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MGM Studios DVD presents
Hoosiers (1986)

"I love you guys."
- Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman), to his team

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: February 28, 2005

Stars: Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper
Director: David Anspaugh

MPAA Rating: PG for brief strong language
Run Time: 01h:54m:45s
Release Date: March 01, 2005
UPC: 027616902412
Genre: sports

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-AB B+

DVD Review

So is this the greatest sports movie ever made? ESPN says that it is—or that it's the best of the last 25 years, anyway—and comparing this to Raging Bull is obviously apples and oranges. Scorsese's film is inarguably a towering achievement, but if you want a well-crafted movie that will have you cheering and throwing popcorn at the screen, Hoosiers is the way to go. It's a valentine to high school basketball, to small towns, to underdogs; it's formulaic, sure, but it embraces that formula with gusto, and delivers on all of its promise.

There's a new sheriff in town: Norman Dale has come to Hickory, Indiana, to teach history at the high school and, more important, to coach the basketball team, the single civic institution that unites this rural community. It's 1951, and basketball is everything in Hickory—the former coach has gone to that big old gym in the sky, and Dale is looked on with suspicion, even though he's a buddy of the school principal. Everybody has a huge emotional investment in the team, and not all of them are cottoning to the newcomer's ways: will he play zone defense, or man to man? Will he convince Jimmy Chitwood, the star player who looked on the old coach as a surrogate father, to rejoin the team? Will he even last a full season, with only six players on his squad, and the rocky start they get off to?

In many ways what's so artful about Hoosiers is that it's thematically strong: this is a movie about second chances. We learn that Norman needs one, because of some unsavory incidents in his past; he provides one to Shooter, the town drunk whose son plays for the team, and who cleans up enough to be an assistant coach, for a time; and he embodies one for Myra Fleener, a teacher at the school who left Hickory, but had to return due to family circumstances. Even more, though, it's a movie about the redemptive power of basketball. If you're not a sports fan, you're unlikely even to be reading this; Hoosiers operates on the assumption that playing hoops is what the good Lord intended for us to do (in Indiana, anyway), and citizens of Hickory and every other town in the movie pull for their teams with a religious fervor.

Yoking much of this together is a typically winning and understated performance by Gene Hackman as Dale; he's always been an extraordinarily fine actor, and seems very much at ease with a whistle around his neck, a clipboard in his hands, barking out commands for another round of suicides. He's even better when he uses his brusque manner to brush off the frontrunning jackasses in town who want to tell him how to do his job. Just as good is Hopper; this movie was released close to the theatrical run of Blue Velvet, and Hopper is as modulated and internal in this movie as he was theatrical and flamboyant in Lynch's. Barbara Hershey doesn't get a whole lot of screen time as Myra, nor does she get to display a tremendous amount of range; but she's refreshing and human here, and with the benefit of hindsight, it's hard not to watch her scenes and stare at her mouth and wonder about the evils of collagen injections.

If there's a weakness to Hoosiers, it's probably that the players themselves are nearly anonymous; amateurs were cast, for the right look, but that limited their capacity to help with any of the storytelling. Still, they look just right in their satin shorts and Chuck Taylors, like something right out of the 1950s; Hickory's run to glory brings them to larger and larger venues, and the climactic scene is a reminder of what's been missing: for the first time, in the state championship game, we see black players on the floor. The style of basketball is very old school: set shots, underhand free throws, the game played entirely below the rim. So this is a movie with a heavy, heavy dose of nostalgia; the sun-dappled shots of the cornfields make that clear from the jump. But it's a solid piece of Americana, and as rousing a hardwood story as has ever been put to celluloid.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Very strong effort here; Fred Murphy's almost sepia-like photography is well rendered in this transfer, which has a delicate palette and no apparent blemishes.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoSpanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 track is atmospheric and impressive; it does highlight, though, the one production detail that isn't entirely in keeping with the period. Jerry Goldsmith is a fine film composer, but here he relies a little too heavily on synthesizers and percussion machines, leaving you with a patina of fear that Crockett and Tubbs are on their way to Hickory.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Walking Tall, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, the Rocky anthology
13 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by David Anspaugh and Angelo Pizzo
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. photo gallery
Extras Review: Hoosiers was released twice previously on DVD, in bare-bones editions; this clearly is the version of choice. Director David Anspaugh and writer/co-producer Angelo Pizzo sit for a commentary track; they were college pals at Indiana University, and report that the idea for this movie was born over a frat house bong. It's a fictionalized retelling of the 1954 Indiana state high school basketball championship won by Milan High, which has become universal coach's shorthand for the power of the underdog. The track is filled with fond reminiscences of the evolution of the project and the details of the shoot; what's especially nice is that it's clear that these two have remained friends, despite legions telling them that their professional relationship would undo the fondness between them.

Over on Disc 2, Anspaugh and Pizzo provide introductions for each of the thirteen deleted scenes, which plug in holes regarding Norman's backstory, give some more context for the community of Hickory, and devote more screen time to Myra—there's nothing wrong with any of them, but there are no real hidden gems here, either. Hoosier History: The Truth Behind the Legend (29m:48s) features Anspaugh and Pizzo again, along with Hopper and Hackman; before Hackman was attached, Jack Nicholson wanted to play the lead, but couldn't because of scheduling conflicts. Also on hand are a couple of Milan players from back in the day, and one of their opponents, from reviled Muncie High School; there's also testimony to the authenticity of the movie from three of the current brightest lights in Indiana basketball: Purdue coach Gene Keady, Pacers guard and professional Knick killer Reggie Miller, and Miller's coach, Rick Carlisle.

If the fictionalized version lacks the authenticity you need, you can watch the 1954 Indiana high school championship game in its entirety (41m:22s); be sure to note the care taken to reproduce the final shot for the feature. There's also a photo gallery, of 42 images, most taken on the set; high praise to the designer, too, who came up with the pebbled sleeve that houses this two-disc set.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Any self-respecting hoops fan has already committed great swatches of this movie to memory, and has played out, in the driveway or the gym or just in the mind, hitting that final shot at the buzzer. Still, even if you've seen this movie a lot, it's hard not to get caught up in it; my jump shot is appalling and my defense is worse, but I still dream of Coach calling my number to run the picket fence. This special edition will only help to fuel those dreams, as it presents a much-loved movie with all the fanfare and hoopla it deserves. Make some room on the trophy case by the principal's office for this one.


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