Hoosiers Blu-ray Review
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For those eager to cheer the team to victory, this new Blu-ray disc should be your first draft pick.
Escapism has always been a central draw of the movies, and in tough economic times, there’s no better racket to be in. In the 1930s, Hollywood churned out splashy musicals, romantic comedies, and gangster pictures by the thousands. In the past few years, low-risk tentpoles have become practically the only game in town. The 1980s weren’t an easy time to make your way in this world, so Hollywood helped moviegoers escape to something a little more tangible; something just out of reach, but theoretically possible to regain - the image of the 1950s. You know, that time when people were more decent and plain-spoken, particularly in a small town. That’s really the only way to do the 1950s. That’s the pure stuff, as they say. Just don’t mention all the racial and sexual hostility, because, well, then it wouldn’t be escapism now would it.
So 1986’s Hoosiers fits right in, and if it wants to stomp around and wallow in false nostalgia, then so be it. Back to the Future did the same thing, and that’s still a damn good movie. But it is with a heavy heart that I say that Hoosiers is not a good movie. It’s not because it’s a cookie-cutter sports movie or any of that. That’s all fine. It’s that, after getting off to a promising start of introducing down-and-out former college basketball coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) and his controversial methods to a small-town Indiana high school team, the film very suddenly, very demonstrably, removes all elements of conflict, making way for unimpeded victory.
It’d be one thing if the team just suddenly came together; that’s inevitable. The problem is that the film ends wanting us to think that it was through bonding with this group of boys and coaching them to victory that Norm is redeemed. But the film spends very little time with him and the boys. In fact, in the commentary track on this disc, screenwriter Angelo Pizzo says he purposefully kept the team members’ lines limited so that, when they inevitably hired real high school basketball players, they wouldn’t be burdened by having to do too much acting. That’s terribly considerate of him, but the result is that we don’t really know these guys at all. Furthermore, the games are all cut to a montage overscored by Jerry Goldsmith’s upbeat, let’s-go-team music, removing from the audience any sense that these games were really a struggle. Director David Anspaugh gives us moments from the games, but no momentum. So after the film’s midpoint, the whole thing starts to just glide by without a care in the world.
It’s not an awful movie, but I’d be hard pressed to call it very good. The film’s genuine sense of decency is quite winning at times, and Hackman, as he does, embodies Norm in a very total way. Dennis Hopper, who plays the sometimes-assistant-coach, looks like he wandered in from a totally different picture, which I suppose is not inappropriate, and the film spends a disproportionate amount of time with him and his struggle towards sobriety. Hell, aside from one coaching decision made under duress, it actually seems like he was more helpful to Norm when he was drunk. The film manages to wring some genuine tension in some last-second victories, but they’re such naturally tense scenarios that one need hardly direct them at all.
But I understand this film means a great deal to a great many people, and they would be wise to pick up this stellar disc.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, 20th Century Fox have done a marvelous job of bringing Hoosiers to Blu-ray. The image is very warm and welcoming, with a good, natural grain structure, appearing very film-like. It’s crisp and sharp and nicely detailed. The contrast is probably a hair too high, as blacks especially start to swallow finer detail, but I can’t imagine anyone picking this up and being overly displeased with their purchase. Technically speaking.
Audio fares a little worse. Environmental noise - dribbling a basketball, farm work, etc. - sometimes swallows dialogue, but then it comes to game time and the crowd noise is pushed too far in the background. On the commentary track, Anspaugh and Pizzo talk about how these small stadiums make for a quite intimidating atmosphere, with the crowd sometimes only a couple feet from the game, but that doesn’t really come across in this track. Still, as they say, it gets the job done.
As stacked as one could hope for. The commentary by Anspaugh and Pizzo is excellent, covering the film’s many production concerns and small victories. Writer/director commentaries are sometimes a little too flattering, but this has the benefit of hindsight (some quick research suggests this was recorded in 2005, nearly twenty years after the film’s release), so they’re willing to be a little bit more honest about things. They also provide great background on Indiana culture, as they both grew up in small towns in that state, and Pizzo actually based the film on his own school’s miraculous championship season, although not closely enough for a “based on a true story” title card.
There’s also “Hoosier History: The Truth Behind the Legend,” a very good half-hour documentary on basketball culture in the state and more about Milan’s victory.
A load of deleted scenes, with introductions from Anspaugh and Pizzo, amount to 31 minutes of material. In the commentary, Anspaugh mentions that they had to slowly whittle the film down from its initial two-hour-and-forty-eight-minute running time, so this is a glimpse at what might have been.
And if you’re really inclined, you can watch the 1954 Indiana State High School Championship game, featuring the team that inspired the film, and the ensuing victory. It’s a high school game, so it’s only 41 minutes long, but it’s also a high school game, so the action is a little...slow, one might say. Still, it’s really awesome that they included it.
For those who live and die by these things, you really have to pick up this disc. But if you’ve been uncertain that Hoosiers has truly earned its grand place amongst sports movies, I’d maintain that uncertainty. I was very excited to finally check this movie out, and it came up mighty short, hitting all the sports-movie benchmarks without truly working for them.