Fever Pitch, based upon the book of the same name by Nick Hornby, has been filmed twice, and Americans are more likely to be familiar with the 2005 film which stars Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. Twilight Time has now released the original 1997 British version of Fever Pitch on Blu-ray. It is an intriguing and enjoyable romantic comedy about what happens when a man's obsession with sports comes between him and the human love of his life. I suspect that there will be more than a few viewers who will identify with one or both of the principal characters. Fever Pitch marks the feature film directorial debut of David Evans, whose more recent work includes several episodes of Downton Abbey.
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Run Time: 1 Hr. 42 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-rayStandard Blu-ray Keep Case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/11/2014
Paul Ashworth (Colin Firth) is an English literature teacher whose primary passion in life is his favorite football team, Arsenal ("football" in this case being the game we in the United States call “soccer”). The year is 1989, and Arsenal is fielding its first legitimate championship-contending team in 18 years. Paul is no ordinary fan. He lives and dies with every goal which Arsenal scores or allows. He grew up having little in common with his father, but one thing that they shared was their love of football. For Paul teaching is a job rather than a vocation. In fact, the one part of teaching which Paul truly cares about is his position as coach of the school's football team. He has a season ticket to Arsenal home matches and watches every road match on television with his equally passionate best friend, Steve (Mark Strong). Most of the time Paul is an enjoyable person to be around, but he becomes something totally different when an Arsenal match is on the schedule. A victory results in several days of euphoria, but a loss leads to inconsolable despair.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Football is Paul's only real interest in life until he meets Sarah (Ruth Gemmell), a new, no-nonsense teacher at Paul's school. She does not understand men who spend hours and hours watching sporting events, but almost in spite of herself she finds herself drawn to Paul. One evening he offers her a ride home and he ends up spending the night with her. Paul clearly falls for Sarah, but her entry into his life does nothing to diminish his obsession with Arsenal. She begins to think of Arsenal as the other woman, and she tries - unsuccessfully - to learn about football and try to share his interest. For his part, Paul wants to spend his life with Sarah, but not if it requires him to give up his love for Arsenal.
I have known people who have lived parts of Fever Pitch. For example, one friend was furious with his wife for months after she insisted that he take her on a car trip during the 4th game of the 1977 World Series. He could not understand why the trip could not be delayed until the following weekend, by which time the World Series would have been over. She, on the other hand, could not understand why watching a baseball game was more important to him than spending the day with her. It was a conundrum which has played out in many relationships.
Colin Firth is entirely convincing as Paul, and Ruth Gemmell is attractive and endearing as Sarah (Gemmell has cheekbones which remind me of Meryl Streep). While many romantic comedies introduce improbably contrivances while working toward a conclusion, Fever Pitch remains honest and believable to the end. Even viewers who enjoyed the 2005 American version should have no hesitation about seeing the same story from a different angle. I am no expert on football (soccer!), but the match scenes seem to have been done with great attention to accurate detail.
The 1.78:1 1080p picture is encoded with the AVC codec. It is not a perfect image, but overall it is quite satisfactory. Whatever digital cleanup was performed was done with a light touch, as fine grain is evident throughout. Contrast is solid and black levels are good. Colors appear to be accurate, albeit not particularly vivid (what with the action taking place in frequently cloudy England). There are some rare, barely noticeable flecks which turn up here and there, but they are not distracting and overall the elements are good shape.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
Fever Pitch's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix provides a surprising amount of punch, particularly while conveying the wild and crazy atmosphere of a football match. Both the dialogue and the music are delivered without any distortion or other anomalies. The only drawback is that some viewers may have a bit of trouble understanding some of the thicker British accents, and there are no subtitles at all.
Audio Rating: 4/5
The film's music by Boo Hewerdine and Neil MacColl can be heard on an isolated score track.
Special Features Rating: 2.5/5
There also is an enjoyable commentary track by Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, both of whom are big fans of Fever Pitch. They are aficionados of football (soccer!). Nick is a native of England and his enthusiasm is palpable. Julie helpfully provides information about some of the real-life players who have played the game.
Julie also contributes a typically excellent essay in which she points out that the original version of Fever Pitch barely received a release in the United States (according to IMDB, the film grossed approximately $127,000 in this country). The essay is part of an eight-page booklet which contains a number of still photographs from the film.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Fever Pitch is a pleasant, diverting romantic comedy which looks at a popular sport from the perspective of fans. It would make an intriguing double feature with 2009's The Damned United, which depicts the same sport from the perspective of players and coaches. Fever Pitch is being released in a limited edition of 3,000 copies, so anyone interested in purchasing it should go to the Screen Archives website and confirm that copies are still available.
Reviewed By: Richard Gallagher
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