Slap Shot Blu-ray delivers stunning video and solid audio in this excellent Blu-ray release
Paul Newman stars as (Reggie 'Reg' Dunlop) the coach of the Chiefs, a struggling minor-league hockey team. To build up attendance at their games, management signs up the Hanson Brothers, three hard-charging players whose job is to demolish the opposition.
For more about Slap Shot and the Slap Shot Blu-ray release, see Slap Shot Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on October 22, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Slap Shot was Paul Newman's favorite role and, as he often said in interviews, the most fun he
ever had making a film. Reuniting with director George Roy Hill, with whom he made Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and The
Sting (1973), Newman led a combined cast of
actors and hockey players to create one of American cinema's essential sports films. Hockey fans
got it immediately, even if film critics took a while to come around. The late Gene Siskel
famously wrote that one of his biggest regrets as a reviewer was failing to appreciate the
brilliance of Slap Shot when it first appeared. He later ranked it as one of the greatest American
comedies of all time.
Hill was a natural fit to direct a film about the testosterone-saturated antics of a minor league
hockey team on a losing streak, but one of Slap Shot's ironies is that the script was penned by a
woman, Nancy Dowd, whose brother, Ned, played for the Johnstown Jets, the model for the
film's Charlestown Chiefs. Dowd built the script from her brother's life and experiences and
those of his teammates and friends, which gives even the most absurd moments in Slap Shot a
grounding in reality. With Ned Dowd as a technical advisor (he also appeared in the small but
memorable role of Ogie Oglethorpe) and many more real hockey players recruited for both the
Chiefs and their opponents, including the so-called "Hanson Brothers (of which more below),
Hill was able to capture authentic scenes of rinkside mayhem that no film has ever surpassed.
The audiences of 1977 were shocked by the violence and also, in that pre-Tarantino era, by the
locker-room language. Newman himself claimed that his vocabulary changed after Slap Shot, as
if his foul-mouthed character had lodged somewhere permanently in his brain.
Previous versions of Slap Shot on VHS, laserdisc and DVD have suffered from soft, grainy
images lacking in detail. Universal's "Best of the Decade" Blu-ray edition represents a leap
upward in quality and deserves a place in every fan's library.
Slap Shot chronicles a season in the rambunctious career of the Charlestown Chiefs hockey team,
who play in the fictional Federal League. Under Coach Reg Dunlop (Newman), the team has
been losing for years, and this season looks to be no different. The manager, Joe McGrath
(Strother Martin), is cutting costs wherever he can, lining up promotional events like fashion
shows (which the players find humiliating) and generally behaving like the captain of a sinking
ship. Dunlop suspects that the team's owner, whose identity he doesn't know, is preparing to
shutter the clubhouse.
But Dunlop is a perpetual scammer and con artist, with the same "trust me" glint in his eye that
has made so many of Newman's characters irresistible. He persuades a local sports reporter,
Dickie Dunn (M. Emmet Walsh)—whose name has since become a hockey slang term for bad
reporting—to plant a story that a Florida senior citizens' group is interested in buying the team.
Dunlop want to dangle just enough hope to keep up his players' spirits while he figures out his
next move. (The flaw in all of Dunlop's cons is that he never actually has a next move.)
Dunlop gets an unexpected break when McGrath hands him some new players who, at first, the
coach doesn't take seriously: three bespectacled brothers known as the Hansons. The Hanson
Brothers are based on three real hockey players, Jeff, Steve and Jack Carlson, who were cast to
play a version of themselves. At the last minute, however, Jack Carlson was called up by his
team and had to be replaced by another player, whose real name just happened to be Dave
Hanson. So, in the end, the only Hanson playing a Hanson Brother wasn't, in fact, a Hanson
Brother. If that makes sense.
Director Hill told the "Hansons" to behave just as they normally would, and they took him at his
word, adding such touches as the toy racing cars with which the brothers arrive in Charlestown,
to the bafflement of Dunlop and his players. Hill and his editor, the celebrated Dede Allen (Dog
Day Afternoon), carefully build to the moment when, in desperation, Dunlop finally sends them
in from the bench and the ensuing mayhem brings the cheering crowd to their feet. (It turns out
they can also play hockey.) The Hanson Brothers are so eager to fight the other team that punches
are thrown even before games begin. A great moment in Slap Shot is the singing of the national
anthem with the Hansons at attention, blood already running down their faces, while the ref tries
to control the steam pouring out of his ears. (He fails.)
With the Hansons aboard, attendance soars, and the Chiefs attract boosters like they haven't seen
in years. Then the impossible happens—they start winning. Dunlop thinks he has a chance, but
while he may know hockey, he doesn't understand economics. The closing of the steel mill in
Charlestown, with 10,000 workers laid off, is an early clue that there are larger forces at work.
The secondary plot in Slap Shot is the odd love life (if you can call it that) of the overgrown
adolescents who devote their lives to this all-consuming game. A trio led by Shirley Upton
(Swoosie Kurtz) are a constant presence and serve as models of the ideal player's wife: patiently
waiting and watching at every game and always available to support their man and pick up the
pieces. In contrast is Francine Dunlop (Jennifer Warren), Reg's ex-wife, who has had enough of
that life, although her affection for Reg remains undimmed. You can see it in her face whenever
Reg tries to sweet-talk her into getting back together, just as you can also see that Reg hasn't a
chance. (Reg also dallies with the ex of a rival player—a brief but memorable appearance by
Melinda Dillon—but that turns out to be more about the game than about love.)
