In 1980, the United States was in need of something to give hope to its citizens. What it got was a miracle.
Now, hockey has never really been a major sport in the United States. While it is played feverishly in many of the Northern states, those in the rest of the country are just not as passionate about it. Basketball, baseball and football are the big three in this country. This fact just goes one step further to show just how unbelievable the Miracle on Ice really was. I am sure that most people already…know the story, so it would be redundant for me to recount it here. For those that don’t, they should unquestionably see this movie.
In fact, this is a movie that all Americans should see. It’s patriotic views and spirit of determination is what this country is al about. Once in a great while, Disney rises to the occasion in their live action film division. Many times, their family-friendly stories lack genuine emotion and authentic credibility, but on occasion, everything comes together to make a film that far exceeds my expectations. This is one of those rare occasions. I was surprised at how misty-eyed I became during this film, especially during the stirring climax. While the film does have a few campy moments, it is much like the actual 1980 hockey team itself. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in heart. When the source material this good, there is no reason to stray from the facts of history. Luckily, Disney has stayed true to the story, making this a powerful film that is way, way better than I expected it to be.
For DVD-philes such as myself, the ultimate in audio and video quality is spelled T-H-X. Such is the case here, with an audio track that is dynamic and powerful. Disney has taken full advantage of the capabilities of the Dolby Digital 5.1 format, 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.
THX certification is a two part process, which means that the video must be of the highest quality as well. While I will freely admit that there are some problems early on with regards to some wavering edges, I can assure you that they clear up quickly, and never return. This minor flaw aside, the rest of the film is simply perfect. 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 that does this great film justice.
There are many special features on this two-disc set, and I am proud to say that there is very little of the filler that is present on so many popular titles these days. Upon inserting the disc, viewers are confronted with a fairly lengthy array of trailers for other Disney films. Viewers have the option to watch, or fast forward to the menu. Once the Menu is reached, viewers should note the presence of the THX Optimizer, and utilize this tool to insure that they have provided themselves with the best picture and sound quality that their equipment can provide. Also included on disc one is a feature length commentary with the director, editor, and director of photography. Finally, there is a making of… segment that is 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.
I like it when studios trade quantity for quality when it comes to their DVD extras. Sure, it’s cool to have a whole list of extras, but it is even cooler to have three or four really solid pieces. Lucky for me, that is the case here. First up on disc two is a segment called, From Hockey to Hollywood: The Actor’s Journey. 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. Also on this disc is a 40-minute 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 is a segment that trades quality for substance. This is not a piece that was originally intended for inclusion on this DVD, but since Herb Brooks passed away before the completion of the film, it has become much more meaningful. 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. Finally, there is an interesting sound design featurette, and a short collection of outtakes.
This is an excellent film that has been given the royal treatment on DVD. It seems like Disney rarely creates a great proprietary movie anymore, so I am hoping that Miracle is the start of a long trend. Excellent picture and sound, creative menus and quality extras make this disc a must-buy for 2004.
Special Features List
- Commentary by director Gavin O’Connor, editor John Gilroy and director of photography Daniel Stoloff
- The Making of Miracle
- First Impressions: Herb Brooks with Kurt Russell and the Filmmakers
- Miracle ESPN roundtable with members of the 1980 team, actor Kurt Russell and host Linda Cohn
- From Hockey to Hollywood: The Actors’ Journey
- The Sound Of Miracle
- THX Optimizer