Hoosiers: Collector's Edition
Long considered one of the greatest American sports films (ESPN rated it fourth, after Rocky, Raging Bull, and Bull Durham), Hoosiers (1986) is a big old happy bear hug of a movie, a sports flick that even people who don't love basketball can enjoy, with an enormous, caramelly-sweet heart that's evident from the first squeak of sneakers to the final, sweaty-gym-sock-scented happy ending. There's no sarcasm intended here Hoosiers is an amazing film, despite being unabashedly formula-driven for its entire 114 minutes. Gene Hackman, in one of the finest performances of his astoundingly impressive career, plays Norman Dale, an ex-college basketball coach who arrives in rural Hickory, Ind., to coach the high school team. It's 1951, and basketball is the most important unifying element in this small town so the boys down at Rooster's barber shop, along with everyone else in Hickory, are suspicious of this new fella and his newfangled coaching ways. Also suspicious is the school's vice-principal, Myra Fleener (Barbara Hershey), who remarks that "a man who comes to a place like this, either he's runnin' away from somethin' or he has nowhere else to go." And yes, as it turns out, Dale is hoping to prove himself in this job, his last chance as a coach so he has to start winning, dammit! Also looking for one last chance is "Shooter" (Dennis Hopper), the town drunk, recruited by Dale to serve as assistant coach because of his phenomenal knowledge about the game. Will Shooter regain the trust and respect of his son, who plays on the Hickory team? Will Dale lead his boys to the state championship, thus winning the trust of the town and redemption as a coach? The resolution of these two plot lines is unsurprising, but the brilliantly realized journey that director David Anspaugh takes us on along the way is the reason to watch Hoosiers, with its stunning cinematography, world-class acting (especially by Hackman and Hopper), and beautifully evocative writing in one justly famous scene, the Hickory farm boys are so shaken up by their first visit to an enormous, big-city sports arena that it looks as if they might not be able to play until Dale pulls out a tape measure and makes the players measure the dimensions of the court, assuring them that it's precisely the same size they've been winning on at home. Having thus offered his team some relief, a brief look a nervousness crosses Hackman's face as he mutters, "It is big!" In a similar way, Hoosiers is, essentially, not a big film, but a small, heart-tugging story that treats the audience with respect, earning every smile and sentimental tear that it inspires. It's a great American film that should not be missed.
* * *
MGM's "Collector's Edition" disc is the fourth release of Hoosiers on DVD, following two early, bare-bones DVDs and a 2001 "Special Edition." The new anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is a vast improvement on previous releases, sharper and richer with surprising detail and virtually no graininess. Hoosiers is a gorgeous film, and it's never looked better than it does here. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (in English with optional English, French or Spanish subtitles) is good, but like a lot of films that weren't originally made with intended dynamic surround, there seems to be little point, with the rear speakers being fairly useless. Still, it's a good mix, and Jerry Goldsmith's score sounds wonderful. Extras include a solid, information-packed commentary track with Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo, with a lot of anecdotes about shooting in a small town and working with the locals, problems dealing with the NCAA and other tidbits. A 30-minute "making-of" featurette, "Hoosier History: The Truth Behind the Legend," talks about the obsessive passion of Indianans for b-ball, interviews a crowd of real-life basketball players and coaches, and discusses the film's semi-true roots (it was loosely inspired by the story of Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, who had to leave his job after punching a Clemson player on TV); there are 13 deleted scenes (30 min.) with introductory commentary by Pizzo and Anspaugh, cut because Orion Pictures insisted that the film be brought in under two hours the loss of the scenes between Dale and Myra are especially regrettable, and it's almost worth wishing Anspaugh had been allowed to put together a director's cut of his original, 168-minute version; and one of the oddest DVD extras ever, archival black-and-white footage of the entire basketball game that inspired the film, the 1954 Indiana State High School Championship. There's also the theatrical trailer and a photo gallery. Tri-fold digipak in a paperboard slipcase.