Hoosiers created the modern team sports movie cliché roster. Those elements, from a distraught community over a coaching change, personal problems amongst the players, and the underdog taking it all the buzzer define Hoosiers. But, Hoosiers created it too.
Say what you will about Rocky and its defining qualities years prior. Team sports have a deeper reliance on character. Multiple key players need back stories and involvement. The story of Hoosiers benefits from reality; the squad is only eight players. Each one, no matter how the script has to force it, has their moment. In this town, it is that moment, the one those guys who hunker down at the barbershop discuss endlessly in their twilight years. They all had one. In this town, that’s what matters for those who stay and build community.
Hickory, or rather its townsfolk, are not the villain. Something the infinite copies to come never mastered was the art of a character arc, and here, shuffled into a corner, are those doubters who grow with the team. They’re inspired, swept up in this booming success story that remains separated from its sport. Basketball doesn’t matter, an element that continues to define the greats of sub-genre.
Hackman’s soft but outspoken coach is the mentor, the type of person you want coaching kids still in the midst of growing. He’s a personal motivator, letting the squad make their own choices, mistakes, and decisions. He’s passive but invested. In a lot of ways, Hoosiers represents growing up, looking back at what you didn’t understand with hindsight, while those mistakes define who you are.
That’s arguably why Dennis Hopper’s marvelous, screen chewing drunkard fits and elevates this material. It’s not typical; modern contrivances dictate his last minute appearance in the crowd to wink at his son or give a thumbs up. Hoosiers is a realist, Hopper confined to a hospital where that character can grow, albeit without any loss of enthusiasm for his sport. He has looked back and atoned for his errors. The audience can forgive too.
Hoosiers elements work because you don’t realize they’re working. You’re on this journey right with the players. There’s no break out moment, the ball simply begins dropping in what appears to be a moment of enlightenment. The team isn’t quirky enough to be utter failures, and they’re not great enough to be a surefire victor. Odds are placed right they should be.
After 25-years, it’s probably time to forgive Hoosiers for its digital ’80s score that despite stirring composition, completely fails at placing the film in America’s early ’50s. It’s as if the rest of the authenticity is wasted for the mass appeal product of the day. The film is too good to be that cynical though.
Back in the earlier days of the format, Hoosiers was released to Blu-ray with a sense of nothingness. The extra features were barren and the encode was shoveled together with MPEG-2. Here’s the thing with this 25th Anniversary Edition: It still looks like MPEG-2, this despite the shift to AVC. The grayish blues of the small gymnasium are torturous on the compression. An endless swarm of chroma noise takes over the image and can barely work in the actual film material. Mind you, this is in spite of a heavy bitrate, further lending credence to how little numbers matter.
Part of the problem undoubtedly lies at the source, and aging, sub-par, probably lower resolution master that not only needs a bump with modern techniques, but also some clean-up. Damage is still insistent on being part of the frame, from scratches to fleeting specks of dirt. For a movie held in such high regard -almost unanimously mind you- this treatment is rather appalling.
Maybe it’s expectations, right? After all, it’s about time some of those old, DVD-era encodes get a new lease on life, and it’s Hoosiers. The disappointment can’t be shaken though. Every time the image has a moment of clarity, it’s whittled down not only by the grain structure this encode isn’t ready for, but lingering qualms. Black crush has a nasty habit of robbing parts of the frame, and edge enhancement can be spotted gleaming over some high contrast corners. Landscapes, which capture the midwest through the camera as well as can be expected, are murky. The lack of refinement with a few years between releases is staggering.
There are moments of brief flirtations with life, close-ups of tight focus and a handful of colorful moments that bring out the saturation without pushing primaries too far. Most of the first hour is covered with a mild haze that gives the film this dream-like quality (further making the material difficult to encode), so most of the prime material comes later in the back half.
This the point of the review where the savior line is supposed to come into play: “It’s better than it’s ever looked before.” And, to be blunt, no, it doesn’t. It looks no better than it did previously, and with the chunky compression, you might as well be checking it out on cable. What should be said is that if you’re an uber Hoosiers devotee, this is the disc to get by default, but those reasons are not left on this transfer.
There’s no change to the audio codec from the previous disc, but there’s a reason for that. The DTS-HD 5.1 mix is identical to the 2007 release. There are fidelity issues. Dialogue peaks are muddled, losing their crispness. Cheering crowds fumble, dimming certain key impact moments. There is a desperate need for a pass of clean-up work, even if it’s only going to make a marginal difference. It would be worth it.
The score doesn’t present much of a challenge, and encapsulates what this mix is doing. Forget about the surrounds. That’s 5.1 marketing material. The subwoofer is dead too, although there’s hardly a moment where it’s needed either. Splits to the stereo channels are flat, too condensed to be much of an impact, but there if you’re listening for them. All of that limited spacing is saved for the crowd and score. Sound effects and dialogue are firmly center elements.
The DVD edition bonus features have finally made the transition to HD, and in their entirety. Director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo preside over the film with a commentary, their involvement carrying over to introductions to each of 13 deleted scenes. Hoosier History is a half hour journey into the obsessiveness of Indiana basketball, with actors and players alike having time for their input.
The game Hoosiers’ finale is based on is included in its entirety, unfortunately in deplorable condition. Tossing a few bucks to have this even lightly restored, given its historical sports value, would be great. There’s a trailer here as well.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.