ESPN 30 for 30: Kings Ransom (2009)

Directed by Peter Berg

I was born in June of 1988. I never knew of Wayne Gretzky as an Edmonton Oiler. In fact, my brother always loved Gretzky and he had a poster in our room of “The Great One” wearing a Los Angeles Kings sweater. I was always too young, and never interested enough in hockey to understand the greatness of Wayne Gretzky, but now that the Columbus Blue Jackets are in town, and I am a little bit older, my interests in hockey have risen. I live in the age of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, but it is always important, especially if you are new to a sport, to go back and learn who the greats of the game were, and how their career effected the game of hockey.

In August of 1988, a little over a month after I was born, the greatest player in the game of hockey, Wayne Gretzky was traded from the greatest hockey team in the league, the Edmonton Oilers, to the second worst in the league, the Los Angeles Kings. Edmonton fans were devastated and failed to see how this deal would ever make sense, but Kings owner Bruce McNall and Oilers owner Peter Pocklington seemed to think it made sense. Peter Berg is a film director who has done some interesting projects, but none more so than the sports drama Friday Night Lights. However, with this effort, he seems somewhat unfit as a documentary filmmaker.

The story is an interesting one and the film was informative, telling the story behind perhaps the biggest trade in the history of the game of hockey, but it only ever comes off as a glorified news story and not an overly compelling documentary. I was sitting there thinking about the great television news show 60 Minutes.I don’t know about you, but I love that show and think it does a great job of providing interesting, and entertaining, news stories every week. The sad thing is I kept thinking to myself that this was only posing, only trying to be as good as a 60 Minutes news story, and never quite reaching that quality. There wasn’t enough behind the story to justify an hour long documentary. It really could have fit into a half hour news special or something like that.

Berg just seemed to stretch it out to fit the time slot, featuring some awkward voiceover from Gretzky himself while he revisits the Edmonton Forum years after he had won numerous Stanley Cups in the same building; oh, and it was mostly in slow motion. The other thing is the interview itself with Gretzky, which seems like an all too casual conversation on the driving range with Berg asking, but never prying to get some real answers from “The Great One”. Berg explores the different actors in this story, but never really gives any of them enough depth. The achieve footage, particularly of the press conference following the trade, were used effectively, even if the editing throughout the film tried way too hard.

But like I said it was informative, as I learned about the background of the trade. Before this film I would have said that under no circumstances is it ever a good idea to trade the greatest player in a game in his prime, but now I understand where Peter Pocklington was coming from, and so too, admittedly, does Gretzky himself. It was a business decision and with Gretzky’s contract coming up, and unwilling to negotiate early, Pocklington’s hand was forced by Gretzky himself. he couldn’t afford a new contract with him, so he sold him to Los Angeles and got plenty in return. And the game of hockey benefited from the game’s greatest player going to a major American city and piquing the interest in the sport of hockey. This is not a very good documentary film, but I still have confidence that I will enjoy this series.

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