Disney // 2005 // 120 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 26th, 2009
The sports-themed catalog releases continue their march to Blu heaven. The latest: Bill Paxton's period golfing drama.
Before golf became the much-loved sport of fat guys and corporate slackers, it was an American diversion dominated by Brits. That is, until amateur golfer extraordinaire Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf, Transformers) entered the U.S. Open and took it to the Lobsterbacks.
That would be the aforementioned "greatest game ever played," an 18-hole winner-take-all nail-biter that went down near Boston, which led to a golfing renaissance in America and the making of an icon in Francis Ouimet.
This is a charming little movie which barely overcomes its biggest handicap: it's about golf.
Hey, nothing against the game. I wish I was a golfer. I know it's big with a lot of folks. I've got friends who love playing, so props to both the long and short game. But as far as sports cut out for the movie treatment go, there just aren't many thrills in a golf game that will appeal to the restless American viewer. Well, maybe if jihadists attacked the greens and the golfers were forced to fend them off with their nine irons.
Thankfully, director Bill Paxton has some great source material to work with and the actual golf game highlighted is genuinely interesting; maybe not the white-knuckle action a football or hockey game could generate, but there's some high drama that goes down. Paxton squeezes out as much tension as he can out of the history, but the result isn't quite a barnburner. The golf action you'll find here is about as good as it gets.
On the periphery are a handful of storylines that don't quite measure up. You have the slightest whiff of a romance between Francis and a rich girl which doesn't advance further than the exchange of some lukewarm glances, some clumsy class warfare, and pervasive anti-caddy sentiment (caddies are referred to as "their kind"). The most effective storyline is Francis's strained relationship with his father, a working class immigrant who doesn't see the monetary value in golfing, which would be a painful genre cliché, if it hadn't actually happened.
With the Blu-ray treatment, Disney proves once again that it's a top player in the high-definition game. The enhanced 1.85:1 widescreen represents a noticeable bump in visual fidelity. The resolution gives way to precise details, from the musky period atmosphere of the country club smoking rooms, to the brilliant greens of the golf course. The downside is a familiar one: the undercutting of the visual effects. Paxton employs a few spots of CGI, building virtual gold balls, ladybugs, and what not, but...well, they look hokey in HD. Aside from those unfortunate bits, this is a top-notch transfer. Audio is stellar in its DTS-HD 5.1 conversion, sending out the roaring crowd effects and syrupy Inspiration-o Score with aplomb. Extras: two solid commentaries from Paxton and screenwriter Mark Frost, plus featurettes looking at behind-the-scenes, the game and the two legends who participated in them, and an archival documentary about Francis Ouimet.
While it doesn't quite ascend to the sports film genre's top tier, The Greatest Game Ever Played is still a winner, and the Blu-ray is a fine technical achievement.
Not Guilty. For birdie.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG