Film Review: “2018: The Ultimate Test” + Exclusive Teaser
After a lapse of nearly three and a half years, fans will finally get a chance to see the long-lost 2018 CrossFit Games documentary, which is being released next Tuesday, December 7, worldwide on iTunes.
In a way, “2018: The Ultimate Test” is the lost CrossFit Games documentary, as the project was scuttled shortly after the conclusion of the 2018 Games when a vast majority of the media staff was unceremoniously let go over the course of several weeks.
Documentaries for the 2019 and 2020 Games would go on to be produced by Heber Cannon and Marston Sawyers, but CrossFit leadership at the time had locked away the 2018 footage, as well as dozens of hours of post-Games interviews, and no one was really sure it would ever be produced.
“Since I was laid off in 2019, Tyson [Oldroyd] and I had been working quietly behind the scenes to obtain the rights to finish the film,” director Mariah Moore told Melissa Yinger in a November interview.
“The Ultimate Test” is the first solo director performance for Moore, who has worked in several capacities on many of the previous Games documentaries like The Redeemed and the Dominant, A Decade of Fitness and Froning, all of which topped the iTunes best-selling charts.
“I get to own the vision now and it’s cool because it’s like I’m learning this whole new process of getting to decide how I tell the story my own way,” Moore shared with us back in September.
But re-surfacing three-year-old footage and resurrecting a vision first realized by employees who no longer work at CrossFit, and ultimately the story wouldn’t be complete without addressing the elephant in the room: The massive layoffs.
*** Spoilers Ahead***
The opening scene
The film opens with probably the least likely, least CrossFitty scene that has defined the booming drum beats and intensity of previous films.
Dave Castro is sewing in his workshop, presumably at the CrossFit Ranch in Aromas, CA. What he’s sewing is both unknown and unimportant. It’s perhaps enigmatic of Castro’s more recluse nature, a mad scientist tinkering and toying, playing in the minutiae. A creative paints and thinks on many canvasses. Perhaps today, a needle and thread are his tools of choice.
The scenes themselves, while brief, are important as they immediately address the creative approach for the 2018 Games, namely that it might be the last. And as history would reveal, it nearly was.
“I think the 2018 Games were some of the most creative visually and programmatically in terms of CrossFit events we’ve ever had, and that was really driven by the notion that this might be the last Games ever,” Castro said. “I put my all into that event.”
The two-minute intro transitions into an almost eerie feel. Dark, ominous skies are a harbinger for the biggest bombshell dropped in the entire film: That top brass at CrossFit were aware of the sweeping changes coming to the Games as far back as March, a full five months before any staff would be notified and let go.
“In March of 2018, on the way to an Open announcement in Houston, we got a call and it said that our leadership wanted to change the structure of the Games next year,” said Justin Bergh, VP of Sport and Partnerships.
One thing that the documentary makes clear is that Games leadership staff hoped that they could save the Games by putting on a great show. The audience and fans know that it didn’t happen that way, but the undertone is still present.
I put my all into that event.Dave Castro
“So on Monday morning, the day after the CrossFit Games I got a phone call that those changes are happening right now,” Bergh said. “I thought that we had solved the problem. It was a surprise and a huge contrast because that was coming right on the heels of an amazingly good event. It was the best viewership we’d ever had, the best international pickup that we’d ever had, the largest crowds we’d ever had. And it was a cold water bath on Monday knowing everything was going to change that fast.”
The whole segment lasts only about four minutes, and for those unaware of the history just looking for hard-hitting fitness, the next hour and forty minutes deliver on all of that and some.
The 2018 Games
The 2018 Games events make up the bulk of the film, which lasts 108 minutes to the start of the credits.
I’m guessing a little here, but one of the areas that was probably hardest for Moore was resurrecting three-year-old footage and sewing it together especially when not all of those interviews had been completed. The post-event interviews with athletes like Mat Fraser, Laura Horvath, Patrick Vellner and Tia-Clair Toomey had happened years ago. But regardless of its age, there is no lack of quality.
There are even extended scenes from two athletes, who may not otherwise have received as much screen time: Laura Horvath and Lukas Hogberg, who are both featured prominently and showcased outside of the Games. Fans will have an opportunity to learn more about those two athletes’ backgrounds, as well.
The film also brings Sara Sigmundsdottir back into the spotlight, diving into the injury that forced her to withdraw mid-way through competition. A constant fan favorite, Sigmundsdottir was left out of both the 2019 and 2020 documentaries, and presumably won’t be in the 2021 version either as she did not compete at the Games. Her return to the big screen is also apropos as she will make her competition debut in two weeks at the Dubai CrossFit Championship.
The film is fun and it’s packed with fan favorites, that is to say, a whole lot of CrossFit. One notable change, in my opinion, is increased screen time for the non-winners. As I already noted, Laura Horvath, Lukas Hogberg and Sara Sigmundsdottir, but also Patrick Vellner, Brent Fikowski, Kara Saunders and even a quick quip from The CrossFit Cowboy himself, Sean Sweeney.
Also, Director Moore’s inclusion of uncomfortable elements like the Games changes was both important and necessary. A documentary about 2018 that didn’t discuss the big changes would have felt disingenuous, but there was no need to spend an abundance of time given that CrossFit as a community has moved far past the events that defined the summer and fall of 2018.
The film, overall, still feels very similar to previous productions, but like I said earlier, it’s mostly made up of footage and interviews filmed in 2018, so there’s hardly an expectation to move far beyond previous styles. There’s also a question of whether CrossFit even needs or wants to. After all, they top the charts on every release and it seems likely the 2018 edition will do just the same.