The coach is pretty new to the Oxford team, himself an ex-boxer with over a hundred bouts to his name. He's up against a Cambridge that is on a long winning streak and the new group of Blues wannabes are not looking good.
We follow a few of these academics and explores what makes them want to be Blues, to enter a boxing ring in the name of Oxford, and what it affect the fighting and training has on them.
From here on we begin to follow the training as all this years hopefuls appear in the opening training sessions, amongst who are scattered the main characters who will become the fighters for Oxford's honour.
The building of the characters was well done and we connect with them really easily through their words and their short moments on screen. I was quite surprised how easy it was to get pulled into these characters as the thought of some of these high level academics wishing to be fighters didn't really appeal, I thought they might appear to be too aloof, like gifted or exceptional people raising themselves above others and through the fighting trying to retain some sense of commonality.
That was far from how they actually were, and the connection and empathy with the characters is surprisingly easy, and this owes a lot to the direction and the editing of the film.
The build up to the picking of the fighters themselves seems a little bit choppy, and the progression of the ultimate fighters through the ranks of the selection process isn't really apparent. I felt as though we missed the progression of time through the development of the fighters, passing from fighter to fighter and thread to thread. I just didn't feel that we witnessed the development and change of these characters.
However there were a couple of moments in some of the character's development that we did see, when they entered their first fight and one of them lost quite badly. Seeing how he develops from that terrible moment is well handled, and the actual moment of his defeat is rather painful to watch, and you can really feel his disappointment.
I wish we could have spent a little more time on examining how this character dealt with the loss and built back up from there as it seems a very powerful moment and message, a real life morality tale in front of your eyes, but it is simplified into a simple drive not to be beaten again and we don't really revisit the issue until their big fights.
I was surprised how dramatic the fight sequences were made, which seems as though it is down to some very good editing and the connection with the characters before they enter the ring, much like the feeling with the boxers in the Contender series.
It's really when we reach the stages of the sparring matches and the trainer is picking his final team that I felt the tension step up and the film really start to kick in. It's here where the strength of the film really does come into play. It's at these moments where you realise just how well the characters have been built as you suddenly discover how much you want them to succeed and beat their opponents.
I did like that fact that I hadn't realised just how much emotional investment I'd made in some of the characters, and so when the fights from this moment onwards I began feeling each punch and willing my favourites to land theirs, uttering words of encouragement when they began doing well.
The final Oxford versus Cambridge fights are the most dramatic of the film, and they are really built well, both in the fighter's excitement and nervousness, and also in the traditional aspects of the film. You genuinely don't know who is going to win or lose, mainly because we haven't seen the opposition throughout the film, and the outcomes can be a bit of a surprise.
It shows the disappointment and the pain of some of the academics, and how they really have adopted the attitude of a fighter. We really see their determination and self belief, and the scenes that follow the fights are perhaps the most insightful.
I've avoided talking about the individual academics because I don't want to reveal too much and spoil the final moments of the selection, although for the most part there aren't any surprises. However there is one character that I do want to talk about because his journey is as interesting as the fighters themselves, the trainer Des.
I would really have liked to have seen more of his journey, and how he warmed to the characters as they developed, and to the whole idea of training a group of high level academics to become boxers, as he seems far from the academic image himself. This contradiction of characters is very interesting, but it is never fully explored.
There's nothing particularly special about the audio track, but this doesn't seem that important as you find that you are either concentrating on what the character is saying to the screen, or enjoying the experience of fight and listening to the crowd noise.
The picture is good for a documentary, particularly as some of the filming is indoors, mostly handheld, and often using the lighting conditions of a large open hall focusing on a boxing ring.
That said the filming during the fights was a little too handheld and found it difficult to follow the action of the two fighters. At times I felt that the dramatic nature of the fight was lost as punches were thrown and landed slightly off screen.
Q&A from premiere, Deleted Scenes, Complete Oxford versus Cambridge fights
I don't often mention the titles of a DVD, but here I feel I have to because they do look good, clean, animated, and engaging, very well designed. I actually found myself watching them for a few moments whenever I started up the disc.
The Q&A features the Director, Trainer, and two of the boxers who discuss where they are now and some of their experiences in the film to an inquisitive audience and a journalist from the Guardian who hosts the Q&A session. This took place just after a premiere, and it provides a little more about the film. The most interesting parts were hearing from Des the trainer.
There are a number of deleted scenes which really don't expand on the characters, and you can easily understand why they aren't in the final cut of the film.
This is perhaps the best extra for me, the complete fights from the final Oxford versus Cambridge event. After watching the film and becoming invested in a few of the characters it's actually interesting to watch the full fights, hearing Des shouting from the side, giving encouragement between rounds, and seeing the passion he shares with his newly created boxers.
Although I felt that the documentary lacked some cohesion in the development of the characters from academics to fighters, and of the trainer becoming closer to these high level academics, the documentary is a strong and interesting one. It's the very fact that these academics become boxers, and the way that you can see their characters altered by their new found ability, that makes this documentary so engaging. The transformation may not be catalogued perfectly, but seeing the change and hearing it from the characters themselves is the key.
Fascinating characters with quite a range of personalities also helps this film, and you would believe that they had been hand chosen deliberately for full comic and dramatic effect, and yet they haven't, these are real people, and that's another great factor of the film.
An engaging and interesting documentary that's well worth watching, and for those who like the odd boxing match or watching human behaviour, this is a fascinating film.