For those unfamiliar with Miracle, the story starts in the summer of 1979, when the United States was in the midst of a gas shortage and a general socioeconomic malaise. The population could have used an uplifting tale. The film follows Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell, Death Proof), who is selected as the head coach of the U.S. Olympic hockey team. His selection was due in large part because of a plan he brought US Hockey Board members surrounding building a team, a plan that could have been described as "Russian" in its thinking. His plan was to not bring in star players, and focus instead on building on a strong collective group, which would allow the team could play for him (and each other) more effectively.
A little history sidebar here: the US team won ice hockey gold in 1960, an Olympiad which ironically saw Brooks being the last man cut from the playing roster. Since then, the Russians won gold it every Olympics to that point. A further illustration of this was their sound thrashing of a group of NHL All-Stars prior to the 1980 Games. However, the team had a wealth of time to build team chemistry; many of the players on the Soviet team had been playing together as amateurs since the early '70s, and were arguably among the best in the world.
Brooks was determined to not only put a respectable showing in, but believed his tea, could play with the Russians. He assembled a group of 26 college players of moderate skill, who ran up against Brooks' exhaustive training regimen. A lackluster performance in an exhibition in Norway forced Brooks to even conduct grueling skating drills long after the rink lights had been shut off. Then, three days before the Games began, the Russians drubbed the United States by a 10-3 result in a pre-tournament game. The team came into the games on an emotional low, to say the least.
However, in the two weeks following, the team did better than the public could have expected, salvaging a last-minute draw against Sweden and defeating Czechoslovakia, two well-known hockey countries. And with their win over the Russians to advance to (and eventually win) the Gold Medal in hockey, a group of college kids from Minnesota and Massachusetts, including a goalie (Jim Craig) playing in honor of his deceased mother, and a captain (Mike Eruzione) who was almost cut from the team weeks before the games started, captured the heart of a nation, making this perhaps the greatest sports story of the last half century.
Russell's portrayal of Brooks was much better than I anticipated, despite the fact that he overdid the Minnesotan inflection at times. Credit has to be given for adapting to Brooks' demeanor, which was generally soft-spoken except when rallying the players with his fiery temper. Meanwhile, the supporting performances by Noah Emmerich (The Truman Show) as assistant coach Craig Patrick, along with Patricia Clarkson (The Green Mile) who plays Brooks' wife - and who tries to remind Herb of his family obligations - are capable and fit nicely with Russell's portrayal.
With Gavin O'Connor's (Pride and Glory) direction and Eric Guggenheim's screenplay, this movie is more about the quest than the individuals, which makes the story better than I expected. At the very least, it's better than the hastily produced and pretty cheap Miracle on Ice television movie, which came out months after the Games, and featured Steve Guttenberg as Craig, and Karl Malden as Brooks.
When a film about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team was originally announced, there was the possibility that it could have turned out to be excessively sentimental. And while there was some emotion, I was impressed that the film focused most of the attention around Brooks, which was a natural and effective way to tell this incredible story. You know that coming in, Miracle is going to pull at your heart strings, and it does a pretty effective job at doing just that.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Using an AVC MPEG-4 encode on a 2.40:1 1080p high definition presentation, Miracle certainly looks good for a film set in the late '70s and early 1980. Background detail and clarity are some of the most impressive features of the production; you can point out a lot of smaller things in the crowd shots. Blacks looked good and flesh tones are reproduced accurately from the earlier presentation I saw on standard definition. The red in the Russian jerseys and blue in the Americans stands out nicely without oversaturation. During some of the game and practice sequences, the image tends to suffer from bouts of softness, but this is an otherwise solid job from Disney.
The DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 surround track is a nice choice for Disney to make. Because the filmmakers allowed people on the ice to shoot the action, you feel as if you're right there, being thrown into the boards with Eruzione and Dave Christian. The clarity is surprising when you hear the pucks hit goalposts, or any time there's action on the ice. Body checks against the boards seem to possess a bit of low-end sound to them, and skaters seemingly come from every direction, in every speaker. Dialogue is also sounds well-balanced and strong, and the soundtrack requires very little adjustment, unless you don't care about the neighbors. Disney has quietly put together an excellent audio presentation for Miracle.
Disney ports over the extras from the standard-definition set, presenting an adequate yet superficial look at the production and the historical context. The extras start with a commentary track from O'Connor, editor John Gilroy and director of photography Daniel Stoloff who discuss the production aspects of the film. Fortunately, they still have enough time for some jokes and horseplay. They talk about some of the shots for the film, some production stories, and talk about what may have been a lot of deleted footage, none of which seemed to make it to the disc. Why talk about deleted footage if it's not going to be included?
From there, we go to a making of featurette (17:52) that is your usual EPK-length look at the film covering things like casting, the production and Isham's score, but there isn't anything too interesting here. "From Hockey to Hollywood: The Actors' Journey" (27:31) looks at the unknown faces in the film, and how they landed their roles. Like some of the other material on the discs, this just seemed to run a bit long. Next up is a roundtable discussion with members of the actual 1980 team, including Eruzione, Craig and Buzz Schneider, along with Russell. Moderated by ESPN anchor Linda Cohn (41:08), the discussion features reminiscing of the experience, something. This adds to the production aspects of the film with showing you the reality of the players' experiences.
Next is the "Sound of Miracle" (10:24), a featurette on the sound design for the film. You see the type of equipment used to capture the sound for the film, and you also see a scene with various audio components presented in isolation, before hearing the final mix. A small portion of the segment addresses the score of the film, but I feel that this may have been the most impressive piece in the set. "First Impressions: Herb Brooks with Kurt Russell and the Filmmakers" (21:13), is a handheld camera piece with director introduction, as includes Brooks' reflections on those days, his coaching philosophies for his team, and how he motivated certain players. The video quality is almost unwatchable and the audio is bad, but its inclusion to the set is thoughtful. Completing the disc is an outtake reel (4:52) that is pretty funny. The disc is also D-Box enabled for those who have the equipment.
In Miracle, you get a heartwarming story that stays pretty close to the facts without a lot of dramatic liberty. Technically the film looks (and sounds) better than I thought it would, and represents a clear upgrade from the standard definition disc. Fans of sports film should add this to their collection, and those who currently own the disc can safely double-dip for the lossless soundtrack.