The Pistol - The Birth of a Legend
VCI // G // $19.99 // November 8, 2005
Review by John Sinnott | posted November 18, 2005
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The Movie:

Pete Maravich was a record breaking basketball player and is a member of the Basketball Hall of fame.  During his college years at LSU, "Pistol" Pete averaged over 40 points a game, and his NCAA record for most points in a season (1,381) still stands.  In 1991, a biopic was made of this basketball great but it was a little different than one would expect.  Instead of covering his glory days or his climb to the top, The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend shows a year in Pete's life while he was in 8th grade.  The year that he decided that he wanted to devote his life to basketball.

Set in 1959, Pete (Adam Guier) is a short scrawny kid who idolizes his father, one time pro player and now coach of the Clemson basketball team Press Maravich (Nick Benedict).  Press really wants his only son to follow in his footsteps and has been drilling the young Maravich since he was 5.  Pete loves it.  He's a gym rat, sneaking out of class to practice and carrying a ball around with him wherever he goes.

When the varsity coach sees his dedication, he gives the kid a spot on the team, even though he's only in 8th grade.  The other players resent him since he's so young, and hate him since he's so good.  The worst hazing comes from the star player of the team Buddy (Buddy Petrie) who never misses a chance to tease the prodigy.  Even though he shines in practice, Pete spends the games sitting on the bench.  With the older kids hassling him and his hard work seemingly resulting in nothing, Pete has to search his soul and decide just how badly he wants to play basketball.

I'm not a basketball fan.  I just never got the appeal of the game, so I wasn't really expecting much from this film.  A biopic of a player I never even heard of couldn't be too interesting.  I was pleasantly surprised though.  The this movie is entertaining and fun, and it's easy to like the character of young Pete.

Sports has a lot of drama built into it and so does this film.  The most engaging scenes take place off the court though, with Pete trying to come to terms with his teammates, please his father, and follow his own path.  There are several memorable moments in the film, such as the dramatic scene when Pete walks back on the court after being knocked out in a particularly rough game.

There were a couple of aspects of the film that didn't work very well however.  The orchestral background music was manipulative and overdone.  The music would swell whenever a climax was coming and it was a little too much.  There were also a couple of montage scenes showing the team or Pistol practicing which were set to late 80's generic rock tunes.  That really ruined the 1959 feel of the film and just didn't fit.

The movie is based on real events, but it is dramatized to a large extent, maybe a little too much.  Parts of the film come across like a Disney film where everything is wrapped up neatly in the last reel.  Some of the plot complications were resolved in a way that was too tidy and these didn't ring true.  The way Buddy and Pete's differances are resolved at the end is a good example of this.

This is the only film appearance of the star Adam Guier.  It's not too surprising.  As an actor, he was mediocre at best.  There were several times when he wasn't able to sell his lines, and a few scenes that he looked like someone acting rather than just a person on screen.  The thing that did make him great for the role was his ability to handle a basketball.  He was able to preform a lot of flourishes that were quite impressive to my untrained eye.  He dribbled the ball while riding his bike, while walking on a beam of a railroad track, hitting each crossbeam as it came by and even dribbled it with his knees.  That made the film a lot of fun to watch.

Nick Benedict does a great job as Press Maravich though.  He was perfect for the role, giving his character a tough but pragmatic exterior and yet still showing that he truly loved his son.  I though some of his scenes were the best in the movie, and found him to be a little more interesting that Pistol Pete.

The DVD:


This DVD has a 5.1 mix in English, in addition to a stereo Spanish track.   For a dialog based movie, they made good use of the full soundstage.  Some of the basketball games were mixed very nicely with the sounds coming from all corners of the room, but it was never overt and flashy.  They wisely decided to go for a more subtle mix and it was effective.


The widescreen anamorphic image looked about average for a movie this old.  Filmed in 35mm, the movie has a bit of grain in a few scenes, and was a tad soft, but otherwise looked good.  The colors were strong and the blacks were sufficiently dark.  Some details were lost in dark areas, but this was minor.


This DVD has a good set of extras that accompany the feature film.  There is a commentary by the producers of the film, and it's clear from their talk that they are big fans of Pete Maravich.  They talk about how the movie was filmed, and give some interesting anecdotes about how they cut costs and created some of the scenes.  They also talk about basketball a lot, naturally, naming the shots that are taken and referring to Pete, whom they both met, in glowing terms.

There is a scrolling screen of trivia about Pete and his records which last for four minutes, a listing of his sports records, as well as a 15 minute making of documentary and a 10 minute reel of deleted scenes and bloopers.

Final Thoughts:

This is a fun family movie.  The film is engrossing, even for someone like myself who has no interest in basketball and never even heard of Maravich before popping this disc in.  The message that you can achieve much more then you can imagine if you only apply yourself in a dedicated fashion is good but they don't pound you over the head with it.  A more enjoyable film than I was expecting, it is recommended.

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