I'm beginning to think that all the studios are capable of releasing on next-gen formats are sports movies and action flicks. 'Friday Night Lights,' 'Invincible' and now 'Glory Road' -- I'm sure 'Remember the Titans' and 'The Longest Yard' will be announced any day now. Of course, the move makes sense from a marketing perspective -- early adopters are largely young males who like their toys -- but it doesn't do too many favors for the films themselves. Having watched far too many flicks over the past few weeks about smalltown teams who come from behind to win the big climactic game, it is turning into some sort of next-gen Battle of the Sports Movie All-Stars. And 'Glory Road' falls somewhere in the pro division -- not quite ready for the majors, but far from little league.
In 1965, basketball coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) went on the recruiting trail to find the best talent in the land, regardless of race. Five whites and seven "coloreds" would eventually make up the 1965-66 Texas Western Miners, a team that would eventually go on to achieve the stuff of legend. Mocked and ridiculed, harassed and threatened, the team found few friends, either within the educational system or by the media. Yet, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, Haskins and his Miners would unite against the oppression to triumph at the National Championships.
'Glory Road' is the kind of film that is almost impossible to criticize. It is well-meaning, heartfelt and determined to expose the ugliest realities of racism while still remaining hopeful and inspiring. And indeed, even a hardened cynic like me couldn't help but wipe away a few tears by the time 'Glory Road' reached its utterly predictable conclusion. But then we don't go into a movie like this expecting to be surprised. We go in fully aware -- even demanding -- to be shamelessly manipulated with the kind of big, come-from-behind victory that is the sports-movie equivalent of Rhett Butler kissing Scarlett O'Hara at the end of 'Gone with the Wind.'
I admire a film like 'Glory Road,' even if it is perhaps not the absolute best example of the genre. The player archetypes will be familiar to anyone who has seen even a single movie about sports. There's the cocky leader (Derek Luke), the rebellious party boy (Damaine Radcliff) the let's-hold-it-all-together-guys wingman (Sam Jones), and the dumb-bumpkin white boy who speaks before he thinks (Austin Nichols). And as Coach Haskins, Lucas holds it all together with a vigorous performance that illustrates why this guy should really be a bigger star than he is. Though Lucas' career choices as of late haven't paid him many dividends ('Poseidon,' anyone?), he is always a commanding presence onscreen, even when his character here sometimes flounders in cliches and a bland family backstory (really, in story terms, why does this guy even need to be married?)
Despite tacking the tough issue of racism, 'Glory Road' is ultimately a fairly routine sports movie. It never really examines its controversial subject beyond surface platitudes, however earnest. Yet this is a genre with such foolproof conventions that it hardly matters. 'Glory Road' is an impeccably mounted production, and I was particularly impressed with the attention to period detail. It is also never less than totally entertaining and engrossing, and leaves you proud to be an American. I guess you can't ask for anything more than that, can you?
'Glory Road' is the fourth title in Disney's second wave of Blu-ray titles I've reviewed (after 'The Haunted Mansion,' 'Dark Water' and 'Gone in 60 Seconds') and for my money, it is the best-looking one so far. The transfer still has one annoying major issue, but otherwise it's a good-looking presentation of a good-looking movie.
Disney gives this one the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 treatment, and the source material is in fine shape. Befitting a recent release, there is no defects to be found, such as dirt, speckles or dropouts. There is a thin veneer of grain present, but it is appropriate to the time period the film depicts and not distracting. The film's color scheme is typical of sports films recently -- everything is bathed in a gold/amber light, I guess in an attempt to make the team's players look even more like glorified icons. Though colors are tweaked, giving the film a slick sheen that isn't entirely realistic, hues are stable and clean, with no smearing. I could make out such subtleties as skin pores and individual strands of hair, so I can't fault the processed colors for decreasing detail. Blacks and contrast are also well balanced. Whites are somewhat blown-out, but it appears to be intentional, adding to the golden halo-look that infuses the film's visual design.
My big issue with this transfer is the presence of video noise. Mixed in with the film grain appears to be large, alive areas of blockiness. It is not the worse I've seen on a Blu-ray release, but I was distracted far more than once during the film's runtime. For example, during the scene where the Josh Lucas character first tries to recruit Derek Luke to the team, the bleachers in the background look almost covered in noise of various sizes. Pretty disappointing. However, I'm still going to give this transfer a video rating about a half-star higher than some might feel appropriate, only because we have yet to give the next-generation of Blu-ray players currently hitting the market a thorough workout. Given the problems the Samsung first-gen Blu-ray player continues to have, there is just no way yet of knowing if some of the noise issues we've seen on some of these early Blu-ray disc releases is the fault of the software, the hardware, or both. (We'll certainly be updating this particular review in the coming weeks, when we get a new Blu-ray player calibrated and ready to go.)
Per usual with Disney's Blu-ray releases, 'Glory Road' gets the uncompressed PCM 5.1 treatment, this time encoded at 48kHz/24-bit resolution. I must say, I continue to be impressed overall with the uncompressed soundtracks that Disney and Sony are putting out on their Blu-ray discs, to the point where anything but PCM or Dolby TrueHD feels like a disappointment to me (I'm certainly looking forward to giving those DTS-HD Master Audio lossless tracks on Fox's upcoming Blu-ray titles a spin).
Admittedly, 'Glory Road' is not that heavy on the surround activity, but I felt for this type of material this mix is about as good as it should be. The sound design is really quite expansive at times, with discrete effects when appropriate (such as the basketball scenes, as well as some atmosphere during the nighttime team bus rides, etc.) and some nice bleed of the score. Dynamics are powerful -- low bass is certainly not overpowering but forceful when needed, again particularly with the score and during the big game sequences. Dialogue is also clear, distinct and firmly rooted in the center channel. I also encountered no balance problems, so you shouldn't have to adjust your volume level at all throughout the film.
'Glory Road' benefited from a pretty nice package of extras on its standard-def DVD release, some of which have been ported here. Unfortunately, most of the video-based goodies have been snipped due to a lack of disc space, but at least we get the previous disc's best extras, its two audio commentaries.
Track one features director James Gartner and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, while track two is a screenwriter chat with Chris Cleveland and Bettina Gilois. I was surprised with how articulate and insightful Gartner was, offering a wealth of candid discussion on every aspect of the film, from casting to production to working within the studio system to the liberties taken with the original source material. Unfortunately, Bruckheimer has been edited in, and offers little of value. The screenwriter track is also a bit much after listening to the film once already, and both Cleveland and Gilois are a bit too spacey and subdued. Perhaps dropping Bruckheimer and editing the remaining comments together might have been the best bet?
The only featurette to make the cut is "Surviving Practice" (4:22), which wasn't even the best of the bunch. It's a pretty standard making-of that looks at the training of the film's cast, which quite frankly looks more like fun than work. Ah, the glories of Hollywood.
Gone are the DVD's deleted scenes, music video and any theatrical trailers.
'Glory Road' is a somewhat predictable sports drama, but with its strong political message and winning cast, it is hard not to root for the home team. This Blu-ray release is also a winner. Though I lament the amount of apparent video noise on the transfer, in all other respects this is a fine release. We even get a few supplements, or at least more than usual on a Disney Blu-ray release. If you are a fan of sports flicks, this one is definitely worth a look.