Judge David Johnson reminisces about Indiana basketball games before riots and assault charges.
Our review of Hoosiers (Blu-ray), published June 18th, 2012, is also available.
They needed a second chance to finish first. (Judge's note: Also an appropriate title for this DVD re-release.)
One of the upper-echelon sports films of all time gets a second incarnation on DVD. MGM's legendary Hoosiers, the tale of the Indiana basketball team that defied the odds and rose to number one in the state, has taken to the court again in this two-disc collector's edition. So, is this double-dip a double dribble?
Facts of the Case
Basketball in the small town of Hickory, Indiana is more than a pastime. It's a theology. As is the case with similar two-tractor towns spread all around the state, basketball is an omnipresent force, which beckons all able-bodied bipedal adolescents.
Hickory has brought in controversial former college basketball coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman, Enemy of the State) to guide their basketball squad to the promised land—the state finals. But the Hickory faithful are protective of their basketball team, and at first they are resistant to the new coach's curt personality and bizarre practice regimen—dribbling, passing, running, and no scrimmaging and shooting? WTF?
As Dale fights for his job, he encounters a parade of colorful town characters. Myra (Barbara Hershey, Beaches) is one of the teachers, who doesn't think much about basketball. She sees the sport as a trap for bright minds, who pour everything they have into hoops and little else into studies. She is especially protective of Jimmy Chitwood (Maris Valainis), the town's greatest ball player, who has yet to sign on the team.
And then there's Shooter (Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet), the town drunk, father to one of Dale's star players, and a walking encyclopedia of basketball knowledge, desperately in need of a second chance himself.
Coach Dale's obstacles are many, but his goal is clear: to shape his boys into a hard-working, motivated team—and, just maybe, make history.
Hoosiers certainly ranks up there in the pantheon of great sports movies. It is my favorite. A combination of factors, for me, elevates Hoosiers beyond the typical saccharine, suspense-free underdog sports fare (and the shot is up, and the ball is going in slow motion, and the buzzer goes off, and it's GOOD! And the overachieving nerd wins the girl!).
It begins and ends with Hackman. His performance as Coach Norman Dale is awesome. It's so good that despite the fact that, in reality, he probably knows very little about game mechanics and actual coaching, I'd be the first sign up to play for him:
Coach Hackman: Okay, run a four-point picket fence double-whammy googolplex!
Me: I don't what that means, but you got it, coach! You're so awesome!
Dale is a hard-ass; he's gruff, sour, and no-nonsense. His fiery on-court demeanor often lands him in the locker room, booted by the hometown refs. But he's fiercely loyal to his kids, and he's a decent man. His commitment to Shooter's sobriety is a moving example of tough love and general compassion.
If Hackman is the engine in this movie, the story is the tricked-out chrome. The plot of Hoosiers is inspired by the real-life success story of Milan High School, which in 1954 surprised the state by becoming state champions. Characters, places, and events from the film are dramatized from the source material. There was no Norman Dale or Jimmy Chitwood; there were Marvin Wood and Bobby Plump. Hoosiers is not a biopic, nor does it claim to be. There are no touching postscripts detailing what the players did after high school. This is an American sports fable, based upon an actual event, the victory of the Milan Indians over the Muncie Central Bearcats (which, apparently, is still lauded to this day amid the cornfields of Indiana).
So while the human drama is for the most part fictionalized, it is still moving and substantial. Powered by strong performances (Hershey and Hopper are great as well), smartly written, unpretentious, and tense despite the foregone "sports movie" conclusion, Hoosiers really is a must-see, whether you're a hard-core sports fan or think that "flagrant foul" is the new Shaquille O'Neal cologne. Highly recommended (as if you haven't seen this one already).
Okay, let's get into the nitty-gritty of this review. This edition of Hoosiers is a DVD re-release, double-dipping from a barebones MGM release in 2001. So is it worth it? The simple answer is this: If you don't own the movie—tsk! tsk!—you might as well pick up this special edition, unless the gulf in prices is substantial. If you've got it already, the extra stuff won't be enough to seduce you. If you're a die-hard Hoosiers fan, you already own this.
Technically, there's not much difference between the two releases. The major difference is the new anamorphic transfer. However, the two versions are not that far apart in video quality. Certainly, the anamorphic transfer of this collector's edition edges out the matted widescreen of the first, but for my money, the difference in negligible. Also negligible is the audio mix. Both releases have a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, and both are front-loaded, neither particularly striking. So, yes, this newest edition wins by a nose or so in the audiovisual department, but not enough to mandate a re-purchase.
The meat of this set is the extra features. The film sports an audio commentary by director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo. This is an interesting track; at first, you might think these two have an adversarial relationship, but the other bonuses reveal that they were college roommates and friends. They sometimes antagonize each other on the commentary, but it turns out to be playful. Anyway, it's a good cut, anecdotal and informative.
Disc Two is composed solely of extra stuff. "Hoosier History: The Truth Behind the Legend" is a newly produced documentary that mixes a making-of featurette with a look at the actual Milan team that inspired the fictional Hickory crew. Actors from the film, crew members, and former Milan players (and a Muncie player from the defeated team!) are interviewed. This is a swell little bonus feature, and not merely a haphazard assemblage of recycled footage. Some effort went into the production, and it shows.
Thirty minutes of deleted footage range from so-so to crucial scenes. The most infamous deleted sequence shows Buddy, a player who was kicked off the team on Norman's first day, asking to come back. On the finished film, Buddy just one day magically appears in the lineup, representing a fairly distracting moment. Each scene is prefaced by comments from Andspaugh and Pizzo, always a nice touch.
Lastly, the original 1954 Indian High School Championship between Milan and Muncie is available in its entirety. A unique addition, sure, but truthfully, the dramatic final shot represents the most compelling element here. The near-opaque video quality and confessedly basic skill level don't make this an extra you'll get a lot of mileage out of.
All this, plus some really cool faux-basketball packaging, lies before you. Is it worth the double-dip? Personally, I'm on the fence, teetering toward "no."
On the "makes grown men cry" spectrum, Hoosiers is a notch above Rudy and a hair below Field of Dreams. Decent sound and transfer and some cool extras bolster a sterling sports film. Yes, this set is the definitive edition for fans or folks who don't own it yet., but if you've already got it riding your bench, it just may not be worth a draft choice.
Yes, MGM is found guilty of double-dipping, but the court loves this film, and this collector's edition is the greatest version of it yet. Full-court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director David Anspaugh and Writer Angelo Pizzo
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