Aisle Seat Pre-March
BEGINNING, Studio Ghibli and More!
March is just a week away, and for the majority of American sports
fans, the end of February means one thing: the coming of March Madness.
The sights, the sounds, and the tension of playoff basketball on the
high school and collegiate levels make the month of March an annual
rite for players and fans alike. Few sporting events bring the
excitement and tension of the NCAA post-season, and from small towns to
major cities across the land, high school basketball packs in fans from
large auditoriums to small gymnasiums.
It’s the perfect time for MGM to release the long-overdue,
first-ever Special Edition package of the 1987 classic
HOOSIERS (****, 114 mins., PG),
rightly regarded by many as The Greatest Sports Film Ever Made.
Beautifully and authentically shot on location in Indiana, backed by a
loving script accurate to time and place, and superbly performed by
Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper and a cast of unknowns,
“Hoosiers” tells a fictionalized account of a real
event: the small
Indiana town of Milan’s improbable 1954 run to the coveted
Championship, where they won the title game in dramatic fashion over
Muncie. It’s a win that anyone associated with Indiana
high school basketball anywhere) still talk about, a veritable
tale that cynics would decry as a cliche had it not actually happened.
Writer Angelo Pizzo and director David Anspaugh (who would later
collaborate to produce another outstanding, true-life sports story,
“Rudy,” in 1993) changed some of the names and
added various dramatic
elements in its central characters – from Hackman’s
hardened new coach
to Hopper’s alcoholic player parent and Hershey’s
– but the core of the Milan story remained intact. More over,
opted to shoot the film on-location during the fall, in venues where
the “Hickory Huskers” might well have played during
the early ‘50s.
They even staged the film’s climactic game in
Field House, where the actual 1954 game did, in fact, occur –
with real fans watching an expert re-enactment of the game’s
Everything about the movie, from Fred Murphy’s cinematography
Jerry Goldsmith’s marvelous score, rings true. Few sports
the moment and the feeling of importance to a community that
does, and one needn’t be a basketball aficionado to mine the
“Hoosiers” has been released so many times on video
by different labels
that it’s not surprising that it’s never really
been given the
treatment it’s deserved.
Originally released on video tape and disc by HBO, then by Vestron
because of legal battles between Hemdale (which produced the film) and
Orion (which released it), the DVD saga of this outstanding 1986
basketball story was likewise similar.
LIVE Home Video (now Lions Gate) released HOOSIERS on DVD in 1997 but
discontinued the disc because the rights somehow reverted back to
Orion, which itself had been acquired by MGM. LIVE pulled their DVD
after several months of circulation, and MGM released their own DVD in
2000 that had a disappointing transfer and muddled 5.1 Dolby Digital
track both inferior to the earlier LIVE DVD.
MGM’s newly remastered, two-disc presentation (due out next
week, but serves as this week’s Aisle
Seat DVD Pick of the Week)
isn’t perfect either – there’s a bit of
edge-enhancement here and there
– but it’s basically on par with the LIVE release
and also has the
added benefit of being enhanced for 16:9 televisions. The 5.1 Dolby
Digital track is still relatively weak: there’s little bass
surround activity than the 2.0 Dolby Surround track from the LIVE disc,
but it’s acceptable, and seems to have been improved at least
MGM’s previous DVD.
Where MGM’s disc shines is in its special features. As you
anticipate, the commentary by Angelo Pizzo and David Anspaugh is a
revelation for any “Hoosiers” fan. The duo discuss
working on location
(they passed up an offer to shoot the film in Canada for more money),
casting mostly inexperienced young actors, and details on where the
movie was shot.
A half-hour documentary, “Hoosier History: The Truth Behind
Legend,” is a superb look at the real Milan high school team,
adaptation, and the production of the film. Pizzo, Anspaugh, Hackman
and Hopper are on-hand, along with surviving members of the Milan team,
and even current Indiana Pacers like Reggie Miller and coach Rick
Carlisle. It’s a nice primer on the story behind the film and
footage of the actual 1954 game which is also (unbelievably) included
in its entirety from the University of Indiana archives. The footage is
rough but watchable (gotta love those days before shot clocks!) and
includes radio play-by-play, though sadly, this archival treasure fades
out as soon as the game is over (one can only assume what the
celebration was like!).
A full half-hour of deleted scenes are also fascinating. More than your
usual DVD filler, these scenes are interesting asides to the main film,
though one can see why most were excised. Pizzo and Anspaugh are
on-hand to give comments on why each sequence was cut, with several
scenes better detailing the relationship between Hackman’s
and Hershey’s Myra Fleener. Having seen
“Hoosiers” dozens of times
since its national release in the early months of 1987, I found these
scenes to be intriguing in their relation to the plot and how the
filmmakers shaped their work. MGM has rounded out this essential
release with the original trailer.
In all, this is a spectacular and much-deserved Special Edition for a
fabulous film that’s become an annual tradition for many
Highly, highly recommended!
Coming Next Week
BEGINNING (**½, 2004). 113 mins., R, Warner Home Video. DVD
FEATURES: Director Commentary, Trailer, Featurette; 2.35 Widescreen,
5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital sound.
the bad press, most of which came from people who didn’t even
film, and try to block out memories of the 1973 original. If you can,
you may be pleasantly surprised by this hastily-shot but compelling
prequel to “The Exorcist,” which was cursed by
resulting in no less than two completely different films having been
shot over a span of a year by two very different directors (first Paul
Schrader, then Renny Harlin).
