Another week, another new inspirational sports movie on high-def. The major studios have churned out these flicks with such alarming regularity on both next-gen formats that I can't even think of any more ways to joke around about them. All you need to really know about 'Remember the Titans,' then, is that it's about football, stars Denzel Washington and comes from the Jerry Bruckheimer factory of rock 'em sock 'em, sensory-overload insta-blockbusters. There's not much more to it.
'Titans,' (based on a true story, natch) stars Denzel Washington as Herman Boone, the tough, opinionated new coach of TC Williams High School. It's 1971, and he's been brought in to replace Bill Yoast, who, despite fifteen winning seasons, has been demoted due to affirmative action, and as national tensions over integration and civil rights threaten to explode. Boone is as different from the beloved Yoast as he could be, yet the two men will overcome their differences and unite to transform their hostile group of young charges into champions.
I will start with everything that is bad about 'Remember the Titans.' Simply put, this movie could have easily been made by a computer -- one pre-programmed to spit out cliche after cliche. It's like an encyclopedia of convention: the characters border on caricature, the "racial tension" scenes often resort to sitcom simplicity for easy resolution, and there is enough mawkish, gooey sentimentality that the whole thing feels somewhat like a Spielberg flick on steroids. You know you're in trouble when four "black" characters actually grab hairbrushes for microphones and perform a Motown do-wop number -- in four different scenes!
Although 'Titans' was directed by Boaz Yakin ('Fresh,' 'Uptown Girls'), it has Bruckheimer's sensibilities stamped over all it. This is especially true of the film's football scenes, which feel like they were pulled right out of a Tony Scott flick. I'm starting to think someone must have directed about two hours of generic football footage, stored it in a database somewhere at Bruckheimer's company, and now all of these sports flicks just cull from the same stock repository -- it's all incredibly generic and familiar. I also love how the sound effects are so pumped up in terms of sheer volume that if you close your eyes, you'd think you were watching 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,' not a football movie.
Having said all that, despite all the hard-sell artifice, 'Remember the Titans' does manage to wring out some genuine emotion by its climax. These real-life tales of triumph are almost fool-proof in that regard, and 'Titans,' with its weightier undercurrent of social injustice finally being righted, is particularly effective in manipulating its audience. Yes, the film is shameless, but at the same time it's impossible to quell the urge to grab a box of tissues when all is said and done. There may not be a single truly original or surprising moment in the entire film, but like a cinematic security blanket for sports flick fans, it almost seems propelled by the pleasure of its sheer familiarity.
Still, while it's certainly an affecting movie with a strong performance from Denzel Washington, ultimately I can't recommend 'Remember the Titans.' With little-to-nothing to distinguish it from other better films in its genre, if you're going to watch this story played out yet again, you'll do much better re-watching a modern classic like 'Rocky' and 'Hoosiers,' both of which are currently available on Blu-ray.
Disney brings 'Remember the Titans' to Blu-ray in a truly excellent presentation. Having a whole BD-50 dual-layer disc to spread out in, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is easily up there with the best catalog releases yet on either next-gen format.
As this is the 113-minute theatrical cut of the film (not the 118-minute "Director's Cut" version released on standard-def DVD), there are none of issues that plagued that release in terms of consistency of the source. The master is absolutely pristine with no defects, blacks are inky perfection and is contrast dead on. Colors have clearly been shined up with the help of some digital trickery, but they don't look overdone or artificial -- instead, the palette retains a realistic feel and fleshtones look natural and not waxy. Detail is excellent, and as good as any high-def I've seen from a film-based source. Depth is also wonderfully three-dimensional, and the presentation is never less than sharp as a tack.
Simply put, I just couldn't find anything wrong with this transfer, so 'Remember the Titans' earns a rare five-star video rating.
Nearly matching the quality of the excellent video transfer is a terrific uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track (48kHz/24-bit/6.9mbps). It helps that the film's sound design has plenty of impact, maintaining a consistently enveloping presence almost throughout.
