Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on June 29th, 2009
“Do you believe in miracles?”
Al Michaels’ famous coda to the 1980 Olympic Hockey Championship Game provides the title of this Walt Disney film based on the incredible feat. I have to admit that I’ve never been a big fan of the Olympic games. I’ve more times than not been annoyed at how much television time is preempted, and it dominates the headlines for over 2 weeks each time the games are played. Still, it was hard not to feel a little excited about this particular game. As Americans, we love those underdog stories. Just look at our most popular sports films and you’ll find characters like Rocky Balboa crawling up from nothing to take on the world. The story gets even better when we, the Americans, are the underdogs. It’s a role we seldom really see ourselves in. Call it arrogance. Call it nationalism. Whatever name you give it, it’s a position we don’t consider to apply to us whether deservedly or not. Finally, the traditional kind of story is all the more powerful when it’s based on a true event, and one that many of us can still recall. Put the Disney imprint on such a tale and you have the makings of a truly remarkable film…except when you don’t.
There’s little reason to go into the plot of the film. Essentially there isn’t one. It’s an almost documentary look at the 1980 American Olympic hockey team that managed to beat the most impressive hockey team in history. The Russians were virtual professionals and some had played together for over a decade. It was never a question of would they beat you, it was how bad would the massacre be. The game comes at the last peak of tension between the two superpowers. The Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and the US was going to boycott the summer games being held in Moscow. In a side note, it cost me, a 19 year old kid, a chance to visit the rival country. There was fear the Soviets would retaliate and refuse to come to the United States for the winter games. But, come they did, with all the swagger of a victor whose victory is already written before the game is even started. We all know the outcome. We all know the stories of how tough Brooks was on his team. There’s no spoilers or suspense to be had here. That means the movie has to pull us in again, just like it was 1980 all over again.
The film pulled in a respectable $65 million at the box office, which is pretty good for a sports film. But it never managed to catch the imagination and spirit of the actual game. If that was ever anyone’s goal here, it was relatively naïve. This was one of those events that takes on mythic proportions rather quickly, and it’s not always such a good thing to see such minutia behind a myth. The film couldn’t be bigger than the game, so it needed to look for something it could be. What it became was an overlong journey into the most minute details of the building, training, and performance of this team. It’s a not altogether inappropriate tribute to coach Herb Brooks. The game itself takes on almost an hour of the film. We appear to see nearly every minute on the ice, and let’s be honest, it wasn’t all terribly exciting. If I’m going to watch a hockey game, I’d rather watch the actual game. That’s the fatal flaw of the film. Instead of capturing the heart of these men and what they accomplished, it’s boiled down to such small pieces that we lose the grandeur of the whole.
Some of the specs and extra work here was originally written by Mar
Miracle is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. There is absolutely no grain in the film, and the lighting is simply beautiful. Clever camera work puts the viewer right in the middle of the fray, both on and off the ice; a feat of cinematic brilliance that should not be taken lightly. The bright red of the Soviet hockey team’s uniforms is powerful and deep, and does not bleed over onto the stark white of the advertisement-free ice. Black levels are equally accurate, as are flesh tones. This is a top-notch video presentation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is explosive. Disney has taken full advantage of the capabilities of the Blu-ray ability to deliver uncompressed fury, creating a soundscape that truly surrounds the viewer. Pucks bounce around the room, putting the viewer right on the ice during the big games. Slap shots echo, and crowds are overpowering. Furthermore, everything from a whisper to a scream is crystal-clear, as the track strikes a great balance between dialog and sound effects. Mark Isham’s excellent score helps to fill out the track with quality music that is, above all things, tasteful. This is one of the best soundtracks I have ever encountered on a sports film.
Also included on disc one is a feature length commentary with the director, editor, and director of photography.
All of the extras are in SD and ported from DVD.
The Making Of Miracle: (17:52) Thankfully not your average fluff piece. This is the big picture of the shoot, including casting the actors and hockey players, choreographing the plays from the real life games, barriers that were overcome regarding putting cameras on the ice, and crafting the audio for the film.
From Hockey To Hollywood: (27:31) This featurette covers the casting and training of the hockey players, many of whom had never acted before. Includes here are audition tapes, practice footage, interviews with each player, and coverage of the actors meeting with the real-life player they are portraying in the film.
The Sound Of Miracle: (10:24) Sound production, particularly on the ice, is the focus here.
Roundtable With Linda Cohn: (41:08) A roundtable with some of the real-life players, actor Kurt Russell, and Sportscenter anchor Linda Cohn. This segment, originally produced for ESPN Classic, is a fascinating look into the real Olympic team, the accuracy of the film, and the philosophies of coach Herb Brooks.
First Impressions – Herb Brooks with Kurt Russell And The Filmmakers: (21:13) This is a videotaped portion of Brooks’ first meeting with the executives and filmmakers, as they interviewed him on his coaching style, his life, and his memories about the 1980 team. While the sound is a bit hard to discern, the information in this piece is both powerful and inspiring.
The final credits show us what became of each of the players after the game. They went on into an eclectic collection of jobs and careers. Likely none of them had as big a moment in the rest of their lives. Coach Brooks died shortly after principal photography on the film. He participated in many aspects of the production but never got to see the final print. The movie makes the appropriate mention of this finishing with: “He never saw it. He lived it”.