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Miracle
(Widescreen)

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: PG (For Language and Some Rough Sports Action)

Running Time: 136 minutes

Starring: Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noam Emmerich

Written by: Eric Guggenheim

Directed by: Gavin O'Connor

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features:
Disc 1: Audio Commentary with Director Gavin O'Connor, Director Of Photography Daniel Stoloff and Editor John Gilroy, The Making Of Miracle
Disc 2: From Hockey To Hollywood: Actors' Journeys, Miracle ESPN Roundtable With Linda Cohn, The Sound Of Miracle, First Impressions: Herb Brooks with Kurt Russell and The Filmmakers, Outtakes

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (20 Scenes), THX-Certified, Two-Disc Set

Released: May 18th, 2004

 

 

"Miracle" tells the story - and what led up to it - of what many consider the greatest moment in sports history: the United States' unexpected win over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Months prior to the momentous event and the the team's eventual gold medal win, we meet Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell), a former hockey player who is given a chance to form and coach the Olympics team. Even though there are those who disapprove of Brooks' unorthodox methods and who he picks, Brooks soldiers on and shapes his players into a real team devoid of ego. As Brooks' intensity and faith in the team continues to rise, it begins to take its toll on his marriage. But as national interest rises as the games begin, America finds their own hope within these underdogs. So let's see: do YOU believe in miracles?

Given that hordes of people are familiar with this astounding tale from the world of sports, "Miracle" poses a good question that we can all apply to other films based on true events: even if we know the outcome, how do you turn into a worthwhile and entertaining film? While it all depends on what the event is and who is handling it, this true-to-life hockey saga is in very good hands and not only feels rather fresh, it has a lot of solid elements and is quite worthwhile. (It seems like Disney has been having a lot of success with family oriented sports films every two years: starting the trend was 2000's "Remember The Titans" and then came 2002's "The Rookie.")

The film certainly succeeds in its unique approach (which I really liked): rather than focusing exclusively on the players of the team, writer Eric Guggenheim focuses mainly on the coach and his incredible determination. The film stages Brooks' true nature: he is by no means a bad guy, even if some may argue he has his priorities wrong. Brooks is given a job and wants to win because he knows he can claim victory. Brooks is up-front with the team in how he is saying that he's not there to be friends, but is just there to be a coach. The script nicely showcases Brooks' no-non sense attitude, his strength and unruly (but rightful) obession with hockey as well as his very different coaching methods that not only pushed the team to its brink, but inspired them as well.

For the players we do get to know, there are very good reasons. It helps put how things are going in perspective, it adds more touches of humanity to the film's story arc and helps the overall ambience. Also, we learn about certain rivalries that needed to be put aside for the team to win and fleshing out some of the players even adds quite a bit of tension and anxiety in several ways. We get into the mindset and training the guys had to go through, as well as some personal obstacles - it's fascinating in just how different some of these guys were, personally and how they played, but how they came together to be a unified team.

Director Gavin O'Connor, who was behind the indie darling "Tumbleweeds," does a fine job with directing the film. It is definitely told strictly by the numbers, but he crafts the entire thing rather carefully and gives us a balanced, well-detailed taste of the team's road to glory. For a mainstream film, O'Connor gives it a very cinematic and to a degree, even an epic feel that all is well shot and well cut (thank cinematographer Daniel Stoloff and editor John Gilroy for that). O'Connor even puts in nice little symbolic touches (such as after Herb and his wife fight, we see him shut off the lights to his bedroom as if he is shutting off his marriage, and then him studying hockey footage which becomes reflected in his glasses, as if it is the only thing he can see). Most importantly though, he captures the time period pretty flawlessly as well as the U.S.'s frame of mind - especially public excitement over the team later on in the movie.

Still, I had mixed feelings over some artistic choices. I definitely found "Miracle" to be uneven. The film takes place over several months, so some portions are covered a lot more than others, but the film doesn't transition time periods as well as it could. This can be forgiven since the movie is over two hours in length. But with that said, some parts do drag on and last longer than they should, let alone there are a few corny moments (which are made less painful by the actors). Also, this film probably appealed to tons of people in that it was all about American pride and having hope within the country. There is nothing wrong with that at all, or even making audiences feel good with a crowd-pleasing story, but I think the film's jingoism goes overboard. The opening credits recap some major American events from the 1970s, and there are some references to things during the movie (Hostage Crisis AND Gas Crisis, anybody?). There's all that American pride too, which is put in a lot more naturally but is still a bit showy with all the red, white and blue (though I'm sure some moviegoers will feel even more hit over the head with it). Despite these instances, I don't think they really destroy the film.

