'X Games' could use a lot more 3-D

Pair "X Games'" and "3D" in the same movie title and movie lovers and sports fans alike have every right to expect a thrill ride.

So why the slow burn in "X Games 3D: The Movie"?

The new release from ESPN Films, in theaters for just one week, chronicles the alpha males and their testosterone-heavy tricks that were the main attraction during the 2008 X Games XIV in Los Angeles.

I expected huge doses of adrenalin given at regular intervals; I got a slow drip.

The steady drip did build to something compelling in "X Games 3D: The Movie." But the dramatic finish and the charisma of the athletes telling their stories are what make the documentary worth seeing, not the special effects.

If you're new to extreme sports, the documentary gives a decent primer into a world where you can't just be a great athlete to succeed. You have to be a slightly deranged great athlete to succeed.

The documentary, narrated by actor Emile Hirsch, follows the biggest names in extreme sports at X Games XIV. Shaun White is the only winner of the boarding trifecta -- gold medals in X Games for skateboarding and in the Winter X Games and Olympics for snow boarding. Motocross legend Ricky Carmichael is known as Goat, or the Greatest of All Time, in his sport. Skateboarder Danny Way jumped the Great Wall of China -- technically, he "ollied" over it -- with a sprained ankle.

I'd never seen a 3-D movie before, but I still don't think director Steve Lawrence exploited its full potential.

Behind the provided 3-D Buddy Holly glasses, I watched athletes flying and flipping through the air. Some shots took advantage of the third dimension. One shows a biker jumping, what feels like, right at and over you during a freestyle motocross run, which was cool. A lot of shots didn't do that, which wasn't.

The athletes hurl themselves off things like a 30-foot-high half pipe. During X Games XIV action, they start tricks from the top level of the Staples Center. The 3-D effect does its best work making viewers feel, and the athletes look, small in front of such imposing obstacles.

Yet, the 3-D doesn't enrich this love letter to extreme sports and the crazy dudes doing the crazy tricks.

The story of X Games XIV carries the show, building to a breathless final 20 minutes as skaters Way, Bob Burnquist and Aussie Jake Brown wrestle the marquee Big Air event into submission.

The trio goes for big trick after big trick, often coming down in violent slams (or crashes). On the big screen, every fall looks fatal. Then they get up.

If you don't follow the X Games, a quick Internet search will reveal how the event ends.

Don't do it.

Lawrence gives the final 20 minutes incredible weight and tension and emotion. Those minutes are riveting, and that's not an easy trick to land when you're featuring an event that played a year ago.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer