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High school basketball is king in small-town Indiana, and the 1954 Hickory Huskers are all hope and no talent. But their new coach, abrasive and unlikable Norman Dale, whips the team into shape... while also inciting controversy.
For more about Hoosiers and the Hoosiers Blu-ray release, see Hoosiers Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on June 5, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper, Sheb Wooley, Fern Persons, Chelcie Ross
Director: David Anspaugh
» See full cast & crew
Hoosiers Blu-ray Review
A slam-dunk reissue or a technical foul?
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, June 5, 2012
When Hoosiers premiered on Blu-ray way back in March, 2007, it sported an already-antiquated MPEG-2 encode, leaving many feeling that the film could definitely look better in high definition. Worse, the only bonus on the disc was a lonely theatrical trailer. We all bought it anyway because, well, it's Hoosiers, one of the best basketball movies of all time. Now, five years later, MGM is back with a "25th Anniversary Edition" of the film, an attempt to score a double-dip off of disappointed fans and generally drum up sales. The re-release does indeed feature a new AVC encode —though it looks to be sourced from the same master—along with all of the material from the 2005 2-disc "Collector's Edition" DVD. I think it's safe to say this is now the definitive home video version of Hoosiers—until the 35th anniversary rolls around, that is, with whatever tech we have in ten year's time—but is it worth another purchase? If the film isn't one you watch regularly, probably not. However, if Hoosiers sits squarely in your top-10 list, or maybe even your top-20, I'd say yes. You're getting modestly improved picture quality and plenty of extras on a single dual-layer disc.
Of course, if you're new to the film entirely, maybe an introduction is in order. And stop me if you've heard this one: a rag-tag team of scrappy misfits bands together, beats the incalculable odds, and emerges victoriously as hometown heroes, miraculously transforming themselves—through blood, sweat, and tears—from down-and-out underdogs to the lauded leaders of the pack. Sound familiar? The standard-issue inspirational sports film is perhaps the most formulaic of narrative formulas, prone to cliché, chest-heaving sentimentalism, and the overuse of training montages set to fist- pumping tunes. But despite the predictability, audiences love feel-good stories where small fries take down the super-sized. While Hoosiers didn't invent the formula, it is one of the standouts of a cluttered genre, thanks to a few excellent performances and the universality of the film's message of perseverance, acceptance, and redemption. I'm admittedly not much of a sports fan, but even I get caught up in the film's rah rah sis boom bah sense of teamwork and fighting spirit.
Those who grew up in a small town will readily attest to the almost obsessive importance of high school sports, particularly football and basketball. I can only imagine that this community-wide common interest was amplified in the 1950s, back before cable television, the internet, and fantasy football leagues. In Hoosiers, the sleepy post-war burg of Hickory, Indiana comes alive during basketball season. Local players are treated like gods in some athletic pantheon, and the sad old-timers reminisce about the glory days of yore while living vicariously through the on- court triumphs of the town's fresh-faced youngsters. Imagine the suspicion of the townies, then, when Norman Dale (Gene Hackman)—a former university coach with nowhere left to turn after a shady incident some 10 years before—is brought in to lead Hickory High's basketball squad. Norman gets quite a grilling from the barbershop regulars—for whom zone defense is tantamount to sacrilege—and the new coach's unorthodox training regiment gets the townsfolk worked up in a conspiratorial tizzy. Norman knows what he's doing, though, even giving the town drunk (Dennis Hopper) a second, redemptive chance as an assistant coach. The locals are gradually won over, especially after reticent hotshot Jimmy Chitwood (Maris Valainis) agrees to rejoin the team, spurring a winning streak that takes the underdog Hickory Huskers all the way to the state championship.
Director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo are no strangers to the sports genre—they would later re-team for Rudy—and in Hoosiers they spin an inspirational yarn that has only frayed slightly in the years since its 1986 release. It's easy, of course, to be jaded after two decades of similarly formulaic sports movies like Coach Carter, Remember the Titans, and Friday Nights Lights, but Hoosiers has the game-winning advantage of being a.) a period piece, which gives it some nostalgic leeway, and b.) a two-seater vehicle for the almost-always fantastic Gene Hackman and the deliriously unpredictable Dennis Hopper, who got an Oscar nomination for his supporting role. In fact, the film is only nominally about the Hickory Huskers winning the state championship. Little time is spent developing the high school characters— though they're certainly not flat—while most of the film is devoted to Norman Dale's journey from outsider to acceptance, and the redemptive arc given to Hopper's has-been drunkard. While Hopper has the more emotionally wrenching role—it also seems more self-reflective, considering his own battles with sobriety—Gene Hackman truly carries the film with a quiet confidence that's undermined by both rejection from the townies and his own nasty, violence-prone temper. Like all great actors, his mental machinations are visible in his eyes even when he's silent; he simply exudes screen- filling charisma.
The movie gets a lot right—the molasses-slow existence of small town life, the 1950s innocence, the fever-pitched excitement of a winning streak—but the May-to-December romance between Norman and fellow teacher Myra Fleener (Barbara Hershey) seems unnecessarily jammed into a plot already crammed with emotional material. It feels like her plotline was either inserted at the last moment or significantly trimmed from what had been a more substantial role. On a technical level, the production is almost perilously dated by now-laughable film conventions of the 1980s. One of the challenges of a sports movie is to compress the action into narrative beats that are well-timed, showing just enough to tell the "story" of the game, but Hoosiers is almost as montage-heavy as Rocky IV, where the mid-section is basically one long training sequence. In and of itself this would be manageable, but the action is set to a bizarrely anachronistic score by the usually reliable Jerry Goldsmith. Big digital drum beats pound time against a background of chunky synthesizer pads, giving Hoosiers' mostly authentic 1950s vibe a distinct and unnecessary 1980s odor. Goldsmith inexplicably received an Oscar nod for his contributions, which just goes to prove that the '80s truly was unaware of its own excess. Still, Hoosiers is a fan-favorite that continues to inspire audiences and serve as a template for sports film producers looking to photocopy a plot.
Hoosiers Blu-ray, Video Quality
My worry for the new Hoosiers disc was that we'd encounter the same one step forward, twelve steps back approach that 20th Century Fox took with the now-infamous Predator reissue—that is, switching out MPEG-2 for a less compression-prone AVC encode but then smearing the image with an egregious amount of DNR, entirely wiping out the film's grain structure. Thankfully, that's not the case here. Hoosiers' new 1080p/AVC- encoded presentation looks natural, with visible—sometimes heavy—grain and only occasional evidence of edge enhancement. However, don't expect a drastic difference from the 2007 edition. You'd have to do some dedicated pixel-peeping to notice any changes, though it looks like the image is a hair sharper, with less noise—especially compression noise—and colors that are possibly a shade brighter/more vibrant. Most of what I wrote in my original review still stands: "The image is at its best during game time—in the well-lit gymnasiums—with nicely carved contrast, a satisfying sense of clarity, and the Huskers' red and yellow uniforms popping cleanly off the screen. Outside the gym, however, the picture often falters. Black levels can crush the detail in Hackman's pea coat or else look hazy and insubstantial, contrast is sometimes bland, and sharpness varies from scene to scene." Small white and black flecks still show up on the print occasionally too, and it seems to me that if MGM had gone to the trouble of doing a substantial visual overhaul, they probably would've cleaned these up. Still, I'm not disappointed in the picture quality, and I actually have a feeling we were all a little too harsh on the old edition, writing it off simply because of its antiquated encode. AVC is definitely preferable to MPEG-2, and there's slight but noticeable decrease in compression noise, but for the most part, Hoosiers still looks like Hoosiers.
Hoosiers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
No changes here, at least not that I can tell. The 25th Anniversary Edition of Hoosiers features the same lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, a functional but often underwhelming mix. This is an almost entirely front-heavy track, and there are instances when you might crane toward your rear speakers, wondering if perhaps they've come unplugged. There's almost nothing here to suggest a dimensional soundfield. While you'll occasionally hear cheering in the surround channels and a modicum of environmental ambience —like the reverb during Norman's introduction of the team at the school assembly—this track misses a lot of opportunities for true 5.1 engagement. When Norman first enters the school and the students flood down the stairs and out of their classrooms past him, for instance, where are their footsteps or the sound of casual hallway chatter? There's a decent spread across the front channels, but there are long stretches of the film where it might as well be monophonic.
It may have been nominated for an Oscar, but I'm still no fan of Jerry Goldsmith's score here—seriously, why the big drum machine beats?—and the music sounds okay but unremarkable, with a squashed dynamic range that's mid-and-treble-heavy. Dialogue is mostly clean and clear, but every once in awhile it seems boxy and thin, particularly when Norman shouts from the sidelines. And what's up with the cheering from the stands? Instead of thunderous uproar, it sounds like a crowd as filtered and flattened through the speakers of a portable AM radio. I understand that this 5.1 track has been repurposed from somewhat dated source material, but I've heard other films from the same era that sound much bigger, immersive, and dynamically solid.
Hoosiers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
If there's one outstanding reason for fans to double-dip, it's the inclusion of the all bonus features that were missing from the 2007 release. There's nothing new here, unfortunately, but hey, it's all here.
Hoosiers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
So, is the Hoosiers 25th Anniversary Edition worth a double dip? That's a call you'll have to make on your own. If you already own the original Blu-ray release, wether or not to buy this new edition is simply going to come down to how much you love the film. The new encode is better, but not drastically better, and the special features are nice having but nothing you haven't seen before. It's a toss-up. On the other hand, if you don't yet have a copy of the movie—and want one—this is definitely the edition to get. Recommended for sports film fanatics, high school basketball nuts, and anyone who roots for the underdog.
Hoosiers: Other Editions
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Hoosiers Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Hoosiers: 25th Anniversary Edition - March 14, 2012
MGM Home Entertainment has set a June 5th date for the 25th Anniversary Edition of David Anspaugh's Hoosiers (1986), starring Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper. Currently, it is unknown whether this new release will feature a new high-definition ...
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