I have owned this next movie I am covering for nearly a decade, and it is a sin it took me this long to get to it. I am using the excuse of the new NASCAR season kicking off last week to get to my blog on the ESPN original TV movie, 2004's biopic of Dale Earnhardt, 3. Now I scoured YouTube for a trailer to link to you, but for whatever reason can only find many links to only the film in its entirety off YouTube. I imagine ESPN is pretty laid back in this scenario as far as fair use rights go because this YouTube link to the entire film has been up for over three years now, which is remarkable because of how YouTube has been laying the hammer down on pulling content off with copyright claims lately. So if you have yet to see this old ESPN original film, make sure to check this one out off that link while you can and to avoid the other ESPN made film, Charlie Hustle at all costs because that one was pure crap.
Anyways I digress from my Earnhardt fanboyism. ESPN actually locked in some known talent for a TV film. Barry Pepper is the Intimidator himself, Dale Earnhardt, while JK Simmons plays his dad Ralph Earnhardt. A pre-Lost and Revolution, Elizabeth Mitchell plays Dale's wife, Teresa Earnhardt. Finally Sean Bridgers plays best friend and NASCAR colleague, Neil Bonnett. The main cast did a tremendous job with their performances. Simmons is outstanding as the hard working father busting his tail to make ends meet, Mitchell is as lovely and great as she tends to be and Pepper does a commendable job at looking and playing the part of Dale for the last 30 years of his life.
While I am a big Earnhardt fan, I do not know his life to a T so I cannot attest to how well this film covers his life, and when you only have 90 minutes to work with you can only address so much ground. The first act went appropriate enough showcasing Ralph being the local dirt track legend and Dale being the rebel son trying to follow in his footsteps. It jumps around pretty fast until Ralph's untimely death. It also goes pretty quick covering Dale's love life as it seems within 15 minutes Dale's first two love interests have come and gone (along with being introduced to his first three children) before he winds up with Teresa.
Again, I cannot swear by what pivotal moments of Dale's career and personal life 3 covered accurately, but the pacing felt fine all things considered.
I can only imagine how tough it must have been for ESPN to choose which parts of his career to cover in the film, but I never got the impression they missed anything major and I liked the moments they dedicated the last act of the film too, which cover him coping with the lost of Neil Bonnett, his 1998 Daytona 500 win and reconnecting with his children and grooming Dale Jr. for his NASCAR career. There is a very well produced scene where the father and son have a heart to heart talk over a beer and campfire before that fateful 2001 Daytona 500 race, where Sr. recommends Jr. where the new safety harness NASCAR introduced before Dale's death made it mandatory the following season. Major props for the film's final moment on how they touch on his death, and find a great way at the same time to honor his life. As short as the wreck was that ended him, as is that scene, and it got me all choked up viewing it again just like it did a decade prior.
This two disc set is loaded with extras, like five hours worth! The first disc has the feature and two making of features combining for just over an hour. The first is on the making of the movie and it does a fine job detailing what ESPN did to get this movie made. The other documentary is a career retrospective on Dale Earnhardt. The second disc is four hours of Dale Earnhardt archives from ESPN, featuring an hour of interviews, two hours of highlights from four races, and an hour of him as a guest on two other ESPN shows. I managed to watch them all, the interviews are all from the 90s and cover a wide variety of topics, and I really dug the race highlights, with the final laps of the 1999 Bush 500 at Bristol and his first road win in 1995 at Sears Point especially standing out.
I imagine at some point in our lifetime, we will get a big budget, three hour-ish theatrical biopic of Dale Earnhardt's career that will kick all kinds of ass, but in the meantime I will gladly take ESPN's 3 as the de-facto biopic of Dale Earnhardt.