Disney's 'Miracle' is the heroic account of the 1980 US men's hockey team's miraculous run through the Olympics, passing by the unbeatable Russian team, and skating all the way to the gold medal. In a time of lingering Cold War sentiment, it wasn't just a special win for US hockey, but a victory for the nation as a whole. It brought together a country and touched the world.
Kurt Russell stars as stoic US men's coach, Herb Brooks. He's a tough, unflinching man who at the beginning doesn't seem to have an ounce of kindness in him. "If you're looking for a friend, don't look here," he says to his would-be players. His job is to whip a bunch of college-aged hockey players into an Olympic ready team fit to take on the seemingly invincible Russians.
Before tryouts have even started Brooks has his team picked out. This doesn't go over well with the higher-ups, but Brooks is adamant that this is the team for him. No overtly flashy players, no hot-shots, just a group of young men that play good hockey and are willing to be taught on how to play as a team.
'Miracle' follows the same formula as many sports films, but there's something different about it. Maybe it's the actual impact this event had on the country and world, or maybe it's just because director Gavin O'Connor really knows how to direct a sports film.
Most of the film's focus is on Herb Brooks. We meet some of the players, but never really get to know them, or get into their personal lives. All we really know of them is how they interact with their team and coach Brooks. Where other such films might focus on one or two players and highlight their personal struggles, I liked the way 'Miracle' approached things a little differently. It didn't spotlight any of the characters, instead we only know them as a team.
The film follows the team from try-outs to the big game against the Soviets. Some of the best hockey footage ever filmed seems to be in this game. It's fast-paced, but not overly corny like something like 'Mighty Ducks,' where every bodycheck flips someone head over heels. Whether it's a shot-by-shot representation of the actual game, it doesn't matter. It's engrossing and realistic. We're sucked into the story, not just because we're rooting for the underdog, but because the film represents a higher ideal, one which is encapsulated in a voiceover by coach Brooks at the end:
"A few years later, the U.S. began using professional athletes at the Games - Dream Teams. I always found that term ironic because now that we have Dream Teams, we seldom ever get to dream."
To the untrained high-definition viewer, the 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer of 'Miracle' may not seem as clear or crisp as other Blu-rays. It's true that the film does have a softer focus, making the details a little less sharp, but that's a stylistic choice. The softer focus gives it that late 70s early 80s feel, much like the effect the TV show 'Swingtown' uses. Yet even with the soft focus, textures and patterns still turn out beautifully.
A lot of plaid is worn in 'Miracle,' mostly by coach Brooks, and as hideous as plaid can look sometimes, it still bursts from the screen perfectly defined, reminding us exactly what time period we're watching. Other details that would never be noticed on the standard definition version are the minute jersey holes on the players' jerseys. In standard definition those tiny holes create terribly annoying aliasing lines, but here they're distinct and clear, even when the players move around. Or take a look at a corduroy jacket coach Brooks wears. (Editor's Note: The man was stylin'!) It's like you could reach out and feel the ridges.
There were a few times when grain was a bit heavy on lighter backgrounds, but overall, it was kept to a minimum. Skin tones seemed consistent for everyone except Noah Emmerich, for some reason his skin always appeared pale and washed out. Shadow delineation does waver a bit during night scenes, but it's not terribly distracting. I didn't catch any compression artifacts or source noise at all.
Overall this is another fantastic catalogue offer from Disney. They really do take their time with these releases to make them look good.
Hockey films hold the potential for stunningly cool sound - pucks being slapped by hockey sticks, ice skates cutting through the ice, crowds screaming, and bodies banging into the boards. 'Miracle' has all of those great elements, and they're all amplified with a fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track that makes you feel as if you're right there.
The sound in 'Miracle' sounds so amazing, yet so real and organic. There's a special feature that talks about how they got all the different hockey related sounds, and then you realize the amount of work the crew went through to get authentic sounds.
The dialogue is presented clean and clear through the front channels. The bass rumbles on big hits, and when the crowd roars to life. The surround channels capture perfectly the feeling of being in a hockey rink watching a game. Even Al Michaels lends his voice for a voiceover calling out the play-by-play. The voiceover comes out clear and concise through the center channel, but at times is muffled by the boisterous crowd.
There were scenes in which it seemed the volume changed a few decibels, making one conversation seem quite a bit louder than the last, but this is a minor nitpick. Overall, this another solid offering from Disney in the sound department. There's nothing here that really distracted from the overall pleasure of the film. It adds dimensionality, and feeling to an already emotional roller coaster.
There is a wealth of special features on this disc, but there's nothing new for the Blu-ray release. It's the same standard definition features that you can find on the Special Edition DVD released in 2004.
'Miracle' is a grand sports spectacle that documents one of the finest moments in American sports. A group of young David's took on the world's Goliath and won. It's a true to form underdog story that brought the nation together. With a transfer and soundtrack as great as this, as well as some pretty spiffy supplements to boot, 'Miracle' comes very highly recommended on Blu-ray.
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