But even if "Miracle" does a fine job in showing the circumstances of world events, some of the team's players and who Herb Brooks was, there's no denying that it's a slick sports movie as well. O'Connor was wise to mainly hire actual hockey players (and yes, they can act well too!) which probably made things easier and definitely makes the hockey scenes realistic. Still, the hockey games themselves - and the re-creation of the most famous game of them all - are pretty wonderful and still exciting, even if you know how they are going to end.. The games are presented clearly with great angles, and are easy to follow as they put the audience in the center of the action. There is some great imagery, and I liked how shots on the ice flashed back and forth. And it doesn't hurt the actual Al Michaels commentary is used for the climatic game.

As finely tuned as everything else is, I personally think Kurt Russell makes the film a whole lot better. Given that the film is really about Herb Brooks and his driving spirit behind the team, as well as who he was and his dashed dreams of Olympic glory, Russell carries the film. Russell may not look like the real Herb Brooks, but he captures his passion, intensity, mannerisms and voice - all of which blaze across the screen. Russell is like a firecracker in this movie - he hits every right note and plays against all the other actors perfectly. Russell is quite exciting, but he is also very believable, and really lets us see Brooks's conflicted emotions and his uncompromised intensity. He plays the man as one who follows his instincts, who is willing to teach and won't accept nothing but everybody's best. Russell - who I believe is one of the most gifted but underrated actors of our time - gives an Academy Award-worthy performance as Brooks, a this is certainly one of the greatest roles of his long career. If there is a single reason to see "Miracle," it is for this marvelous performance. Russell is the best thing in this movie, hands down.

The supporting performances shine as well - all by three character actors. Patricia Clarkson plays Brooks' doting wife, who loves her husband but is at odds with him because he seems more interested in coaching than his family. As usual, Clarkson gives a warm, strong and at-ease performance. Noah Emmerich plays assistant coach Craig Patrick, who is the contrast to Herb Brooks in that he is friendlier and less harsh to the players. Still, Emmerich makes a fine impression and gets in very likeable performance, and gets in good time with Russell. And the film has Sean McCann with a fiesty role as Olympic official Walter Bush. Who you ask? Why, that guy who you always say "Wasn't he in...?" Yep, he's that great of a character actor. On a different note, Mark Isham delivers fine compositions that perfectly fit into the film, as they truly captuere all of the film's varying moods and overall spirit. Hell, it even sounds like a "sports score" to a degree but it can stand on its own.

In all, "Miracle" is a crowd-pleaser that can be enjoyed by all ages. It certainly makes the grade in a lot of areas, but the film definitely has universal appeal. Even if you are not into sports movies, "Miracle" is worth a watch since it still turns out to be an intriguing character study and the power of sportsmanship. Mainly though, it's all about the underdog defying the odds by defeating the giant, and showing that if you work hard and believe, miracles can come true.

 

The widescreen edition of "Miracle" looks fantastic, and is definitely one of the best transfers I've seen in a long time. Presented in a THX-Certified anamorphic transfer in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this is an incredibly sharp transfer. Color saturation is very bold and well saturated, black levels are excellent, detail is pretty jaw-dropping and fleshtones are great. The film has a variety of locations and color schemes, and the transfer puts them across perfectly - look how smooth and white that ice is!

The only things holding the image quality down are a speck here and there, very slight edge enhancement, a little noise and some edge halos. But they are not really distracting, and this fabulous transfer will certainly shine on any television. And don't worry families - a mangled full screen version is out there too.

 

Going along with a great transfer is a great Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (in either English or French). There are some decent surrounds during the movie (background talking at the bar, assorted crowds, the gas station scene), but it all really comes together during the hockey portions (which is what you should expect). You'll hear the puck being slapped, the cheering fans, skates clashing, hard falls to the ground, the crisp ice being shaved off the rink, onslaughts of skaters echoes, grunts - you really do feel like you're playing on the team. It packs quite a punch, and it's all very discrete.

The movie does shine in more low key areas though: Mark Isham's score is pretty bombastic through the speakers and is well mixed, and the musical choices sound very nice too (gotta love Aerosmith's "Dream On" at the end credits). Dialogue is very easy to hear and comes through rather clear. The .1 LFE is put to some really good use and works well, while the film's sounds are balanced and don't become lost against one another. A well-executed mix that definitely puts you within the moments. Also included are English subtitles, French subtitles and English closed captions.

 

Disc one has two extras: the first is an Audio Commentary with Director Gavin O'Connor, Director Of Photography Daniel Stoloff and Editor John Gilroy. The two are pretty chatter, especially O'Connor, and you can tell they put a lot of work into the movie and are proud of their total accomplishments. They are passionate - which I appreciate - but for all the "great job with so-and-so" remarks and constant praise for the cast and crew I found the track pretty annoying. Yes, there are some decent production stories but O'Connor is distracting - particuarly in how he narrates what's on screen or what just happened, and how he explains a lot of things that don't even need explanations. But I will give O'Connor credit in taking the story seriously, and talks about (with the others) what he ended up cutting out of the script. And all for all his obvious babble he does bring some worthy insight on to some scenes at times. Stoloff and Gilroy talk but not as much as you'd probably like, but they have some good things to say and offer some technical details. Those hoping to learn more about the actual events and more history won't have luck here. Worth a sit through if you want to know as much about the film as possible, but be prepared to hear a lot of the obvious. Where's Kurt Russell when you need him?

