|Written by Christopher Joseph|
|Sunday, 01 July 2007|
…and David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine on the head and he fell to the ground. Amen.
“Hoosiers” is arguably the heavyweight champ of feel-good sports movies. The story is as much about the underdog, fundamentals and discipline as personal comebacks and second chances. The beauty of “Hoosiers” is that you don’t have to be a basketball nut to derive enjoyment. The film is story driven; basketball merely serves as a device that gives the characters a means of starting their lives over. However, if you’ve ever picked up a basketball, this film is sure to make you run for the nearest court to nail the game-winning shot with no time left on the clock.
“Hoosiers” is also full of wonderful performances by Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper. Hopper received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as the town drunk turned assistant coach (he was also nominated for an Independent Spirit award in the same year for his role in David Lynch’s cult favorite, “Blue Velvet”). In addition to the gorgeous and nostalgic cinematography by Fred Murphy, the film features a memorable Oscar-nominated score by famed composer, Jerry Goldsmith. This is truly entertainment the entire family can enjoy.
The film opens in the Rockwell-esque small town of Hickory, Indiana, a portrait of quintessential 1950’s middle America. Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) arrives in town as the new High School basketball coach of the Hickory Huskers. With a student body of sixty-five students, they’re barely able to assemble an official team. To make matters worse, the Husker’s star player, Jimmy Chitwood (Maris Valainis) refuses to return, and everybody from the town sheriff to the parents’ groups think they know what’s best for the team. Norman immediately goes to work to break the boys down in order to rebuild them into a stronger, fundamentally sound team. Easier said than done.
After two embarrassing opening losses, Norman’s leadership comes into question and pressure builds to bring back Jimmy. This is made all the more difficult by school guidance counselor Myra Fleener (Barbara Hershey), who believes there’s more to life than basketball. Early on she seeks out Norman to deliver a message: Stay away from Jimmy. This is where “Hoosiers” begins to excel as it lets Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey go head to head in brutally honest exchanges of dialogue. Though in what is seemingly a feel-good family movie, the writing pays incredible attention to detail, characters and the inner workings of harsh small town politics.
Myra: “A man your age comes to a place like this, he's either running away from something or he has nowhere else to go.
Norman: “What I'm doing here has nothing to do with you.”
Myra: “Just stay away from Jimmy. I don't want him coaching in Hickory when he's fifty.”
Once a successful college basketball coach, Norman has been out of the game, serving in the navy for the last twelve years. Myra does some digging at the local library and learns he was fired and banned from coaching in the NCAA for hitting his star player.
In yet another loss, Norman emphasizes a point by benching a stubborn player and finishes the game with only four men on the court. As a result, the town calls for a meeting where they will vote on whether the coach stays or goes. After being voted out to a host of cheers, Jimmy steps out of the shadows to announce his return but under one condition: “I play, the coach stays.” A revote follows, and Norman is voted back in. The boys begin their “based on a true story” road to victory.
The film then follows what has become a familiar storyline: the underdog climbs to success complete with montage and climactic inspirational score. If you’ve managed to watch a movie in the past twenty years, you know what’s coming. Shooter (Dennis Hopper) turns things around and enters rehab, Myra and Norman fall in love, and Norman leads the team to the state championship against the symbolic Goliath of our story.
Director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo made a career by teaming up on similarly themed pictures like “Rudy” (1993) and “The Game of Their Lives” (2005), but “Hoosiers” is a model of such movies And even Hollywood releases similar movies every year, “Hoosiers” stands the test of time due to the affection the writing and directing team bring to the script. Combined with a performance from Gene Hackman not seen since “The Conversation,” this film is a classic that speaks to all generations.
“Hoosiers” is presented in full 1080p; while it’s not a terrible transfer considering its age, it deserves a better restoration. This film is a classic and true fans won’t be able to pass up a High Definition presentation; it assuredly surpasses the standard DVD edition. The film is inherently grainy, as would be any film attempting to capture the nostalgic feel of the 1950’s. For those looking for clean, crisp and pristine images, you wouldn’t find it here even with the best possible transfer. It’s a grainy film presented accurately with minimal to sometimes medium level video noise. So if you’re planning on showcasing your new Blu-ray-equipped behemoth HDTV to your friends, opt for a newer Tier 0/1 Blu-ray title like “Chicken Little,” “A Scanner Darkly” or even “Crank.”
The real disappointment here is the complete disregard for all the wonderful special features found on the collector’s edition standard DVD. The fifty gigs worth of storage on this disc is used for the film itself and one original theatrical trailer. That’s it. And while the trailer is entertaining in that 80’s pre hyper-edited minimalist way, it doesn’t change the fact that you are definitely not getting your money’s worth. My advice to the consumer and especially fans of this modern classic: hold out! The special features are there somewhere, sitting in a vault waiting to be exploited for a future special edition.
In the sound department we get a requisite Lossless DTS 5.1 track and a peculiar Dolby Digital 4.0 surround mix. The sound design in general in this film is nothing special as they were limited by the technology of the time. Dialogue is presented clean and clear with convincing ambience. Altogether the mix is a bit flat with very little channel movement and even less three dimensional quality.
While this film is one of my all time favorites, I can’t help but feel that this Blu-ray edition was short-changed. A less-than-stellar transfer and a complete lack of special features forces me to hesitate recommending this release to anyone but the die-hard fans. Hold out for the inevitable “newly restored” special edition sure to include all the previously unreleased special features.