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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents

Brian's Song (1971)

"Now, look, I'm no idiot. This thing I got's bad, I know that. But it's just a detour, Joy. I'm not gonna let it stop me. I'm just not. There's no way. I got too much to do yet."- Brian Piccolo (James Caan)

Stars: James Caan, Billy Dee Williams
Other Stars: Shelly Fabares, Jack Warden
Director: Buzz Kulik

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: GRun Time: 01h:14m:16s
Release Date: 2000-08-08
Genre: drama

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- A-A-B- B

 

DVD Review

In 1971, Columbia Pictures' Screen Gems television division released Brian's Song, a serious, thoughtful and emotional film about the friendship between Chicago Bears players Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) and Brian Piccolo (James Caan). The film garnered critical raves and solid ratings, and it earned new respect for the "TV Movie" in the process, even receiving a brief theatrical run AFTER it had aired.

Looking at Brian's Song today, it's clear why the film had such an impact. In an era when sitcoms and soap operas ruled network TV, director Buzz Kulik dared to tell a story about two men of different races whose rivalry leads to a close friendship. Sayers and Piccolo support and sustain each other, and when Piccolo develops lung cancer it falls to the reluctant Sayers to help him through as best he can. William Blinn's well-crafted script succeeds in portraying two athletes' respect and (yes) love for each other, avoiding maudlin sentimentality, preachiness and facile beer-commercial machismo with sensitivity and humor.

James Caan and Billy Dee Williams were relatively unknown when Brian's Song was made, but they were well-cast and develop a genuine chemistry onscreen, with Caan's cocky, wisecracking Piccolo an effective counter to Williams' reticent, tongue-tied Sayers. Jack Warden is wonderful as crusty Bears Coach George Halas, and 60's fave Shelly Fabares acquits herself honorably as Joy Piccolo. The Bears' Dick Butkus appears as himself, with Bernie Casey as team captain and Judy Pace as Linda Sayers. The performances are a bit "TV-ish" at times, but they support the script and story well and never seem inappropriate.

It's obvious that Brian's Song was made for television—awkward zooms, recycled sets (Gale Sayers appears to live in the house from Bewitched, also a Screen Gems production), language constraints and frequent commercial-break fadeouts betray its origins. And the film's well-known reputation as a tear-jerker makes it easier to survive it dry-eyed than would otherwise be the case. But it's still a great little film, an intimate story that works very well on the small screen—its art may have been accidental, but it has survived nearly 30 years of social change and growing audience sophistication with its heart and meaning intact.

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

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Columbia Home Video presents Brian's Song in its original made-for-TV 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. The film is occasionally a bit soft and grainy, with shallow depth-of-field causing some background blurring and smearing, and one scene has a few "jumps," as though bad frames were excised. There are some persistent compositing flecks during the opening credits, and archival football game footage incorporated into the film betrays numerous splices, scratches and other defects. But this 30-year-old television film looks great for its age, with solid colors and fine shadow detail, transferred from a clean film source for this DVD release with no distracting digital compression artifacts.

Image Transfer Grade: A-
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: Brian's Song features its original monophonic audio track, in Dolby Digital 2.0 ProLogic-decoded to play through the center speaker. It betrays its age in numerous ways, with some echo in dialogue scenes, no low-end bass, and a "clipped"-sounding frequency range. But, again, this is a three-decade-old, relatively low-budget source, and the digital transfer is as clean as can be expected—dialogue is clear, and Michel Legrand's fluid score is listenable (if a bit tinny.)

Audio Transfer Grade: B- 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Jerry Maguire, A League of Their Own
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by James Caan, Billy Dee Williams
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Gale Sayers: First and Goal
Extras Review: Columbia Home Video treats Brian's Song with the respect it deserves. 28 chapter stops are accessible via picture menus, subtitles are provided in several languages, and the newly-minted supplements add substantial value:

Commentary:

Stars James Caan and Billy Dee Williams share a lively screen-specific commentary track, full of fond memories about the making of the film, its effect on their respective careers, and the people involved. The two actors clearly enjoyed working together and still get along well, alternately complimenting and ribbing each other, pausing only to watch favorite moments. Short on filmmaking insight, but great fun just the same.

Bios/Filmographies:

Brief biographies and "selected filmographies" are provided for director Buzz Kulik and cast members James Caan, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Warden and Shelly Fabares.

Trailers:

Three sports-related movie trailers are included here—the lengthy trailer for the post-broadcast theatrical release of Brian's Song, in full-frame 1.33:1 with mono audio, as well as trailers for Jerry Maguire (1.33:1, DD 2.0 Surround) and A League of Their Own (1.66:1, DD 2.0 Surround).

Gale Sayers: First and Goal:

This featurette stars the real-life Gale Sayers, who discusses his college and professional football career, his friendship with Brian Piccolo, and Brian's Song, based on Sayer's autobiographical book I Am Third. Sayers is much more articulate than the film makes him out to be, and it's interesting to hear his comments concerning aspects of the story that were trumped up for dramatic purposes. This is a well-made, non-promotional short that provides considerable insight into the film's real-life basis.

Extras Grade: B
 

Final Comments

Brian's Song was a seminal event in television history, the first successful "serious" TV movie, and its honest, touching story holds up surprisingly well today. Columbia's DVD is well-transferred (considering the age of the film) with substantial extras, a fine edition of a classic film that fans will definitely want to own. Recommended.

Dale Dobson 2000-08-10