Miracle review by Mike Long

See this movie compete in Jackass Critics Tournament of Sports Movies

I have plenty of favorite movies that I like to watch over and over, and while I enjoy them, they rarely have the same emotional impact after repeat viewings. The same can be said of films which are based on true stories. If you're familiar with the outcome of the tale, the movie may lack in suspense or emotion. Thus when a real-life movie does inspire excitement, it must be doing something right. A recent example of this is the hockey opus Miracle.

Miracle tells the story of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team. The film opens as successful college hockey coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) is chosen to coach the team. His controversial method of picking players (he believed that the best team isn't necessarily made up of all the best players) worries his superiors and his intense (and often cruel) style of coaching angers his players. But, as Brooks narrows down the roster to the required 20 players, the team begins to gel and as they play some exhibition games, their talent starts to become evident. However, few feel that this team of college players will stand a chance against the Soviet-block powerhouses which they will face in the Olympics. As the Winter Games approach, Brooks must convince his team that they are the best in the world, and then prove this to a global audience.

To be such a straight-ahead sports movie, Miracle is kind of an odd movie. This comes from the fact that the story is all over the place. Ostensibly, the movie tells the story of how the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team came together and achieved success. But, the movie mostly focuses on the late Herb Brooks and how he molded this time using his unique style. And although we learn some about Herb's own experience with the Olympics and see how his work ethic effects his family, we learn little about the man. As the team contains 20-plus players, it's impossible for the film to give us much info on these guys. We learn that Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill) has had family problems and that Mike "Rizzo" Eruzione (Patrick O'Brien Demsey) gets by more on personality than talent, but that's about it. The training sessions contain some interesting scenes, but for anyone who was alive during that time, the last third of the film will be somewhat familiar.

But, given all of those faults, much of Miracle works. The ultimate example of this is the second U.S. vs. Russia game, which takes place during the Olympics. Those of us old enough to remember the games knows that the U.S. team wins. (I hope that didn't spoil the movie for anyone.) However, director Gavin O'Connor manages to squeeze an amazing amount of suspense out of this game, and it's very easy to get caught up in the emotional nature of this victory. As the film reaches this point, we've gotten to know the team well enough that we are truly rooting for them and we want to see these underdogs win. (However, some of the momentum is destroyed as the actual gold medal game is mentioned as little more than a footnote.) For a 2-hour-plus movie, Miracle seems to be devoid of truly concrete information concerning its true-life subject, but the movie is exciting and the hockey-scenes are incredibly well-shot and bring the movie to life.

Miracle skates onto DVD courtesy of Disney DVD. The film is coming to DVD in two separate forms -- widescreen and full-frame. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The THX-certified transfer has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good and nowhere is this more evident than in the hockey scenes. The mostly white background shows basically no grain or pixellating. The colors look very good, but the flesh-tones do show some over-saturation. Edge-enhancement is evident at times, but the artifacting is kept to a minimum. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is quite impressive, as every hockey player collision is heard loud and clear through the surround-sound and bone-crushing subwoofer response. The dialogue is always sharp and clear, and the sound effects of the games (which were learn were sweetened in post-production) sound fantastic.

The 2-disc Miracle DVD set contains many extras. Disc 1 offers an audio commentary with director Gavin O'Connor, editor John Gilroy and director of photography Daniel Stoloff. This is an interesting chat as this trio alternate between discussing the technical aspects of the film (especially the hockey scenes) and the other aspects of the movie, such as the story and the actors. They talk about the challenges of working with non-actors and what it was like to shoot in certain locations. Also found on the first disc is "The Making of Miracle". This 18-minute featurette examines the casting of the film and the training these hockey players turned actors underwent. Through behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, we also learn about how the games were shot, and that Al Michaels re-recorded all of his original Olympic play-by-play dialogue, except for his famous "Do you believe in miracles?" line.

The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. "From Hockey to Hollywood: Actor's Journeys" (28 minutes) profiles most of the principal cast and examines how they made it into the film. It also offers more details on the training process. (Some of the footage here is repeated from the "Making of".) "Miracle ESPN Roundtable with Linda Cohn" (41 minutes) is an interview show where Cohn chats with Kurt Russell and real-life Olympic team members Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione, and Buzz Schneider. This group discusses their recollections of Herb Brooks and the Olympics, and talks about the reality of the film. Many member of the sound department talk about the sound effects in "The Sound of Miracle" (10 minutes). "First Impressions: Herb Brooks with Kurt Russell and the Filmmakers" (21 minutes) is an interesting feature, as it is made up of video footage shot during a pre-production meeting with Brooks. Most of the running time (which is presented in very raw looking and sounding video) features Brooks sharing his views on the journey to the Olympics. Finally, we have a 5-minute outtake reel of miscues and bloopers.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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