The only other extra on the first disc is The Making Of Miracle. It is a little syrupy, but still pretty good. We see clips of the real 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team (including the famous final shot of the Soviet Union game), in addition to a lot of footage from the set and clips from the movie. We learn a bit about the making of the movie: such as casting the team and the film's sound design (plus a set visit from the real 1980 team), but the best is how they executed the hockey scenes: a lot of hard, dedicated work went into those. A comparison clip is shown between the actual "Miracle' game and what's in the film, and they sure look similar. Also interesting is having the real Al Michaels re-recording some of his famous commentary, but that going awry. Interviews with O'Connor, Stoloff, Gilroy, producer Mark Ciardi, producer Gordon Gray, Kurt Russell, Al Michaels, casting director Randi Hiller, casting director Sarah Halley Finn, sports coordinator Mark Ellis, actor Nathan West, actor Eddie Cahill, actor Eric Peter-Kaiser, Noah Emmerich, technical advoisor Ryan Walter, sound designer Elliot Koretz, co-designer supervising sound editor Rob Nokes, re-recording mixer Michael Minker, composer Mark Isham and some of the real team are featured. Phew!

The second disc features everything else. From Hockey To Hollywood: Actors' Journeys focuses on casting the actual team rather in-depth. O'Connor, and his casting directors Randi Hiller and Sarah Halley Finn had the gargantuan task of creating the team for celluloid. O'Connor wanted real hockey players, and of course not everybody's an actor, so them being convincing on screen had to come later. We hear from some of the team actors, see audition footage from them and what made them good fits. Lasting a little over twenty-seven minutes, this is pretty nicely done in its approach and some of the more non-technical challenges the filmmakers faced.

Miracle ESPN Roundtable With Linda Cohn, which was shown on ESPN Classic, is pretty well done and gives a nice overview about the actual 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and the film itself. Linda Cohn moderates, as Kurt Russell joins her along with real players Mike Eruzione (captain), Jim Craig (goalie) and Buzz Schneider (left wing). There's a heavy focus on the real Herb Brooks, and it's interesting to hear the team's comments about their coach as well as how Russell approached the role. There's also a wide range of topics talked about in good measure: there is talk about the rest of the team, the excitement and impact of the "Miracle On Ice" and of course, since it was meant to tie-in with the movie, thoughts and elements of the actual film. This is a very well-rounded discussion, and thankfully it is, because it's the only extra on the set to feature some of the real guys and talk about the actual reality in detail (I wish there were more of these type of features on the set, or at least more of the guys - but that could have gotten crowded). Their comments are articulate and come across with passion - there's a real fondness and respect for not only Herb Brooks, but the team, the events and the sport of hockey as well. This runs forty-one minutes or so.

The Sound Of Miracle is about the film's complex sound design. We're given an overview of how the sound effects playing an integral part, and how they're actually recorded and put into the movie. Given all the hockey action, there was a lot to do with the sound design. An interesting method is that they put little microphones on the skates themselves. We see examples of all different kinds of skating sounds and production sounds, and then how they come together. There's also a bit on Mark Isham and his score too. Director Gavin O'Connor and editor John Gilroy are interviewed, but the sound guys - sound designer Elliot Koretz, co-designer supervising sound editor Rob Nokes, re-recording mixer Myron Nettinga and re-recording mixer Michael Minker really tell this story. Very technical in nature which may not appeal to everybody, but still worth watching. This runs about ten-and-a-half minutes.

First Impressions: Herb Brooks with Kurt Russell and The Filmmakers (lasting a little over twenty-one minutes) is a chapter-encoded featurette on the real Herb Brooks. Featuring a nice introduction by O'Connor, O'Connor describes all this as "raw" footage. O'Connor, Russell and others met with Brooks before pre-production began to get a feel for him, and probably to incorporate what he says into the film somehow for authenticity, and to make sure they're on the right track. Brooks is asked questions, but talks openly about his own cut from the United States hockey team in 1960, his coaching style, the Soviet team, picking the team, working with players, what the gold medal meant to him and a bit more. The video and sound quality aren't that good, but it's still great to hear the real man talk about all his experiences. If you're intrigued by the idea in what the real Brooks has to say about it all, then this is a definite view. And wrapping this disc up are five minutes worth of Outtakes which are good for a chuckle or too

 

"Miracle" is a fine movie with an exceptional performance by Kurt Russell, and like the film itself, the DVD is solid ice. The transfer is exceptional, the 5.1 track is booming and there are some great extras spread across this two-disc set. If you loved the movie then it's a definite buy, while the rest of you should find it to be a more-than-satisfying rental.