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Warner Home Video presents
We Are Marshall Combo DVD and HD-DVD (2006)

"We're not honoring them, Jack. We're disgracing them."
- Red Dawson (Matthew Fox)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: September 12, 2007

Stars: Matthew McConaughey
Other Stars: Matthew Fox, Ian McShane, Anthony Mackie, Kate Mara, January Jones, Brian Geraghty, David Strathairn, Kimberly William-Paisley, Robert Patrick
Director: McG

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for emotional thematic material, a crash scene, and mild language
Run Time: 02h:11m:49s
Release Date: September 18, 2007
UPC: 085391117599
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ AA-A C+

DVD Review

One of the most devastating disasters in college sports occurred on November 14, 1970, when a plane full of the Marshall University football team, coaches and fans crashed in a storm while preparing to land. This tear-jerking inspirational drama from McG (better known for goofy action such as Charlie's Angels) recounts the story of that tragedy and the aftermath as the small university in Huntington, West Virginia tried to pull itself back together, symbolized by the re-creation of its football team almost entirely from scratch, with plenty of heartfelt soulsearching as the town attempts to deal with its ghosts.

In the wake of the crash, University president Don Dedman (David Strathairn) is inclined to shut down the football program altogether. One can hardly blame him. All but one coach, Red Dawson (Matthew Fox) perished, as did all but four of the players, three of whom were injured and a fourth who overslept and missed the trip. But player Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie), supported by the student body and the people of the town, makes an emotional appeal for the program to be reconstituted. Unable to find anyone willing to take on the head coaching job, Dedman is approached by affable but decidedly off-kilter character Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey). With the aid of an NCAA thedispensation that allows true freshmen to play, and some surprisingly helpful assistance from unexpected sources, Lengyel manages to assemble a team that can at least take the field. But no miracles are on hand when the team is outclassed, outplayed and seutterly crushed by Morehead State in their first game, and everyone involved must come to terms with whether this is a proper way to honor the dead, and how much of the town's pride and sense of self-worth is tied up in the football program, which seems ready to disappear again.

The setup is suitably effective, as we get glimpses (sometimes too brief to really make sense of them) of the townspeople and what the football program means to them. If anything, there could have been a little more time devoted to these sequences since they are supposed to generate emotional chords later on but sometimes pass so quickly that they don't register properly. The crash itself is tastefully handled, with no prurient peering into death agonies; instead the focus is correctly on the tribulations of the living. That's nowhere clearer than in the survivor's guilt of Dawson and Tom Bogdan (Brian Geraghty), the oversleeping player. Whereas Lengyel is able to convince Dawson to return and help coach the team and to assist with the recruiting, Tom can't be persuaded back onto the field; not until the end can he even bring himself to attend a game. I kept expecting a Hollywood moment where Tom suits up and saves the day, but no dice. McG keeps the reactions of the suffering survivor realistic and for that he's to be commended.

The weak link in all this, unfortunately is McConaughey. For some inexplicable reason he decides to affect an overly broad Li'l Abner hillbilly accent, even though the actual Lengyel has no such vocal weirdness. On the other hand, he does manage a suitably enthusiastic optimism tempered with carefully lowering expectations as best he can (at his introductory press conference, he promises there will be no miracles). One of the key messages is that it is not whether you win or lose, nor is it how you play the game: the central point is playing the game at all. While that message is watered down a little in a finale that centers on one of the few bright points in the story, there's a sense that being able to care about a football game at all means that healing is happening. Strathairn is particularly good as the university president who reinstates the program against his better judgment, and is made a scapegoat for the disastrous first game. He conveys a quietly wounded by dignified pride through his eyes and makes a great impression in his courage.

McG only interjects noticeable stylishness during the football sequences. During these segments, he shifts to a strobing photography that emphasized the chaotic nature of the field (especially through the eyes of the outgunned and inexperienced Marshall players, getting their first taste of monsters bearing down on them at ferocious speeds). It's an effective technique thanks to the restraint shown throughout the rest of the picture. In the aftermath of the first game, he also employs a camera swirling around several of the players, emphasizing the antagonism between the few survivors of the old team and the newcomers, who they don't feel are offering sufficient respect to the dead. It's a telling moment that effectively dramatizes the hold that the dead retain upon the living, as is a touching storyline of a waitress, Annie Cantrell (Kate Mara), who agonizes about what to do with the engagement ring given to her by one of the now-deceased players.

No particular knowledge about football is required for enjoyment of the film beyond the notion that touchdowns and field goals are good. Oddly, there's a continuity error that has Lengyel complaining about Marshall having no points on the scoreboard in the Morehead State game, even though there are six points plainly visible in Marshall's column. It's one of the few missteps in a movie that's enjoyable by all ages and that keeps its inspirational message on a realistic basis and offers hope without being smarmy or overpowering. If only McConaughey could have been persuaded to play it a little straighter.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesyes
Anamorphicnoyes


Image Transfer Review: Both HD and anamorphic widescreen standard DVD presentations are included. Both are excellent, though obviously fine detail and color are markedly better on the HD version. McConaughey's anachronistic 1980s style stubble comes across with plenty of detail, and the football sequences jump off the screen. Some long shots of scenery are a bit soft but that may be a stylistic decision. No edge enhancement was noted, and the only compression artifacts I observed were a small bit of ringing on stark black silhouettes outlined in a brightly-lit tunnel.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
+
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The HD DVD side offers DD+ 5.1 tracks in English and French as well as an English TrueHD track. There isn't a huge amount of difference between the DD+ and the lossless track, though there is a bit more depth on the latter. Surround activity tends to be limited to music and effects (including crowd noises), with little clear directionality. The sensitive soundtrack by Christophe Beck comes across with sweet delicacy in the quieter moments and plenty of percussive bombast in the football scenes.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 31 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Elite
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The presentation of the film (on both versions) is preceded by a PSA for the pleasures of West Virginia. That's of a pair with the brief tribute to Marshall Now (1m:02s), a promo of alumni of Marshall extolling the school's virtues. Besides a theatrical trailer, the only extra of note is Legendary Coaches (36m:57s), which features interviews with several coaches who have dealt with adversity of one kind or another, starting with the real Jack Lengyel. Others interviewed include Bobby Bowden, Pat Summit, Lute Olsen, George Horton and the legendary John Wooden. It's quite good, though only the Lengyel section has a direct bearing on the feature. More background on the real people who are part of the movie would have certainly been welcome. Other than the opening PSA, none of the extras are presented in HD.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

A solid tale of character in adversity and the slow and often painful process of healing, We Are Marshall will warm the heart and move through its response to tragedy, helped along by a first-rate transfer.

 


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