An even starker contrast is presented by Lily Braden (Lindsay Crouse), the wife of Ned Braden
(Michael Ontkean), a sullen star player who doesn't fit the profile of a typical Chief. College
educated with his apparent pick of white collar jobs, Ned has deliberately chosen life as a hockey
bum, dragging his wife to a place that she despises. The Braden marriage is on the rocks for most
of Slap Shot, until Francine Dunlop takes Lily aside and teaches her the basics of being a hockey
wife. The result is one of the wildest and most outrageous sequences in a film that has already
gone pretty far over the top. Some viewers think it's too much. You be the judge.
Director George Roy Hill has long gotten the unfair rap of having no visual style, probably
because he had the bad luck to make films in the era when visionaries like Scorsese, Spielberg,
Ashby and Coppola were redefining the look of cinema. Still, with the help of Victor Kemper,
one of the essential cinematographers of the Seventies (Dog
Day Afternoon, Coma, . . .And
Justice for All, to name just a few), Hill created a distinctive and appropriate visual vocabulary
for Slap Shot. The urban and interior scenes have the dull, subdued, naturalistic look that
instantly marks the film as a product of the Seventies. (So do the fashions worn by Newman and
the other players, which were tacky even by standards of the era.) Colors are generally bland, and
the image typically lacks depth. On the ice, by contrast, or in any activity directly related to the
game, the image brightens with higher contrast and more saturated primary colors enter the
picture, whether on team uniforms, or red-white-and-blue bunting or just the yellow of a booster
bus. The image gains greater depth, and there's never any question what makes these players feel
Universal's 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray represents a welcome departure from the studio's
frequent tendency to make its catalog titles look more like video than film. Working from well-maintained (or well-restored) source material, the studio
has produced a sharply detailed transfer
with a fine-grained, film-like texture that doesn't suffer from the artificial sharpening that has
unnecessarily polished so many previous Universal catalog releases. Black levels and contrast
look correct, and color saturation varies from the drabness of downtown Charlestown to the
saturation of the Chiefs' best uniforms. You can see the film's grain pattern if you look for it, and
it doesn't appear to have been stripped or reduced, just captured and gently reproduced in pixels.
At an average bitrate of 31.99 Mbps, there's plenty of bandwidth to handle the players whizzing
around the ice, bashing each other with everything they've got.
Slap Shot's original mono sound mix is presented in lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0, with identical
left and right front channels. As mono mixes from the era go, it's one of the better ones, with
good fidelity, decent dynamic range and an energetic presence, especially during the hockey
sequences, where the body blows, stick hits, punches, stomps, scrapes and other sounds of
violence register with appropriate impact. The dialogue is generally clear, although some of the
non-professionals tend to slur their words.
No original musical scoring was created; the music is all source-derived and consists of
contemporary pop tunes that have been expertly chosen for their sound and thematic content.
Many of these were replaced in earlier video versions, but as far as I can tell, the original
selections are all here. (If anyone notices a replacement, please contact me directly so that I can
add it to the review.) Some of the notable songs are: Elton John's "Sorry Seems to Be the
Hardest Word"; Leo Sayer's "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing"; and Maxine Nightingale's
"Right Back Where We Started From".
The extras have been ported over from the "25th Anniversary Special Edition" DVD released by
Universal in 2005 (by which time, it should be noted, the film was already 28 years old).
Commentary with the Hanson Brothers: Jeff and Steve Carlson and David Hanson
watch the movie together and offer occasional comments, primarily on the hockey
players, their technique, personalities and subsequent careers. There are long periods of
dead air, and only occasionally do the three commentators drop a recollection about
making the film. Even the hardest core of hockey fans will have trouble getting through
Puck Talk with the Hanson Brothers (480i; 1.33:1; 4:57): In a much better approach,
the three players who portrayed the Hansons are interviewed by a questioner off-camera,
and their answers are cut down to the essentials. They talk about being recruited to
perform in the film, how they approached their work, and how the movie has affected
their subsequent careers.
The Hanson Brothers' Classic Scenes: This is nothing more than a bookmarked listing
of notable moments from Slap Shot featuring the Hansons. It hardly feels like an extra.
Theatrical Trailer (480i; 1.33:1; 1:49). "There has never been a film like Slap Shot.
There may never be another."
Watching Slap Shot is reportedly a favorite pastime of hockey teams on tour, but you don't have
to be a hockey fan, or even a sports enthusiast, to enjoy the film's high spirits. Newman's
pleasure in playing Reg Dunlop is so infectious that he draws viewers into Reg's every
encounter, even when Reg has no idea what he's doing. When the hopeful coach finally does
track down the mysterious team owner, he's hopelessly out of his element, but you admire him
for the effort. When we last see him, he's got a whole new deal going, or at least that's what he
says. He may be making it up as he goes along, but you'd love to see what he does next. Highly
As part of its "Best of the Decades" line, Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced the Blu-ray/UltraViolet combo release of George Roy Hill's Slap Shot, starring Paul Newman, Strother Martin, Michael Ontkean and Lindsay Crouse. The classic 1977 hockey ...