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MIRACLE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Kurt Russell, Noah Emmerich, Eddie Cahill, Michael Mantenuto, Patrick O’Brien Dempsey, Patricia Clarkson
Director:  Gavin O’Connor
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  136 Minutes
Release Date:  June 16, 2009

“DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES??…

YESSSS!”

Film ***1/2

The stage is set during the opening creditsthe 70s were a bleak time in the history of the United States.  Watergate disrupted the presidency.  Vietnam was coming to an end with an entire country trying to sort it all out in hindsight.  The malaise of runaway inflation, the oil crisis, the hostage situation in Iran…it went on and on.  America crossed her 200th birthday in 1976, but apart from that brief flicker of patriotism, this was a nation looking for something to believe in again.  What it got was a Miracle.

During the Winter Olympics of 1980, the USA shocked the entire world when they pitted a young team of underdog college boys against the Soviet Union, who had been the world’s greatest hockey team for two decades, claiming every gold medal from 1960 on and even soundly beating the NHL All-Star team.  Nobody thought America could do it…but then again, nobody thought they could even come as far as they did, either.

Nobody except coach Herb Brooks (Russell), whom we first see saying things to the Olympic Committee that they don’t want to hear…namely, that the US team will have to change everything they think they know about the sport if they ever want to compete with the great teams behind the iron curtain.  And they’ll have to work impossibly hard in a fairly short amount of time.

If anybody else had really wanted the job, Brooks might have been a sports history footnote.  But on the heels of their shellacking from the Soviets in the previous Olympics, nobody would step up.  Brooks became the man asked to do the impossible and the thankless.

But he does exactly that, in his own way and with his own style, instantly stepping on committee toes by picking his team the first day of a week long tryout.  He knew what he wanted, and had no trouble speaking his mind.  When others question why he sent some of the country’s best amateur hockey players packing, his answer is simple:  he’s not about individuals.  He’s about putting together a team.

Tough and ruthless, and not always likable to be sure, he puts the hammer down and begins to drill his young men relentlessly.  His methods don’t always seem to make sense at first, but they always produce the results he wants, even when he lets two teammates fight it out on the ice until they’re good and bloodied.  Complacency in an exhibition match gets the team skating hard drills until long after the lights have gone down in the arena.  When told the caretaker needs to clean the ice to go home, Brooks simply asks for the keys.  “I’ll lock up,” he says.

True to Brooks’ style, the film is almost always about the team.  We get to know a few of them by name and face, but the picture isn’t about individual stories (apart from Brooks himself).  It’s about how twenty young men with different backgrounds and personalities are molded into one lean, mean, hockey playing team.

This film manages to avoid most sports movie clichés, apart from the wife (Clarkson) who always complains about how much time her husband’s job is taking him away from her.  When it comes time for the games, even the big ones, they look like real hockey games:  fast, furious, chaotic (the play by play by Al Michaels keeps it all organized) and about TEAMS rather than individuals.  For as Coach Brooks intones, being a team means that the name on the FRONT of your jersey is more important than the name on your BACK.

The big showdown is easily the most exciting event I’ve ever seen captured in a sports movie (sorry, Rocky, but you had a good run).  It was so real with the sports announcers, the crowd reaction, the constant back and forth on the ice, that I was roaring and cheering as though I were at an actual sporting event.  I bet seeing this movie in a theatre would have been a lot of fun.

The whole history of America is founded on the belief that the underdog can make good.  Miracle is an adrenaline pumping, smart, and thoroughly entertaining movie that will make you believe it once again.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Tragically, the real coach Herb Brooks died in a car accident shortly after principal photography was wrapped for this movie.  As we are reminded at the end, he didn’t get to see the movie, but he sure lived it.

EXTRA BONUS TRIVIA:  For an excellent final touch, the end credits list what each member of the team went on to accomplish after skating off with the gold.

Video ***1/2

I love watching sports in high definition, and sports movies are a good way to fill the bill in between games.  Miracle delivers all the solid sports action on Blu-ray.  Plenty of punch and power on the ice to show what 1080p is capable of delivering.  There's still a bit of noticeable grain in many scenes...minute, but worthy of pointing out, as well as an occasional feel of slightly muted colors.  Overall, it delivers well, just maybe a little shy of a gold medal performance.

Audio ****

From the roar of the crowds to the slam-bang action in the rinks, from the soaring music to the sounds of blades shearing the ice, this is a DTS HD soundtrack that will give your home theatre a workout.  Dynamic range is strong, dialogue is clean and clear, and the overall mix is well balanced, with plenty of smooth crossovers on both front and rear stages.  The subwoofer will echo the sound of your heartbeat as this picture skates its way to its thrilling conclusion.

Features ****

This generous Blu-ray offering is filled with goodies tailored toward the film fan and sports fan alike.  There is a making-of featurette, as well as a commentary by director Gavin O’Connor, his editor and his director of photography.  Four more featurettes highlight the real coach Herb Brooks and actor Kurt Russell, a look at how the young actors were molded into hockey players for the picture, a look at the sound of the movie, and best of all, a round table discussion with ESPN’s Linda Cohn featuring Russell and three of the real stars of the 1980 gold medal winning team.  Rounding out are some outtakes and previews.

Summary:

The malaise of the 70s could indeed turn into the newfound spirit of hope in the 80s…all it took was a Miracle.  This should be considered one of the greatest sports movies ever; just seeing it will make you believe all over again.

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