“it’s the presence of the artistic mind that sculpts the body”), but also Mickey Rourke’s barrel-scraping (in sound and word choice) voice-over (“the smell of victory teased his nostrils”). And it certainly isn’t a good advertisement  for a global competition that now attracts prizemoney of US$1m.

The finalists are bizarrely whittled down backstage and the final pose-off is marred by an official constantly having to berate them for posturing. It’s a shambolic end, for both the event and an otherwise entertaining and enlightening documentary. 

Generation Iron opens in selected New Zealand cinemas on Thursday.

Fairfax Media