Although I've never been a fan of sports (I would rather watch a test pattern on TV than any sporting event, and being in Sacramento I simply don't care whether the Kings stay or go), I usually find movies about sports entertaining. I can't quite explain it myself, but it could be that I find enough interesting elements outside of the featured sport, or maybe in the movie world I can get caught up in the excitement in a way that I can't in the sporting world- usually sports movies have the game-playing scenes punctuated with energetic music, quick cutting and crowd noise that you don't hear in real life. Whatever the reason, Thunderstruck caught my attention enough to check out, and sure enough I enjoyed it.
Our hero is 16-year-old Brian (Taylor Gray), who loves the game of basketball but just doesn't have the skill- he can't even reliably toss his trash into a wastebasket without missing. He does however earn enough sympathy from the coach (Jim Belushi) of his high school's basketball team to be the towel-boy for the players, but they laugh at his ineptitude and give him the nickname "Hangtime". Brian's dad (played by William Ragsdale, whom you might remember as Charley Brewster in the original Fright Night and its sequel) takes him to an Oklahoma City Thunder game, since Brian idolizes player Kevin Durant (who plays himself here.) Brian gets picked to play in the halftime free-throw contest and messes up, but on the way back to his seat he runs into Durant and remarks "I wish I had your talent." Durant replies "I wish I could give it to you." Suddenly there's a flash of thunder, and the next day Brian is suddenly really good at basketball, almost as if he did get Durant's talent. Meanwhile, Durant suddenly can't play to save his life. Brian wins a spot on the basketball team and becomes the new star player while winning the affections of his crush Isabel (Tristin Mays), but gets a little too full of himself after a while. Interspersed with the scenes of Brian's rise to fame is Kevin Durant acting clumsy at practice and on the court (shades of the all-star basketball players stripped of their talent in Space Jam), with sportscasters shaking their heads and proclaiming him a joke. Durant's manager Alan (Brandon T. Jackson) sets out to figure out what the problem is.
"Family" movies like this are one of my big guilty pleasures. Thunderstruck features several of my favorite family-film conventions, including all the kids and their families living in big, clean and well-kept houses in the suburbs, and the public schools also extremely clean and not devoid of any funding- this one even has flat-screen TVs in the lunchroom, with big "Do Not Touch" labels on them, where the kids can plug in their portable video-shooting devices, as one does to humiliate Brian early in the movie with footage of him messing up his game. The kids at least keep their insults PG-rated, compared to the often NC-17-rated speech of high school kids in the real world.
Thunderstruck is rather predictable, but what can I say- it worked for me. Taylor Gray makes Brian likeable, and despite my lack of interest in basketball I still enjoying watching his rise to the top. Kevin Durant's acting isn't so great (his performance mainly speaks as "I couldn't turn down what they paid me for this") but given what he's reduced to for much of the story he takes it like a good sport. Jim Belushi as "Coach Z" isn't given a whole lot to do other than yell stereotypical "Let's go!" lines at the team, but there's a fun running joke with him telling tall tales- for example in one scene he says "I was the best player on my high school team until Michael Jordan transferred to my school," then quickly admits he just made that up.
Shot on actual film and presented in full-screen 16x9 encoded in AVC format, Thunderstruck looks great on Blu-Ray. Most scenes are sharply focused, showing every bit of detail (including a few instances of camera equipment and crew members visible in reflective objects) with just the right amount of film grain. Colors are kept to a natural level, with no apparent under- or overemphasizing. This is one of those Blu-Ray discs where you can find yourself just amazed at how great the picture looks, regardless of the merits of the actual movie, and certainly reinforces what makes Blu-Ray so great in the first place.
A standard DVD is also included, and the picture doesn't fare nearly as well here. As is usually the case when compared to the Blu-Ray, the picture is soft and not nearly as detailed.
Audio on the Blu-Ray is in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and does great justice to the material. Dialogue is always clear, with good use of channel separation including lots of crowd noise and echoes in the surrounds during the game scenes. The standard DVD is in 5.1 Dolby Digital and also sounds very good.
Both discs include English SDH subtitles, as well as Spanish and French subtitles.
Three short behind-the-scenes featurettes (in HD on the BD, only two of which are included on the DVD) give the usual cast and crew insight on the production, but don't really add anything special. An additional extra exclusive to the BD is "Tristan Mays' Video Blog" following her around the set. Both discs also include four brief deleted scenes (in HD, with 2-channel sound).
Both discs open with trailers for A Christmas Story 2 (16x9 HD with 5.1 audio on the Blu-Ray, 4x3 letterboxed with 2-channel sound on the DVD) and The Hobbit (16x9 with 2-channel audio) along with an UltraViolet promo. The DVD also includes two video game promos (in 4x3 letterbox with 2-channel audio)- "Scribblenauts Unlimited" and "Injustice: Gods Among Us."
Thunderstruck may not be a great work of art, but it's certainly a pleasant and fun diversion. You can't help but root for Brian, and the Blu-Ray's technical quality will keep a smile on your face as well.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.