|Remember the Titans|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 20 March 2001|
The DVD release of "Remember the Titans" adds assets to an already excellent film. In theatres, "Titans" proved a true crowd pleaser that elicited applause in numerous places. It has something for almost everyone: dynamic football action for sports fans, a true tale of successful racial integration for those who like social consciousness, some rowdy (but relatively clean) verbal humor for comedy fans and lots of male bonding between initially unlikely allies. The DVD augments this with some unusual extras, notably an audio commentary track from the two real-life figures, Herman Boone and Bill Yoast, who are played in the movie by Denzel Washington and Will Patton, respectively. More, the DTS 5.1 audio track boasts some of the most vivid, lifelike sound yet heard on a non-special effects release.
It certainly helps that Gregory Allen Howard’s script is based in fact. Although at times the sentiment becomes broad and obvious, it never feels forced. Propelled by persuasive plot and human logic, "Titans" gains momentum, becoming increasingly moving and exciting as it surges forward with ever-increasing power.
In 1971, black/white racial integration was just reaching Alexandria, VA, where high school football is the focal point of the local universe. Tensions are running high before the start of the fall school term as, over the summer, a white shopkeeper has shot a black youth to death.
To improve the situation (and comply with Federal anti-discrimination laws), T.C. Williams High has brought in its first-ever black head football coach, Herman Boone (Washington). This does not go down well with the well-liked erstwhile white head coach, Bill Yoast (Patton), who considers quitting until most of his players say they’ll sit the season out if he’s not there with them. Realizing that such an act of protest may well ruin the boys’ chances of college scholarships, Yoast swallows his pride and takes a job as defensive coach under Boone’s leadership. Boone now has to figure out how to shape a bunch of talented but frankly racist teenaged boys, white and black, into a unit that will fight other teams instead of each other. He also must contend with vicious prejudice from above that could sabotage his career and hatred on the streets that threatens his family. Yoast has to cope with his own bruised ego, his adversarial alliance with Boone and increasing disapproval from longtime associates who perceive Yoast’s loyalty to his team over the status quo as a betrayal.
Howard’s script manages to put issues of both racial and football politics in the mouths of characters so that it always sounds like normal conversation, even in the most expository situations. Director Boaz Yakin gets naturalistic performances from the ensemble that nevertheless allow for great humor in the midst of strife. Washington brings his customary dignity, sincerity and integrity to Boone. Patton is quietly, thoroughly convincing as Yoast, a man forced to gradually re-examine many of his core beliefs while trying to do the right thing for his players and as a man. Hayden Panettiere is a hoot as Yoast’s football-crazed nine-year-old daughter, a character who (according to the commentary track) is exaggerated for comedic effect yet never feels out of place. Among the players, Ryan Hurst as team captain Gerry Bertier, Wood Harris as Bertier’s foremost antagonist Julius Campbell and Ethan Suplee as Lastik, the most easygoing of the white kids on the team, are standouts.
The sound is also outstanding. In Chapter 1, a window breaks with a terrifying crack right in front of us. Chapters 2 and 3 make expert use of surround, placing us in the centers of different applauding crowds. Chapter 6 has one of the more interesting effects I’ve come across in a home-release use of a song in a scene. While "Spirit in the Sky" plays behind a scene, the song’s music (a bit buzzy, apparently on purpose, as everything else is crystal clear) plays in the left main and the vocals are in the right main, rather than just spreading the piece throughout the system, while the dialogue of the characters is in the center. There’s also a lot of major body impact sounds on the football field, with a mighty crunch in Chapter 11 that sounds as though the players are colliding a few feet in front of us, Chapter 16 sonically plants us in the middle of the field during a game, so that tackles are in front, behind, to our right and to our left, while our ears detect the subtle, solid thwack of the ball landing in the receiver’s hands. Chapter 19 lets a car peel away with a screech of tires (but no sound artifacts) through the right rear. In Chapter 24, a horrible car wreck is reproduced with such startling sonic clarity that it sounds as if the collision occurs in front of us, followed immediately by the vehicles skidding at speed straight through the center of the soundfield with a realism that makes you want to instinctively jump out of the way. Chapter 30 brings us back to all-enveloping surround, with a warmth, immediacy and specificity that make us feel we’re standing alongside the characters in the midst of a crowd.
Use of pop music is exemplary as well. The soundtrack is nearly as full of wall-to-wall ‘60s and ‘70s hits as "Almost Famous." There’s a great transition in Chapter 22, with a Cat Stevens tune segueing into a livelier, nastier number from Creedence Clearwater Revival. Music is used tellingly onscreen as well. In "The Replacements," when the team members burst into song, it just looked like a rip-off of "The Full Monty." In "Remember the Titans," a sequence in Chapter 12 where the players start singing along with the radio on "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough" not only achieves wonderful directional placement, so that we hear individual voices around us throughout the system, but it also makes a statement about whose music will carry the day, who’s got control of the space and who is on which side, based on whether or not each player joins in. The exuberant vocalization is harmonious but realistic, good work by a bunch of young men who can carry a tune recreationally.
The movie comes with a regular making-of featurette, plus one focusing on Washington’s portrayal of Boone, who comes off as truly thrilled that people have taken an interest in his life story. (All of the supplemental material is full of the filmmakers’ tales of initially being put off by Boone, who at first thought all this talk of Hollywood interest was a practical joke.) There’s also a featurette that focuses on the difficulties of writer Howard and then producer Bruckheimer in getting the film made. The audio commentary track from Howard, Yakin and Bruckheimer is informative, but even more interesting is the one from the real Boone and Yoast, who point out the details that conflict with real life. One of these is that in fact Yoast had four daughters, not one – he understood the filmmakers’ reasoning in narrowing it down for dramatic purposes, but got director Yakin to phone and explain it to each of the daughters who aren’t depicted. The commentary is understatedly and understandably emotional in places, as some of the people depicted in the film have since passed away.
At least one review of the theatrical release complained that sometimes director Yakin places his camera in to tight, so that game strategy is sacrificed in favor of character emotion. For this reviewer’s money, that’s the whole point – Yakin puts us out on the field, feeling the urgency of the moment along with the characters. Whether or not we can follow every play matters less than whether we care who wins. In this, "Remember the Titans" succeeds richly – seldom have we been made to feel so much is riding on the outcome of a football showdown. In "Remember the Titans," the town of Alexandria and the viewer both emerge as winners.