Granted, the released “Exorcist: The Beginning”
isn’t without some
flaws, including bad CGI that was directly a result of the film having
been rushed into theaters. Director Harlin's action background also
results in a less-than-subtle film that feels more like a horror/action
hybrid than a pure supernatural chiller, but the finished film does
boast a number of positive attributes, namely a superb
Skarsgard’s Father Merrin is a tortured soul trying to
faith and place in the world, and does so while he takes on the vile
demon Pazzuzu for the first time in late ‘40s Africa. His
anchors an uneven but generally satisfying film boasting several
well-executed sequences and a few effective references to the original
classic built into the script. Also commendable is an effective plot
twist near the end and Harlin's opening prologue, the last shot of
which is deftly reprised at the end.
The movie does have some goofy moments, including a climax that's
awkwardly shot, but the visuals courtesy of cinematographer Vittorio
Storaro and a better-than-expected score by Trevor Rabin make for a
movie that's nowhere near the embarrassment some claimed that it is.
Warner Bros’ DVD, available next week, includes a commentary
Harlin that stresses his film’s rushed development (it was
42 days) and isn’t afraid to point out the
(including the CGI). As with all of Harlin’s previous
commentaries, the director eloquently speaks about the
objectives and the work of his production team, while obviously
steering clear of any discussion of Schrader’s film (Harlin
mentions his orders were to deliver a more
“suspenseful” work). The
effective theatrical trailer is included along with a very brief Making
Visually, the 2.35 transfer is excellent, and Warner has done a
commendable job including a dynamic DTS mix that surpasses the 5.1
Dolby Digital track also included on the DVD. Recommended, in spite of
the film’s shortcomings.
New and Recommended This Week
OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (***, 117 mins., PG, 1986)
CAT RETURNS (**1/2, 75 mins., G, 1992)
ROSSO (***, 93 mins., PG, 1995; Disney, all available this week)
Disney has taken great care to “get it right” in
their new 2-disc
Special Editions of Japanese animator-filmmaker Hayao
and it’s doubtful that Studio Ghibli will be disappointed by
His 1984 effort “Nausicaa of the Valley of the
Wind,” the odd 1992 work
“Porco Rosso,” and his 2002 production
“The Cat Returns” (directed by
Hiroyuki Morita) have each been treated to newly-recorded English
dialogue tracks, with the original Japanese language versions also
being available (with subtitles).
The THX transfers on each film (all in 1.85, 16:9 enhanced widescreen)
are superb, the Dolby Digital tracks nicely repesent Joe
works (on “Porco Rosso” and
“Nausicaa”), and Miyazaki’s original
storyboards have been included on each release. Also available is a
featurette on the vocal stylings of the new English tracks, offering
interviews with talents like Patrick Stewart and Uma Thurman
(“Nausicaa”), Michael Keaton and Brad Garrett
(“Porco Rosso”), and Anne
Hathaway and Cary Elwes (“The Cat Returns”).
The films themselves are a mixed bag: Miyazaki’s early
“Nausicaa” is a
fan favorite despite its relatively simplistic animation.
Rosso,” meanwhile, is a decidedly offbeat, short Miyazaki
the low-key, childlike “Cat Returns” was only
produced by Miyazaki, and
as such doesn’t hold some of the magic of other Studio Ghibli
Nevertheless, fans will likely be thrilled by the respectful
presentation that Disney has given to all three films, with the promise
of more Ghibli productions to follow.
(**, 97 mins., 2004, PG-13; Fox):
Ugh. What more is there to say about this misguided, unfunny
Americanization of Luc Besson’s highly successful French
action-comedies? Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon attempt a forced
chemistry, but the Robert Ben Garant-Thomas Lennon-Jim Kouf script
gives them so little to work with that it’s hardly their
fault. Only a
few modestly successful action scenes bring this long-planned remake to
life. Fox’s DVD offers deleted scenes, an optional extended
the film, commentary from director Tim Story and a pair of featurettes.
The 2.35 transfer is decent and the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is just
what you’d expect.
DARKO: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (**, 132 mins., 2004 release, R;
Cult movie fans have turned Richard Kelly’s indie fave into a
full-blown phenomenon, though my viewing of the
“Director’s Cut” only
confirmed my suspicions of the theatrical version: namely,
deal? This intentionally weird jigsaw puzzle of a film –
‘80s pop tunes and a giant rabbit – gives you so
little to go on that
it’s not even up to sub-Lynchian standards, but some critics
already proclaimed it a masterpiece so judge for yourself.
two-disc Special Edition includes the longer version of the film,
commentary from Kelly and Kevin Smith, a production diary, additional
featurettes and more. The 2.35 widescreen transfer is excellent and the
5.1 Dolby Digital sound likewise solid.
TRAVEL ADVENTURES (66 mins., Fox, 2005 release):
Fox’s latest compilation of Garfield’s CBS
prime-time specials includes
three engaging offerings for Garfield fans and kids of all ages: the
1984 Emmy-winner “Garfield in the Rough,” the silly
but fun 1986
“Garfield in Paradise,” and the zany 1987
“Garfield Goes Hollywood.”
All three efforts are in satisfactory condition but do show the
imperfections of the animation, though most fans won’t mind.
“Garfield” is due out soon with a third volume of
Friends” and another disc of prime-time specials sometime
WEEK: THE BRADY BUNCH arribves on DVD! Don't forget
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