Loosely based on a true story, Hoosiers tells the tale of a miniscule town in Indiana with an equally tiny high school basketball team: with a total enrollment of 64, their eight-man squad includes at least one player whose role is just to be a warm body. Nonetheless, the Huskers are the apple of the town's eye, and when the volatile Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) comes in as the new coach with new ideas and steely determination to run the team his way, the stage is set for a confrontation.
While the film's overt storyline seems fairly trivial, about the success or failure of a tiny high school basketball team, director David Anspaugh and scriptwriter Angelo Pizzo succeed in wrapping the story around several timeless and thought-provoking themes. Among these we have the characterization of Coach Dale, a man who is on his last chance and knows it; the question of whether it's right to try to win at all costs, and if not, where to draw the line; the exploration of personal conflicts and power struggles, which in this case center around the coach's "new" methods, but can crop up in any place and any situation; and an exploration of the idea that choosing to live out one's life in a small town is an indication of personal failure. These various story elements are worked into and around the main storyline ("will the Huskers win?") without calling attention to themselves; all in all, it's a well-crafted film.
Hoosiers undeniably showcases one of Gene Hackman's best performances. Hackman simply "is" the character of Coach Norman Dale, and he carries the entire film on the basis of his performance. Hackman's performance is powerful yet restrained; he conveys desperation, frustration, excitement, and affection at various points in the movie without ever going over the top as another actor might very easily have done. Even if you don't have any interest in the subject of basketball, it's well worth watching Hoosiers for Hackman alone. Dennis Hopper turns in a strong, Oscar-nominated supporting performance as "Shooter" Flatch, the alcoholic father of one of the basketball players.
It's abundantly clear that the young men who play the basketball team were, in fact, very good basketball players who also happen to turn in good minor supporting performances as actors. The actual basketball scenes in the film are quite impressive; it looks to me that the director turned his players loose to "play ball," filmed the results, and then cut and arranged the material to get the most exciting results. The result is scenes that are both perfectly natural-looking and very exciting to watch, even for someone like me who's not a follower of the sport.
Admittedly, Hoosiers isn't perfect. The "obligatory romance" comes off as exactly that: forced and unbelievable, though fortunately it occupies a minimum of screen time. The ending also leaves a lot of loose ends that I wanted to see handled; I think that the film ended up taking a more "Hollywood" track than it needed to, and that it could have been more powerful as a film if it had taken a few more risks with its storyline.
Hoosiers is far from MGM's best effort in terms of transfer quality... and certainly also in terms of quality control, for reasons explain in a moment. The non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen image shows the results of heavy compression in the appearance of compression artifacts, evidently resulting from the film being made to fit on only one side of the disc (as the other side contains the pan-and-scan version). The image is also heavily edge-enhanced. Otherwise, the picture of Hoosiers is satisfactory, with fairly lively colors, natural skin tones, and satisfactory contrast. On the basis of these observations about the image, I've rated the video quality as three stars.
However, quality control seems to have been a major issue with this disc. The Hoosiers DVD shows a significant incidence of digital artifacts apparently caused by the disc not being read correctly by the DVD player. I'm not talking about a touch of mild pixellation, but large, visible lines and blocky spots appearing in the image. I've only had something like this happen once before with my DVD player, with a badly scratched rental disc; in the case of Hoosiers, the disc was pristine, without so much as a fingerprint.
The digital artifacts that I observed were permanent, as well: when I stopped the movie, removed and re-inserted the disc, and played the same chapter again, the identical artifacts appeared at the same moment as before. Fortunately, the film remained watchable, as the incidence of these artifacts was heaviest at the beginning of the film and tapered off later in the film.
I haven't included this problem in my rating of the video portion of this DVD, as I couldn't determine if they were an issue with the transfer of Hoosiers in general, or a quality-control issue with my particular copy of the disc. Quality control does seem to have been a problem: in addition to the issue with the digital artifacts, the disc also had its labels reversed, so that the widescreen side was labeled "standard" and vice versa.
The Dolby 5.1 track for the film is a disappointment. The music and dialogue soundtracks are badly matched in volume, so that when the music track plays by itself, it's annoyingly loud, and when the scene changes to mainly dialogue, the sound is much lower and also has a muffled quality to it. Despite the 5.1 channels, there's no use of surround effects to speak of.
Given that half of the DVD is wasted on a pan-and-scan version of the film, it's not surprising that the only extra is a theatrical trailer.
Hoosiers is a very entertaining film that has not been given the DVD treatment that it deserves. If you can find it at a cheap price, it's definitely worth picking up on the basis of the quality of the movie, as it will deliver a guaranteed evening's entertainment. However, MGM really ought to come up with a new release of the film that resolves the issues relating to image and sound quality on the current release.