Directed by Gavin O'Connor
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 136 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, others
MSRP: $ 34.99
Release Date: June 16, 2009
Review Date: June 13, 2009
The exploits of the ragtag U.S. hockey team on its way to the 1980 Winter Olympics medal podium makes for a stirring docudrama in Gavin O'Connor’s Miracle. As much the story of the bristly coach Herb Brooks as it is a sports thriller about a series of seesaw Olympic hockey matches, Miracle engrosses the viewer, even those who know the ultimate outcome of the David versus Goliath contests. It’s a well made biographical sports film about one of the biggest upsets in Olympics history and one of the true highlights of sports in the last half of the 20th century.
Since winning the Olympic gold medal for hockey in 1960, the United States had been unable to mount a successful team in any of the intervening contests in 1964, 1968, 1972, or 1976. Chosen as the head coach of the 1980 team, Minnesotan Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) determines that the only way to be successful against the dominant European and Russian squads is to play a much more aggressive game and to build a team who functions as a strong unit, deemphasizing star players and instead looking for personalities that can mesh into a strong whole. With only seven months to select and train a team in a new way of thinking about the game and in building their bodies to withstand the punishing physical game played by the Russians, Brooks pushes the team to the breaking point demanding all-out effort at all times and using any tactics necessary to motivate teammates who might wilt or crumble when game pressure begins to take its toll. Despite losing an exhibition game to the Russians in an embarrassingly lopsided 10-3 slaughter days before the start of the Olympics, Brooks is confident the team’s cohesiveness can carry them to victory.
Beginning the film with a crafty montage of mostly downbeat social and political events America was reeling from through the 1970s (the ashes of the Nixon presidency, the ignominious end to the Vietnam War, two separate oil crises, two ineffectual presidents following Nixon who could do little to inspire confidence in American moxie), director Gavin O'Connor immediately sets the tone of uphill struggle for the U.S. hockey team that will carry forward straight to the end of the film as the team comes from behind in game after game in the Olympics to keep their hopes alive. Even before getting to the Olympics, the tension-filled tryouts and practices for potential teammates (six of whom will have to be cut before the games begin) continue the tone of struggle against overwhelming odds, and this is helped along with the relentless, hardnosed coach Brooks who never lets up and makes it clear that he‘s looking not to make friends with these guys but to find the right players (not necessarily the best players) who can carry out his game plan. The film reeks of authenticity from its first moments as it’s clear the actors are actually playing hockey (in truth, the director hired mostly hockey players who could be taught to act rather than actors who’d barely be able to fake the skating scenes and require doubles). So, the beautifully recreated hockey games during the Olympics ring true time and again, also aided by hiring Al Michaels who was ABC’s sports commentator during the Games to rerecord play-by-play commentary used to aid viewers in following the action.
Kurt Russell triumphs once again in a sports film effortlessly nailing Herb Brooks’ Midwestern accent and imbuing the single-minded coach with equal measures of skill and smarts without ever asking for audience sympathy. As his assistant, Noah Emmerich makes Craig Patrick the more traditional kind-hearted coach-pal that helps soften Brooks’ abrasive temperament. Among the players, the excellent Eddie Cahill instills fighting heart and gumption into heroic goalie Jim Craig while newcomers Patrick Demsey as team captain Mike Eruzione and Billy Schneider playing his own father Buzz Schneider show the most promise as actors. Michael Mantenuto is less successful as hotheaded Jack O'Callahan. Patricia Clarkson gets a few moments to shine as Herb’s wife Patty who edges toward her patience limit being second in her husband’s life. Kenneth Welsh makes a fine impression as kindly Doc Nagobads.
The film’s Panavision 2.40:1 aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is very effectively delivered in the transfer with only an occasional shot or two that isn‘t comparable to the rest of the image, and color depth and richness is really superb with accurate and appealing flesh tones. Black levels are excellent. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track makes the most of its sports situation with fully immersive audio mixes during the big contests that climax the picture. Even before we get to those, music and ambient sounds of the ice rink (skates on ice, the sticks smacking the puck, the bodies banging into the boards) are well placed around the soundstage. There is good use of the LFE channel, too, as the climactic game with the Russians rises to a fever pitch.
The audio commentary features director Gavin O'Connor, film editor John Gilroy, and director of photography Daniel Stoloff in an easy conversation remembering moments of filmmaking as the film progresses. Especially good is the way one of the participants will cue another to retell a favorite anecdote giving the track a really down home feel.
All of the bonus features are presented in 480p.
A featurette on the making of the film runs 18 minutes, and it details the casting of the film, the six weeks of hockey and acting training for the cast, the way the plays were choreographed for filming, visits from the real-life people being portrayed in the movie, and the basic sound design for the film.
“From Hockey to Hollywood: The Actors’ Journeys” takes six of the important team players and offers mini-biographies of how those performers were chosen for their particular roles. This feature lasts 27 ½ minutes.
“The Sound of Miracle” is a feature detailing the three phases of sound design for the movie: the live recording during filming, the editing of the sounds together, and the mixing of the various elements to come up with the finished audio mix. This lasts 10 ½ minutes.
An ESPN roundtable discussion with interviewer Linda Cohen features actor Kurt Russell and real life Olympic stars Buzz Schneider, Mike Eruzione, and Jim Craig answering questions about the Olympics and their reaction to the film Miracle. It lasts 41 minutes.
“First Impressions” is rare footage of the real life Herb Brooks discussing his work and answering filmmakers’ questions before the beginning of principal photography. This lasts 21 ¼ minutes.
An outtake/blooper reel runs 4 ¾ minutes.
There are 1080p trailers for Race to Witch Mountain, Earth, G-Force, and Morning Light.
Even for those who know the outcome of the 1980 Olympic Games, Miracle remains a stirring, highly entertaining movie. With a nice selection of bonus features and sterling picture and sound, Miracle comes with a definite recommendation.