Gene Hackman……….Coach Norman Dale
Barbara Hershey……….Myra Fleener
Fern Persons……….Opal Fleener
Wil Dewitt……….Rev. Doty
John Thompson……….Sheriff Finley
Michael Sassone……….Preacher Purl
Mike Dalzell……….Mayor Carl
Skip Welker……….Junior (as Calvert L. Welker)
Eric Gilliom……….J. June
The game of basketball is a very beautiful medium. From the older style of passing heavily and finding the best possible shot to the newer, ESPN-influenced highlight reel of dunks and flash, as a whole basketball is an absolute beauty of a sport to both watch and play. It requires a lot of teamwork, coordination, practice and deference. The best teams, the ones that tend to produce the best results, are always the ones that have the best cohesion and interplay. As a sport, it’s fascinating to watch new wrinkles to an otherwise static game, but in the cinema basketball tends to be a hit or miss genre. For every good basketball movie like Hoop Dreams there are plenty of duds, from The Air Up There to Blue Chips to Air Bud.
Even basketball movies with established, top notch actors like Denzel Washington (He Got Game) or Samuel L Jackson (Coach Carter) produce mixed results. There is one basketball movie, however, that stands above the rest as the standard by which basketball movies are judged by: Hoosiers.
Hoosiers is based off of the last small school to win the Indiana high school boys basketball championship, Milan. Before changes in the late 1990s, Indiana had a system in place that produced one state champion; everyone was thrown in a gigantic bracket and whittled down accordingly. Milan, in the 1950s, was the last small school to win the state title and is represented by the fictional school of Hickory, IN.
Two months into the school year Coach Norman Dale walks into Hickory, a former college coach looking for another chance after spending some time in the Navy. Played by Gene Hackman in a top-notch performance, Coach Dale comes into this small town bringing his own system into a town looking to impose what it feels is basketball upon him. It’s a tug of war between Hackman, the players, and the parents due to coaching philosophies. The townspeople know that they can shoot, but Hackman wants them to do more. In the end, Hackman wins them over, recruits the town drunk as his assistant coach (Dennis Hopper), and brings his team with a new brand of play in to a climactic finale.
What makes Hoosiers a great movie and not just your cliche story about the underdog winning the big game is its’ attention to the development of the principle characters, the team Hackman’s character coaches in particular. They aren’t just trendy archetypes of people designed for mass appeal, they are a group of small town kids strafing under a new coach. They don’t know much about him, but neither does the viewer. As the movie progresses, we get to learn more about the coach and get a lot more insight into his personality.
The other is its treatment of the sport of basketball itself. This isn’t a movie that relies on slam dunks and the sort of highlights one would find from the NBA. The basketball scenes are more of homage to the game, a loving tribute, then as a simple backdrop. The basketball isn’t just used to fill time or provide spectacular highlights; it is used to further advance the story in subtle ways. The more basketball is shown, the more we see the players embracing the new type of basketball and succeeding within its’ boundaries with their fandom slowly learning to accept it, and the new coach, as well.
This is a movie that views basketball in a much higher light than a regular sports movie; it is a tribute, it is the story of an underdog, and above all it’s just a great movie.
The color in this release has been re-mastered completely, rendering a much more vivid picture than in prior releases. It has less of the grainy look to it, coming very sharp. It’s still not jaw-dropping good, but it is a marked improvement over both the original DVD release and the VHS edition.
Re-mastered as well, the audio is a definite step up from releases past. My only complaint is that the sound tracks for the extras are not quite as good as the ones in the movie. The first disc is just spectacular, the second not quite so much.
They’ve upped the ante with this new release of the movie. On the first disc of the release contains a commentary track from the writer and director as well as the original theatrical trailer.
The treasure trove is found on the second disc. First off is Hoosier History: The Truth Behind the Legend. Members of both the Milan and Muncie Central basketball teams that met in the 1954 title game, Rick Carlisle from the Pacers, legendary Purdue men’s basketball coach Gene Keady, perennial NBA All-Star Reggie Miller, ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons, Hackman, Hopper, director David Anspaugh, writer Angelo Pizzo and principle members of the cast all take turns chiming in on the movie from its beginnings, the filming of the movie, to parts of the movie itself, to the aftermath of the movie itself. You have Carlisle and Keady talking about being a coach and the things that Hackman’s character does in the movie that relate to being a basketball coach in reality, and it goes on to various other tangents that all are more of a love of the game of basketball in Indiana than anything else.
On top of this is 11 Deleted Scenes with introductions by Anspaugh and Pizzo. You can see why these scenes were cut, though, as most really don’t contribute too much more to the film. Besides solving the only real discrepancy with the movie (Buddy being let back on the team after transferring out), it sheds a bit more light on the relationship between Coach Dale and Ms. Fleener as well. A lot of what they cut was extraneous.
Our next treat on the second disc is the Milan vs. Muncie Central 1954 Indiana High School Championship game. Presented in really grainy black and white with the original audio, it’s a fascinating look back at basketball before the dunks and the three point line, with real crisp passing and solid fundamentals.
On top of all of this, we are given a photo gallery of shots from the film, shots of the filming process and of the cast and crew on the film.