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At first, backup quarterback Jonathan “Mox” Moxom is nowhere close to being a football star. He’s perfectly content to stay on the bench and out of the win-at-all-cost strategies of coach Bud Kilmer. But when the starting quarterback is injured, Mox is in the game… and in direct conflict with his hotheaded coach and girlfriend. Soon everyone in Mox’s football-crazed community will realize there’s not just a new star quarterback in town, there’s a new kind of hero.
For more about Varsity Blues and the Varsity Blues Blu-ray release, see Varsity Blues Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on October 7, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Director: Brian Robbins
Writer: W. Peter Iliff
Starring: James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Paul Walker, Ron Lester, Scott Caan, Richard Lineback
» See full cast & crew
Varsity Blues Blu-ray Review
'Blues' goes Blu.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, October 7, 2009
Win at all costs.
In Texas, football isn't a game, it's a way of life. What better way to start a review of Varsity Blues than with a cliché, because a whole lot of them -- including that trite little gem -- is what this pigskin picture is all about. Imagine a movie with a bunch of hormonal, angst-ridden teenagers; a legendary coach that's losing his grip on reality; a bookworm (but still appropriately good looking) backup quarterback that has to step in for the injured superstar; fathers that live vicariously through their sons' performances on the field; and plenty of folks, suds, and sounds when the action moves away from the gridiron. That's Varsity Blues in a nutshell, a movie that wouldn't know an original idea if it was zipped in front of its face like a Jonathan Moxon pass straight to the nose. It's all good, though; Varsity Blues delivers an appropriately fun time at the movies, and for viewers that want more than a girl in a whipped cream bikini; a teacher that moonlights as a stripper; all night drinking binges; vomiting in the washing machine; and plenty of bombs (no, not long touchdown passes, but bombs of the "F" variety); there's a good deal of drama and raw emotion along the way.
Jonathan "Mox" Moxon (James Van Der Beek) loves the game of football but despises the way West Canaan head coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight) runs the team. The proud holder of twenty-two division titles and two state championships in 30 years, Kilmer is a legend around town but only a thorn in Mox's side. Mox is content to serve as superstar quarterback Lance Harbor's (Paul Walker) backup and read Fahrenheit 451 on the sidelines during games. Hoping to leave football behind and attend Brown University, Mox is counting down the days until he can take off the shoulder pads for good. When Kilmer pushes one of his lineman too hard, the player collapses during a game, opening a hole for opposing pass rushers. Harbor is sacked, and in the process he injures his knee and ruins his chances of not only finishing out the season, but making it big at Florida State. Moxon finds himself thrust into action, and as he settles into his new role as starting quarterback, he proves himself every bit of Lance's equal on the field and propels the team to several straight wins. Nevertheless, Mox's dislike for Kilmer's ways threatens to destroy his dreams for an Ivy League future, not to mention the physical and mental well-being of his closest friends and teammates. Will Mox and friends sit on the sidelines and play it Kilmer's way or take matters into their own hands and revolt against West Canaan's god-like coach?
Varsity Blues features a hodgepodge of the hottest teen stars from the late 1990s. James Van Der Beek never really did much in his post-"Dawson's Creek" years, but Blues casted him just as that series was hitting it big. Amy Smart, who plays Mox's on-off-and-on-again girlfriend is probably best known in the post-Varsity Blues world for her role as Jason Statham's girlfriend in the two Crank movies. Ali Larter, the whipped cream girl, recently starred in the wannabe faux-erotic Thriller Obsessed. Of the film's quartet of young stars, only Paul Walker has truly grown into something of a serious actor with steady work and recognizable roles. Best known as L.A. cop Brian O'Conner in the Fast and the Furious films, he's also starred alongside Jessica Alba in Into the Blue and in the heartwarming tale of survival in the chilly Antarctic in Eight Below. Each teen delivers a suitably good performance; though some of the forced accents begin to grate on the nerves, the actors do their best to add depth to the roles, even when -- and more often than not -- their characters are mostly one-dimensional automatons. The game ball for Varsity Blues, however, goes to the old codger of the bunch, veteran Jon Voight, who delivers a pitch-perfect performance as the my-way-or-the-highway head coach.
It should come as no surprise that the best actor plays the most complex part in the film. Jon Voight's character is a no-nonsense sort, and that's exactly how he plays it. There are elements that make the man seem the stereotypical Hollywood football coach, but Voight plays the role with something of a more complex realism that doesn't show until the end of the film, but he positively nails the performance in the final minutes. His is a character that's been blinded, not in the literal sense, but figuratively. He can't see past the uniform, failing to recognize the human bodies under the Coyote jerseys. He's lost a grip on reality; to him, his players aren't boys but rather mindless minions that don't hurt, hunger, or harbor feelings of resentment. He's arrived at the conclusion that his twenty-two district titles and pair of state championships -- not to mention the bronze statue in his likeness that stands proudly outside the field -- has solidified his way of running the team and calling the plays, refusing to acknowledge even the possibility that something else might work better and scolding his players when they break from the mold, even when the net result is positive. It seems the only thing Coach Kilmer can see is the color of skin; he rides his black player down the field but denies him the opportunity to punch the ball into the end zone once the offense moves past the 20 yard line. Kilmer is portrayed as the film's villain; he's spiteful, mean spirited, racist, and set in his ways, but Voight nevertheless turns him into something of a sympathetic character by the time his story arc is complete.
