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During the Winter Olympics of 1980, something occurred in Lake Placid, New York, which has often been called the "greatest moment in American sports." A diverse group of young hockey players, coached by Herb Brooks, defeated the heavily favoured Soviet Union team and eventually went on to win the gold medal. Disney has produced a movie outlining the events which lead up to this, a film simply titled Miracle.

The Movie    
It is 1979; the Cold War is red hot; the Soviet Union has invaded Afghanistan. In spring of that year, the United States Olympic Committee meets to discuss who will coach their hockey team for the upcoming games to be held early in 1980 in Lake Placid, New York. Although he feels that he does not stand a chance to be chosen, and his planned approach to selecting and then coaching the team is considered unorthodox, Herb Brooks interviews for the position and is selected to coach the team. He goes about holding tryouts for the team, and the majority of those chosen come from colleges located in two areas of the country: New England and Minnesota. There is a continuing heated rivalry between these two opposing areas of the country that Brooks must find a way to overcome. Through months of both psychologically and physically intense workouts (to the point of some of the players collapsing from exhaustion), Brooks is finally able to forge together a team which considers themselves as an "American" hockey team.

The road for this group of hockey players would not be an easy one. In the 80's, US Olympic rules stated that no professional players were allowed to be on any Olympic team. This was not the case for other countries. Although at that time there were not the number of Soviet players as there are now in the National Hockey League, the Soviet Olympic squad consisted of basically pro level players, as did the Czechoslovakian team, the Canadian team and virtually every other team. In contrast, the US team was made up of young men fresh out of college. It was a daunting task for the US team to do well, something it had not done for quite some time. Placing for a medal seemed to be an impossible goal.

Eventually, the two hockey factions would come together and then, through Brooks’ guidance, the team started to gel. Although they suffered defeats (including one to the Soviet team mere days before the Olympics began), they always seemed to find something to keep them going. They began to believe in themselves. They advanced through the tournament and met the Soviets in the semi-final game on a cold Friday night in February, 1980. As the game progressed, it became apparent that on this night, at least, the US team had a good chance of beating their archrivals. With a goal by Mike Eruzione midway through the third period, the US team took the lead for good. With the clock ticking down to the end of the game, the words of ABC television announcer Al Michaels are replayed here....."Do you believe in miracles? YES!” These are some of the most famous words ever spoken on American television. Many of the famous shots from that unforgettable game are painstakingly recreated here.

Time has clouded the memories of many who believe this was the point that the Americans won the gold medal. However, it was two days later on Sunday morning that the US team defeated the Swedish team to capture the gold. Michaels again utters another immortal line...."This impossible dream...COME TRUE!” Their triumph was complete, and for one, brief moment, the United States Olympic team stood atop the hockey world.

This is a difficult movie to recommend to everyone because it so "American". There is certainly a good story here, but in the end, watching the US team defeat a vastly superior Soviet team is made all the more thrilling if you are American. Further, if you lived during the time and can remember the images, the experience of the film is made all the more satisfying. Kurt Russell (who even in his older years always seems to return to Disney to do movies) does an excellent job of portraying Brooks as a dedicated, obsessive coach whose unique skill in bonding these players together is the real reason for their victory.

The 2.35:1 transfer for Miracle is a relatively good one. The colours are extremely vibrant and the reds and blues are very full. Set in the late 70's/early 80's, many of the indoor scenes are shot in what were the prevailing colour schemes of the day; mostly muted earthy tones. Most of the film occurs, naturally, during the winter months, and as a result much of the outdoor scenes are filmed in a backdrop of cloudy, snowy weather. Night scenes are done to near perfection, and black levels are kept spot on without bleeding into other images. Flesh tones are good also, and there is little to no film grain. Edge enhancement is kept to a minimum—a nice job by Disney.

The Dolby 5.1 audio track is a winner on this disc. All of the channels are given a workout and are noticeable at various points during the film (for an example, listen carefully to the first US/Soviet hockey game as the announcement of the Soviet goals move from channel to channel—very nice!). The dialogue is clear and the sounds of the game are something to get into. You hear the skating, the puck, the sticks and the hits into the boards. This was no small feat on the part of the sound technicians and editors. As one of the featurettes shows, the sound editor as some points had to integrate three hundred different tracks at various levels to achieve the correct audio for the hockey games. They did so in outstanding fashion. The score of the film by Mark Isham is a treat; it builds in its size, complexity and scope as the wins become more important and thrilling until a full orchestra is employed for the victory against the Soviets. Finally, growing up in the 70's, for me it was a treat to hear some of the music from that period loud and clear blaring through the sound system.

