Why does America hate football? No, I don't mean the sport with the big burly guys in helmets, tackling each other and kicking field goals while Prince performs "Let's Go Crazy" during half-time. I'm talking about the worldwide phenomenon dismissed Stateside as "soccer." While we crow about millions of Americans watching the Super Bowl every year, around the world, billions tune into the World Cup. The global appeal of the "real" football easily dwarfs our more thuggish domestic version. So why do we remain so snobby?
I suppose that's why a movie like 'Goal! The Dream Begins' was destined for commercial failure here in the U.S.. Sure, it has an atrocious title, but it's a feel-good, well-meaning little movie, and one certainly no worse than Disney's myriad of other recent inspirational sports flicks, like 'Invincible,' 'Glory Road' and 'Annapolis.' Yet it received scant marketing muscle from the Mouse House, and scrapped up barely $5 million at the domestic box office.
In any case, the story of 'Goal!' is certainly formulaic. See if this sounds familiar: Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) is a young Mexican immigrant who spent his childhood growing up in the barrios of L.A. His dream is to "Bend it like Beckham" and play professional football in the United Kingdom. However, financial prospects for his father Hernan (Tony Plana), a gardener to the upper class, are hardly rosy. But after Santiago is spotted playing for his local team by Glen Foy, an ex-agent from the U.K. (Stephen Dillane), he gets a trial with Newcastle FC and a chance to realize his dream. With Foy, his teammates and his pretty American girlfriend Roz (Anna Friel) by his side, can Santiago win over his father and make it all the way to the big leagues?
As cliched as it is, 'Goal!' is so well-intentioned that criticizing it is like attempting to beat up Santa Claus. Everyone in the movie is just so gosh-darn likable, and you can't help but root for Santiago. We want to see him rise above his station. We want to see him master his craft in the film's numerous training montages. We want to see him win the heart of the girl he loves. We want to see him do his father proud. And we certainly want to see him win the big game at the end.
'Goal!' is no 'Rocky.' But as directed by Danny Cannon ('Judge Dredd,' 'I Still Know What You Did Last Summer,' and television's 'CSI'), it has energy, passion and a huge heart. And Becker is a real find. I've never heard of the kid before this movie, but it's a promising debut. As we learn in this disc's supplements, he doesn't even have any actual soccer skills. Yet it never shows -- Cannon's access to actual matches offers seamless integration of real and staged action. Becker really carries the picture, and rises above the rigid conventions of the genre to create a genuine, memorable character.
As it's title suggests, 'Goal! The Dream Begins' was intended as the first of a trilogy -- and despite the weak box office, the two follow-up installments are actually finishing production. But kudos to Becker. He actually makes the idea of a 'Goal!' Part 2 and 3 sound like not such a bad idea after all...
'Goal! The Dream Begins' gets the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 treatment on Blu-ray, and it's more or less on par with other recent Disney sports releases like 'Invincible' and 'Glory Road.' The source has been highly processed, with a way-too-digital sheen and unrealistic colors. Pardon me if I don't stand up and cheer like a madman.
Sarcasm aside, basic specs are up to snuff. The source is in excellent shape -- the print is pristine. Blacks are also rock solid, and depth and detail remain quite consistent, thanks to superior shadow delineation that doesn't crush too sharply in the deep blacks. Contrast, however, is very bright. Whites do blow out, and the image looks so artificial that at times I was distracted. Colors are also heavily processed -- especially fleshtones. Everyone suffers from a radioactive orange glow that looks like they've been sunbathing on Mars. The sports scenes also have that stuttered, drop-frame thing going on, which gives them a bit of a blurry, soft look compared to the rest of the transfer. Regardless, and even though I'm not really a fan of these kind of tweaked presentations, I can't fault this transfer for such aesthetic decisions made by the filmmakers.
Disney offers up an uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track for 'Goal!', encoded at 48 kHz/16-bit, and it's a nice, pleasing mix. The surrounds are active, dialogue never falters and dynamics are punchy. I was particularly impressed with how accurate directional sounds can be in the soccer scenes -- the roar of the crowd often fills up the rears forcefully, while discrete effects are localized properly in regards to the on-screen action. Fidelity is very strong, with only a slightly bright high-end distracting from robust, full-bodied mid-range. Low bass also boasts plenty of kick (har, har). Only the bland non-sport scenes underwhelm, and some of the dialogue is overwhelmed during the most intense soccer sequences. Overall, though, 'Goal!' definitely scores in the audio department.
Disney again carries over most of the standard-def DVD extras to Blu-ray for 'Goal!', although little here rises above the merely average.
The main extra is a screen-specific audio commentary with director Danny Cannon and screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenals. It's a very typical affair -- fairly lively, with Cannon leading the conversation, which covers the usual bases (conception, casting, production, etc). The director always seems to go back to the idea that a sports movie needs "a character with heart" in order to succeed, but judging by his film's meager box office grosses, I guess that alone isn't enough these days?
The only other supplement is the very short 6-minute featurette "Behind the Pitch." It's fairly interesting, dissecting how the filmmakers combined the fictional actors with real-life sport footage. The result is indeed quite seamless, so for that reason alone, this one is worth a watch.
Note that the standard-def version also included an even briefer featurette on the worldwide appeal of soccer, a music video, and the film's theatrical trailer. All of those extras have been dropped here.
'Goal!' is yet another Disney inspirational sports flick, and it does little to set itself apart from the pack. The film's real selling point is newcomer Kuno Becker -- the kid's got game, as they say. This Blu-ray release is strong enough. I wasn't that high on the overly-processed transfer, but the soundtrack is solid and the audio commentary is decent. Diehard fans of the flick should be satisfied with this one, but otherwise probably best reserved for a rental.