As a pure football film, there are better than Varsity Blues. The on-field action does nothing that dozens of other like-minded films haven't done hundreds of times before and after. The execution seems rather stale, and it banks on the expected slow motion shots, timely game-changing plays, and last second heroics to win the games. The problem here isn't the drama -- there'd be no movie if the big game didn't end on a close play in the waning seconds of regulation -- but it's gotten to the point that movies like Varsity Blues are so predictable in how the on-field action plays out that the drama is unintentionally sacrificed simply because of the unavoidable nature of sports movies. The characters do little to elevate the action past the mundane. When they practice -- much to their coach's chagrin -- a trick play, every alarm in the head of longtime Sports movie viewers should be abuzz with the "watch this be important at the end of the movie" signal. Varsity Blues doesn't hide its intentions; though the film takes on a more adult-oriented tone than many of its (more successful) brethren, foul language, naked women, and plenty of drinking can't mask the deficiencies that are inherent to the story and the genre. The lack of a more inspirational and uplifting tone only highlights the clichés rather than conceals them in the cloak of a greater message.
Varsity Blues Blu-ray, Video Quality
Varsity Blues features a decent, but not at all memorable, 1080p, 1.78:1-framed transfer. Colors are strong throughout, with the baby blue West Canaan Coyote jerseys in particular standing out from the rest of the palette. Fine detail is adequately rendered, but there's not much here that catches the eye. Blacks are nice and deep but sometimes seem to drown out some background detail. Flesh tones appear rendered in a natural tint with no heavy red or orange push. Varsity Blues retains a moderately heavy layer of film grain throughout, and there are also a few speckles of dirt over the image. The film appears rather flat and listless. Varsity Blues makes for a decent Blu-ray transfer. Now that the format has matured and reference-quality titles aren't particularly rare, a transfer such as that found on Varsity Blues simply doesn't elicit much of a response and certainly doesn't come with that "wow" factor. It's a good but unremarkable image that should satisfy most viewers that don't expect the next The International with this 10-year-old catalogue title.
Varsity Blues Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Like its video quality, Varsity Blues' Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack is sufficient but unremarkable. It's surprisingly front heavy and none-too-interesting. Football game sequences don't feature an abundance of atmosphere. Crowd noise is present but not immersive, and various hits and crunches on the field don't pack more than an average wallop. There are a few decent atmospherics to be heard in several scenes; Country music is often heard in the background of convenience stores or Coach Kilmer's office, but the track does little more than simply reproduce the sound across the front portion of the soundstage. The various music that plays front-and-center features no discernible problems, but like the rest of the track, there's nothing at all memorable about the way Varsity Blues handles the material. A few slow-motion game segments with amped-up sound effects deliver a decent level of palpable bass, and a few shotgun blasts in chapter 16 send an echoing sensation throughout the soundstage. Such above-average moments are the exception to the rule; Varsity Blues does feature faultless dialogue reproduction, but the remainder of the track seems average at best.
Varsity Blues Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Varsity Blues suits up for Blu-ray and scores several extra features. First up is a commentary track with Director Brian Robbins and Producers Tova Laiter and Mike Tollin. They discuss the film's heart, the original tone of the script, the performances of the cast, Jon Voight's football inspirations, the rating and the authenticity afforded to the picture by retaining the "R" and all that entails, and much more. The track meanders on occasion, but fans will want to sit down with it regardless. Football is a Way of Life: The Making of 'Varsity Blues' (480p, 17:47) is a basic nuts-and-bolts piece that looks at the history of the production, the authenticity of the script, insights into the world of Texas football, shooting certain scenes, and more. The piece is made up of the obligatory collection of interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and clips from the film. Two-A-Days: The Ellis Way (480p, 7:48) takes a closer look at the filming of the football sequences and the actors' preparation for learning and playing the game. QB Game Analysis (580p, 15:15) features Coach Mark Ellis and NFL quarterback and former Texas high school signal caller Josh McCown sharing their thoughts on the movie. Billy Bob With No Bacon (480p, 4:38) features actor Ron Lester looking back on his life since Varsity Blues. Also included is the film's theatrical trailer (1080p, 2:33).
Varsity Blues Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Despite the massive influx of cliché, Varsity Blues delivers a suitably strong emotional core and a somewhat surprising and cathartic ending. Still one of the weaker of the recent mega-crop of football movies, Varsity Blues eschews the more standard inspirational tone in favor of a down-and-dirty, unflinching look at high school football in Texas because, yup, the game is a way of life in the Lone Star State. Paramount's Blu-ray release is solid all around but not exceptional in any one area; the technical presentations and the supplemental package are all fine, but none come close to competing with the best the format has to offer. Nevertheless, fans should find this release of Varsity Blues worth the upgrade from DVD.
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Varsity Blues Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Paramount Delays Catalog Titles - July 13, 2009
Paramount Home Entertainment has unceremoniously pulled five upcoming titles from its Blu-ray release schedule, originally slated for September 15: '48 Hrs.', 'Escape from L.A.', 'K-19: The Widowmaker', 'The Firm', and 'The Score'. No reason has been given for ...
• Mid-September Catalog Wave from Paramount - June 15, 2009
Paramount Home Entertainment is releasing seven titles from its catalog on Blu-ray on September 15: '48 Hrs', 'Deep Impact', 'Escape from L.A.', 'K-19: The Widowmaker', 'The Firm', 'The Score', and 'Varsity Blues'. All titles will include Dolby TrueHD audio tracks. ...
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