While most of the extras are on the second disc, the movie disc does sport both an audio commentary and a twenty minute featurette on the making of the film. The commentary, by director Gavin O’Connor, Editor John Gilroy and Director of Photography Daniel Stoloff, is in many ways typical fare. There are a lot of self-congratulatory dialogues between the three, as well as praise for the rest of the cast and crew. Much of what they relate can be found within other extras on the discs. Nevertheless, it is still an interesting piece to listen to and does offer a unique insight into the some of the different aspects of the film. The lone featurette on the movie disc, simply entitled "The Making of Miracle" is done rather well, and O’Connor explains how this film was unique in its casting and execution. Unlike other films, the producers and director searched for hockey players first, and then actors second. Their feeling was that it would be easier to teach hockey players to act than actors to skate. As they auditioned over four thousand hockey players they next looked for individuals who resembled the members of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team (in one case even casting the son of one of the players). O’Connor even talks about how, as the process proceeded, it became apparent that the individuals who were being cast even began to emulate the players (even down to mannerisms and the overall way they handled themselves) they would eventually be playing. The feature also shows how O’Connor employed a different way of filming the hockey scenes. To put the viewer directly into the action, multiple cameras were used, some suspended from overhead, some were stationary on the ice, others were put on a variation of a dolly device adapted for ice, and finally there was the inclusion of a steady-cam operated by a cameraman on skates to get into the heart of the game.  

The remaining extras can be found on the supplemental disc and they do not disappoint. “From Hockey to Hollywood: the Actors’ Journey” focuses on the journey five of the actors took from being cast to playing their respective Olympic hockey player. With only one exception, they were each hockey players with little to no acting experience, and then became actors as the production continued. Surprisingly though, to a man they each say that it was the hockey aspect of the film that proved the most difficult. The choreography of recreating each of the plays involved the greatest amount of preparation, and, even though they all had played hockey, spending ten–fourteen hours a day in ice skates did bring a new level of discomfort for them. Finally, each tells about the experience of meeting the Olympic individual they were playing as the production went on. Next is the inclusion of a program which first aired on the cable network ESPN Classic. Entitled "Miracle ESPN Roundtable", it features Linda Cohn hosting a discussion with Russell, and three of the original hockey players, Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig and Buzz Schneider. They talk about what it was like for them to be a part of that team and to play for Herb Brooks. Cohn talks a lot about scenes from the film and asks the trio to relate in their own words how they felt during those times. There is an obvious affection for each other (and Brooks) which comes through strongly during the piece. A welcome feature.

One of the most unusual and thoroughly enjoyable supplemental featurettes was the previously mentioned one on the sound from the film. "The Sound of Miracle" takes you through a particular scene (one of the hockey game scenes), isolating the multiple tracks. We are treated to just the skating track, then the hockey stick and pads track, the dialogue track, the crowd track, etc. When these were all put together (along with the musical score, the announcing of veteran sports caster Al Michaels and hundreds of other tracks) it is easier to pick them out in your mind, but also to more fully appreciate the difficulties in integrating them into what is a seamless presentation in the film. I found this to be a very enlightening addition to the set.

What follows is a twenty minute reel of raw footage shot some months before the actual production. “First Impressions: Herb Brooks with Kurt Russell and the Filmmakers” involves a meeting between the creators of the film, the star and the subject of the movie. Sadly, Brooks never got to see the final cut of the film as he was killed in a car accident during the summer of 2003. Here he talks about his relationship with his players, the psychological games he used to get them to dig deeper inside themselves and become winners, and the joys and pitfalls of coaching the US Olympic hockey team. It is a fitting tribute to the man, albeit somewhat bittersweet to view. Finally, a short 5 minute section of outtakes rounds out the set.

Admittedly, this film may have limited appeal to anyone outside the United States. The retelling of this event (which has often been cited as the number one sports moment in US history), while very dramatic, may fall flat on viewers from other countries. There is an abundance of references to the geo-political situation of the day, and the film is peppered with images and sounds from 1979 and 1980. History buffs may enjoy the film on this basis alone. For anyone American who lived through that time, the US victory over the heavily favoured Soviet team in the XIII Winter Olympic Games at Lake Placid is an event people point to as a defining moment for our country, and, much like when President Kennedy was assassinated, individuals can usually tell you where they were when they heard the news (for me....I was in a McDonald's after attending a high school basketball game). Disney has done an admirable job in staying faithful and reverent to the actual occurrence and this DVD set, just like the team, is a winner in my book.