Though 'Remember the Titans' is not your typically bombastic Jerry Bruckheimer action film, its makers still clearly follow the same slam-bang sonic playbook, and this mix can deliver a wallop. The football scenes in particular really crunch, with airtight low end that delivers some serious bass to the subwoofer. Dynamics also have a sharp clarity that rings authentic, and dialogue is expertly recorded. Surrounds are quite engaged, with localization of discrete effects first-rate. The heft of the rears is considerable and consistent, with only quieter scenes perhaps a little lacking in sustained and subtle ambiance. Otherwise, this is a very involving soundtrack that certainly won't disappoint.
'Remember the Titans' has hit standard-def DVD a couple of times in different configurations, and happily Disney has combined all of the past supplements onto one disc for the film's Blu-ray debut. Although these supplements are presented in standard-def only, in terms of actual content, it's a pretty strong line-up, and one fans of the film will certainly enjoy.
Two audio commentaries are offered: the first is a production track with director Boaz Yakin, screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard and (in a rare full-length commentary appearance) producer Jerry Bruckheimer, while the second is a contextual track with the real-life counterparts of the Denzel Washington and Will Patton characters, coaches Herman Boone and Bill Yoast. Although it's obviously a bit of a time commitment listening to both commentaries there is a wealth of information here, with each group of participants nicely balancing the other out. As you would imagine, the filmmaker track is more technical, though Bruckheimer and Howard offer welcome backstory on how the project was developed, as well as the challenges in retaining at least some historical accuracy while still making an entertaining, commercially-viable feature film. While somewhat drier in their presentation, Boone and Yoast fill in the gaps quite nicely, with plenty of personal anecdotes and other background.
Next we have three featurettes, which cover much of the same ground as the commentaries.
The centerpiece is the 21-minute "Remember the Titans: An Inspirational Journey Behind the Scenes." Hosted by football great Lynn Swann, at first I thought perhaps this one would offer a different perspective than the usual promotional featurette, but alas my hopes were quickly dashed as this feels largely like an extended commercial. Clearly made before the film hit theaters, it's lots of plot recap with only sporadic on-set comments from the main cast and crew, including Yoakin, Bruckheimer and Washington. Sadly, it's not only flat and bland, but superfluous once you've seen the movie.
The remaining two vignettes are even more wafer thin. "Denzel Becomes Boone" (6 minutes) features more of the same interview material with Washington, plus some comments from the filmmakers and the real Boone. Anyone interesting in learning more about the Washington's commitment to his role and Boone's feelings on the portrayal would be better served listening to the audio commentaries instead. "Beating the Odds" (also 6 min.) focuses on the backstory of the film itself -- it seems just about every major studio in town turned down the chance to make 'Remember the Titans' before Disney jumped on board. Interesting, but again covered in greater depth in the commentaries.
Better is the batch of Deleted Scenes. While this Blu-ray does not feature the extended 118-minute cut of 'Remember the Titans,' the two scenes ("Cruel and Unusual Punishment" & "She's All Yours") that were re-instated into that longer version are included here, alongside four additional sequences ("Friends Don't Come Easy;" "It Wouldn't Kill You;" "Sunday Service," "Sunshine Strikes Back"). Each of these are enjoyable enough, but unfortunately no optional commentary is offered -- it would have been great to get some context on why the scenes were cut in the first place.
As is sadly becoming commonplace on Disney Blu-ray titles, the studio has not included the film's original theatrical trailer. instead, all we get are previews for other Disney Blu-ray titles 'The Guardian' and 'The Invisible,' plus the upcoming theatrical release 'The Game Plan' (a truly dreadful-looking comedy starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson").
(Note that all of the video-based supplements listed above are presented in 480i/MPEG-2 video only.)
'Remember the Titans' is certainly an affecting film with another great performance from Denzel Washington, but as the latest in a long line of feel-good, inspirational sports flicks, there's little unique about this film, and (for me, anyway) overkill is starting to set in. As a Blu-ray release, however, this one's mighty fine, boasting a fantastic five-star video transfer, a great PCM track and solid assortment of extras. If you're a fan of 'Remember the Titans,' this is an easy recommend.