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I make no qualms about the fact that I am not a fan of team sports in almost any capacity. I don’t usually play them, I don’t usually watch them in person or on television, and I’m normally bored by movies about them. It seems like there are at least three sports genre movies that are ‘based on a true story’ every single year, and even though they are based on true stories, they invariably all seem to come out the same. Famous sporting events and games make for good documentary fodder, but in a fictional realm they usually end up melding into one super-movie that I find it difficult to care about. The story of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team happens to be a story close to my heart. The made-for-television documentary on the subject, Miracle on Ice, was an elementary school standby. If it was a rainy day during P.E. class we were pretty likely to watch the US take down the Ruskies one more time, and it was a thrill every time.

Miracle
This 2004 feature re-enactment of the events starts with a credit sequence that instantly marks it as more intelligent than the usual ‘based on a true story’ sports flick. In about three minutes, while the cast and crew names scroll by, the filmmakers catch us up on a decade of US history, placing the story in its proper political context. The fact that there’s any acknowledgement of the politics of the situation is a bit of a miracle itself, as the usual beyond the game intrigue in a sports film usually consists of the same old racial strife issues, which are getting really, really old. The fact that I don’t care about how difficult it was for a black team, coach, and/or player to find his/her place in white dominated sports might say something about me, but I think it says more about the over saturation of the same damn movie all throughout modern movie history.

Concerning the film’s use in the crowded block of sports films, the story itself is a great one, and because of the political context it doesn’t simply act as another underdog story—even if it is another underdog story. As I said at the top, sports documentaries always seem to capture the immediacy and period, not to mention the thrill of seeing the amazing event as an original viewer, and Miracle on Ice might be the best sports documentary ever made. This film brings out the behind the scenes information to life, but at some cost. Personally I found most of the characters, who are based on real people, impossible to tell apart (save Kurt Russell of course) not only in look, but in personality. The filmmakers do their best to give us a reason to care, as do the actors, who are more than acceptable, but the story threads leading up to the actual game are mostly entirely uninteresting. I hate to be the short attention spanned stereotyped American film goer, but I was bored by training montages and character beats right up until the actual games started, which equates almost forty minutes.

Miracle
When the games do start the film comes to life, and in a somewhat unexpected way. The filmmakers date their footage with the look, and their use of late ‘70s film styles. This means there are snap-zooms, and handheld moments that create a subjective viewing experience, rather than an action ramping, slow motion modern experience. The lighting is natural, and a lot of the experience is taken from the stands and sidelines. The filmmakers also make brave choices in the editing of the matches, cutting away from the action to reveal plot points after the fact. Mixed with the acknowledgement of the political context of the story, these choices hold the film head and shoulders above the rest of the sports pack. If only they could’ve avoided schmaltzy clichés in the music, dialogue and characters, I might be recommending Miracle as the go-to sports movie for the non-sports movie enthusiast.

Video


The late ‘70s and early ‘80s were not a very attractive era, and director Gavin O’Connor, along with cinematographer Dan Stoloff do their best to make the story even remotely pleasing to look at. The look is a mix of handheld documentary grit and cool gels, which makes for a slightly off 1080p presentation, but a generally interesting looking feature. There is a lot of grain on this print, which sort of dates the film beyond just the fashion. The grain is augmented with a sort of haze as well, which I’m sure was intended, but is again not exactly ideal for the format. Details aren’t particularly sharp, truth be told, but the high definition enhancement is valuable for the even gradations and lack of compression noise. The colours are muted by all the grain and overall blueness, but they’re clean of unwanted cross-colouration or blooming, and feature only occasional and slight edge enhancement. Contrast is pretty even, but the film usually defaults to darkness. Blacks are also infiltrated by the blue tint, and are generally not particularly deep.

Miracle

Audio


Miracle is a mostly subtle and natural aural experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s a purely centric experience either. The mix is immersive from the standpoint that it attempts to recreate sounds as they’d sound to someone actually experiencing the events in person. Thusly the game moments are appropriately bombastic, but not impeccable in their exact aural placement, which makes sense, as the stands are often a mess of echoes. The impacts are realistically bassy, and the clacking sticks are realistically bright. In turn the vocally heavy scenes feature very small and subtle bleeding incidental effects throughout. Composer Mark Isham is capable of much more impressive work than the majority of this syrup-sweet mess. The action cues are pretty effective thanks to some echoing bass drums and his penchant for horns, but the touchy-feely bits are pretty lumpy. The mix uses the music sparingly for the most part, and leaves it pretty low on the track with the exception of a few music only moments.

Extras


The extras, which have apparently been ported from the DVD release, start with an excitable, but ultimately pretty empty commentary with director Gavin O’Connor, DP Dan Stoloff, and editor John Gilroy. The participants are full of vigour, but they mostly spend their time narrating the on-screen action and obvious subtext. There’s some real behind the scenes information, but a lot of it devolves into back-patting the cast and crew.

Miracle
‘The Making of Miracle’ (18:00, SD) is a fluffy EPK, but it gives some insight into the process of adaptation, and the inclusion of original practice and game footage is a fantastic plus. The filmmakers make special note of coach Herb Brooks, which if they would’ve maintained such focus probably could’ve made for a better movie. Overall, as stated, it’s pretty fluffy, covering broad aspects of the production with the largest praise for everyone involved.

‘From Hockey to Hollywood: The Actor’s Journeys’ (27:30, SD) is a little more like it. This featurette covers the gigantic open casting call for hockey players with acting skills, which was the way to cast the film instead of the other way ‘round. Still, the tone here is very made-for-TV (low production values, softball interviews), and the story wears thin pretty quickly. Fans should find more of value here. I was a little bored.

Miracle
 ‘The Sound of Miracle’ (10:30, SD) is pretty much defined by its title—it’s a look at the film’s natural and effective sound. The brief glimpse covers the production and post production processes, and make special note of the authenticity of the sound.

In place of the ideal extra—the original documentary—is an ‘ESPN Roundtable’ (41:00, SD). I’m personally not fond of this kind of thing—the tone is lethargic, and the facts and opinions are expressed without accompanying images, or any real sense of editing. It is what it is, I suppose, and if you can’t get enough of the subject these few additional insights might give you a thrill. The roundtable is augmented with ‘First Impressions’ (20:00, SD), raw footage with the real Herb Brooks shot just before pre-production. I still want the original doc, Disney. Things end with an outtake reel and some Disney trailers.

Miracle

Overall


To re-iterate, Miracle isn’t the kind of movie I normally enjoy, or even seek out, and it has major pacing and tonal issues, but it’s still one of the better films of its kind. With some editing, a minor re-write, and perhaps some new music Miracle could’ve transcended its genre, and actually been an effective double feature with something as indelibly good as Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff (to which the film does share some traits). The film’s rough style isn’t the best sampling for high-definition video, but the audio is fantastic, and the general improvement is enough to warrant a re-buy for diehard fans.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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