The Greatest Game Ever Played?
When I saw that title on the DVD case my immediate thought was: “How did Disney find out about my 1981 Marathon game of RISK where I took out Mark “Trip Sixes” Shreader in 9 hours of battle? Of course, I soon decided they meant professional sports. This film would be about the Minnesota Viking playoff whoopin’ of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Turns out that wasn’t it. Point of fact, not one game of the 1980 World Series victory of the Phillies made the cut. Sudde…ly it hit me. Disney does ice hockey films. They must have made one about the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Game Seven beat down on some Canadian boys to win the Stanley Cup. Wrong! Apparently long before my boy Abner picked up a bat or Dr. Nesmith was shooting soccer balls into his trashcan, some funny looking fellas in Scotland had come up with their own game. Golf. Don’t get me started. Still ESPN says it’s a sport, so who am I to argue?
So let’s talk about the film. It’s an old formula, and no one tells them better than Disney. Let’s face it who can tell a Cinderella story as well as the folks that brought you… well, Cinderella. Disney sprinkles enough of their traditional family movie magic to at least make this film somewhat interesting to those of us who do not enjoy golf. The opening credits hark back to Monty Python with clever use of cut-out animation mixed with period film. The screenplay was written by Mark Frost from his own novel.
As a young boy growing up across the street from a prestigious country club Francis Ouimet (LeBeouf) dreamed of playing golf. He idolized the likes of Harry Vardon (Dillane) who was overcoming his own demons to become a great in the game. The first half of the film is more about class struggle than the game of golf and is therefore far more interesting. Ouimet must overcome his own station in life to be accepted as a true player and gentleman by the country club elite. Through flashbacks we discover the same struggle from Vardon. Shia LeBeouf is convincing as the young aspirant to greatness. He vastly underplays the role, which happens to fill the needs of the film perfectly. A fictionalized element of the story, of course, has to involve the obligatory pretty girl. In this case Sarah (List) is a wealthy young lady with the forbidden interest in the peasant pretender, Ouimet. The film is overlong at 2 hours. The second half of the film is limited only to the eventual US Open competition of the film’s name. It is here that those with no interest in the game begin to fall away. Bill Paxton did an admirable job with the film and likely created more drama than the film deserves. The hour-long tournament is even less interesting when we already know the outcome.
The Greatest Game Ever Played is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. As with most period pieces, an attempt was made to stylize the overall look of the film. The colors are saturated in sepia tones to give it an older look. The palettes are thus somewhat limited. The film is also often very dark. Even the sunny days on the links continue to exhibit a rather dreary quality to them. Fortunately black levels are quite impressive, so the effect is carried off with nice results. Contrast is also sharp enough to keep the transfer looking clean. There is a minimal amount of compression artifact, but not to the point of distraction.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track comes across as almost unnecessary. With the dated feel of the picture, this is one case where less would have been more. There isn’t a tremendous amount of aggressiveness in the mix anyway. It might have been far better to concentrate the sound in a solid 2.0 presentation. The dialogue is fine. Ambient sounds and a truly fine score by Brian Tyler stretch the sound field to a point of disbelief when confronted by an aged visual look. To me it was a contradiction that was often distracting. The sound and video are truly representations of two very different eras.
There are two audio commentary tracks. Bill Paxton speaks in the same soft but lecturing tone he used in Ghosts of The Abyss. He is quite proud of the work and spends most of the time pointing out what a good job he did. Modest the man is not.The second audio commentary comes from writer Mark Frost. This is by far the better of the two. Frost gives us a lot of background on the actual events versus what we see on the screen. He’s honest about what is fictionalized and what he believes to be accurate and from what source he bases those beliefs upon.
“A View From The Gallery: On The Set Of The Greatest Game Ever Played”: A long title to describe a 15 minute look behind the scenes. Bill Paxton is prominent and once again a little too ego driven for my taste. His pride is understandable, but he didn’t make Citizen Kane here. All of the cast and crew do get involved in this mutual admiration piece.“Two Legends And The Greatest Game”: This is a shorter feature at just over 6 minutes. Probably the most interesting thing here is watching some of the actors audition their golfing skills… or lack thereof.“From Caddy To Champion” This is likely the most interesting feature if you are a golf fan or are interested in the 1913 Open. It’s a 1963 interview with Ouimet by Fred Cusick from the site of the 1913 Open. The two walk the links and talk about crucial moments of the game. This is a 50th Anniversary special. Of course, it is in black and white and shows its age. Still, if Ouimet is why you are interested in the film, this will be worth the DVD for you.
While the film was more entertaining than I expected, the long stretch of golf certainly tried my patience. I was far more compelled by the first hour. I found the struggle to get to the game far more interesting than the game itself. I’m not a golfer and I have no interest in the game at all. For a guy like me, this was two movies. By the halfway mark I was starting to feel as much of an outsider as the elite had made Ouimet in the beginning. “You may have been invited, but don’t believe you belong here”.
Special Features List
- Commentary by: Director Bill Paxton
- Commentary by: Writer Mark Frost
- “A View From The Gallery: On the set of The Greatest Game Ever Played” featurette
- “Two Legends and the Greatest Game” featurette
- “From Caddy to Champion: Francis Ouimet” featurette