Movie: The city of Houston, Texas is known for a great many things these days but one of them that sports fans all around the country were talking about was the Houston Astros major league baseball team last year when the team literally went from zeros to heroes (though back to zeros after all was said and done). Baseball is one of those national pastimes that many of us will never understand completely but when the home team comes from behind and into the World Series, even those two percenters stand up and take notice. But even before 2005, the sport, and the team, were famous for a host of things, a few of which I'll discuss before my review of 2005 Houston Astros: The Championship Season.
The Houston Astros were originally the Houston Colts, named after the gun that civilized the Wild West, starting their expansion franchise back in April of 1962. Three years later, they changed their name to the Houston Astros and moved in to the so-called "Eighth Wonder of the World", the Astrodome, located at Kirby and 610. The Astrodome was one of the early venues that was made as part of a one-upmanship between the team owners, including an electronic scoreboard with cool animations, luxury boxes, individual seats, and a playing field of artificial grass called, obviously enough, Astroturf. In 2000, as part of a ploy to soak the taxpayers of Harris County and the City of Houston, the team moved into a new stadium, Enron Field, and the physical design of the park helped motivate the players. The team had some great players over the years, some unexpected tragedies, and a host of chances of winning a shot at the big leagues but it wasn't until 2005 that the team made it all the way to the World Series to play against the Chicago White Sox.
The box cover for the DVD put it all like this: "For 43 years the Houston Astros and their fans watched the World Series from their living rooms – wondering if the day would ever come when they would win the National League pennant and play in the Fall Classic. By mid-season, reaching the World Series would take a miracle. And that's precisely what made the Houston Astros 2005 season so remarkable. The team overcame the worst start in franchise history, won the NL Wild Card on the season's final day and beat the Atlanta Braves® in an 18-inning Division Series™ marathon. Then, behind ace pitcher Roy Oswalt, the Astros defeated the rival Cardinals, erasing 43 years of wondering as they went on to experience the World Series, for the first time in history."
So, knowing the outcome to the shut out World Series and the general way the team played last year, why get a DVD commemorating the year? Well, that was the first time the team made it to the World Series and especially coming off such a lousy start, they made major league baseball history. If you're a fan of the Astros or even baseball itself, there were certainly a lot of clips worth checking out on this DVD (though obviously not as comprehensive as big fans would like to have been able to buy). Here are the chapters of the DVD to give you a better idea of what was covered more extensively:
2) Spring Training and Early Season
3) A Down Period
4) A Turning Point
5) July Is Hot
6) August Through Wild Card Clinch
7) NLDS and NLCS
8) World Series
The DVD was designed less for the hardcore fan than those more casually into the sport and team, showing a multitude of clips from the players, the owner, and others impacting the team. Taking clips from various sources approved by the Major League and interviews of the players, the show used a number of candid moments during practices and games to make the points covered under the chapters. The first part of the season showed how lame the team could be, punctuated by the sports headline of the local rag (the Houston Chronicle) telling the world "It's Over" in June. Looking like lame ducks so early on, the behind the scenes guys made some changes in lineups and attitudes that seemed to almost magically change the team's fortune overnight. This led to the world at large finding out that the fat lady hadn't sung her song yet as the team started winning most of their games. Still well behind the rest of the league, they lucked out by winning a wild card spot on the last day of the regular season, beating out Philadelphia; won the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves (with the longest freaking game in playoff history from what I'm told-one I got stuck watching at a friend's house), and the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Amazingly enough, going from a terrible record to the World Series against the Chicago White Sox, a team with one of the longest losing streaks in sports history itself, was enough for most fans. Still, the drama of two teams with such history playing against one another was more than enough for many fans, even if a disappointment that they couldn't win a single game. All out of steam by the time they made it that far, they tried but provided lackluster performance, closing out a spectacular season considering where it started out at. The DVD made it a point to cover many of the "special" moments that made the biggest difference in the season, concentrating on the playoff games and World Series moments of greatest value.
This being a sports DVD, a veritable compilation of moments in a team's season, my rating is set as a Rent It for anyone other than a big collector fanatic of the Astros or MLB. How many times can you watch such a title without getting bored, even if you like the sport or team in question? Dennis Quaid did a fine job narrating and the editing crew also contributed to making it a lot easier to watch than most of the games were during the season but check it out before buying it unless you have money to burn. The Astros provided a lot more play last year than they were "supposed to" according to the expert predictions by June but in the end, the superior team won (or, in the words of a famous optimist, "the Astros didn't lose; they just ran out of innings"). It will likely be a long time before the Astros get another chance at the World Series but at least both teams made it there within our lifetimes, something many people couldn't say.
Picture: 2005 Houston Astros: The Championship Season was presented in a 1.85:1 ratio non-anamorphic widescreen letterbox presentation. The clips looked fine, the colors were accurate, and the editing suited the need to speed up some of the long, drawn out moments from the games and interviews used for the DVD. I saw no compression artifacts or other visual flaws, watching a check disc copy of the show rather than the final release.
Sound: The audio was presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo English. It was clear, concise, and narrated by Dennis Quaid. The music was used to punch up the dramatic moments but never seemed to overwhelm the vocals or short interviews with the players and others.
Extras: The extras were all extended moments from the season highlights used in the show itself, spending time with Clemens' 3 innings of relief in the 18 inning National League Division Series Game 4, the Chris Burke's 18th inning walk-off home run from the same game, the NLCS Game 6: Bottom 9th inning, where the Astros won the pennant from the Cardinals, and a short bit of Biggio's Hit By Pitch record tied and broken (no hit #2700). Together, the extras were all well received, providing a better look at some of the highlights of the season that might've been too long to match the pacing of the montage of the show. I suppose a few more highlights covered in depth would've been better but that's what fans want; more, longer, and better.
Final Thoughts: 2005 Houston Astros: The Championship Season will appeal to fans of major league baseball and the Astros more than anyone else although the sense of excitement conveyed by the editing, the interviews, and the clips of specific games all added up to a good time. If any of the facts are mixed up, remember that I'm not exactly known as a huge sports fan, so feel free to email me with corrections and additions worth mentioning. In general though, it looked and sounded good with enough material to keep many fans happy for a short period of time as they reminisce about the season that almost wasn't.