Sony Pictures // PG // $28.95 // September 9, 2008
Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 7, 2008
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All Rudy Ruettiger (Sean Astin) has ever wanted is to play football for Notre Dame.

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dream -- that one, singular desire -- has defined his life. Rudy doesn't come from a wealthy family. His teachers in high school shrug him off as a slow, dimwitted dreamer, and they're far too busy sneering at him to pick up on the fact that this well-meaning kid is dyslexic. Rudy's a small kid with a light build and no real athletic prowess. An acceptance letter to Notre Dame at all seems like a brass ring that's hopelessly far out of reach, but plowing his way into one of the most prestigious and legendary football programs in the country...? No, Rudy isn't a high school football hero and doesn't have any family money to buy his way in, but what he does have is heart.

Rudy almost always claws its way into lists of the best sports movies of all time, but at least to me, it's not a film about football; it's a love story. It's just that instead of Rudy doting over some foxy brunette, he's devoted -- body and soul -- to Notre Dame football. He's mocked and ridiculed every step of the way, dismissed by his father (Ned Beatty) as being better off toiling away at the local steel mill for five bucks an hour than to bother with any college, let alone the Fighting Irish. He keeps squirreling away his money while his best friend (Christopher Reed) eggs him on, reminding Rudy time and again that dreams are the only things that make life worthwhile. When Pete dies a fiery death at the mill, Rudy decides the best way to honor his memory is to make that dream come true. With nothing more than a bus ticket, a duffel bag, and a dream, Rudy makes his way to South Bend and enrolls in a junior college so that he can one day transfer to Notre Dame. Rudy is so determined that he goes ahead and introduces himself to Coach Parseghian (Jason Miller), joins up with a booster club despite not actually being a student yet, and befriends one of the groundskeepers at Knute Rockne Stadium (Charles S. Dutton) who gives the kid so hard on his luck a cot to sleep on at night.

Rudy doesn't wistfully look at Notre Dame as some sort of dream; to him, it's an inevitability, and his unwavering determination pays off, even scoring him a spot on the Fighting Irish's practice team. It's not likely that he'll ever play a game -- he's a glorified tackling dummy -- but Rudy drives himself to impossible lengths to help prepare the Fighting Irish when they take the field. Rudy allows himself to be beaten, battered, bruised, and bloodied for nearly two full years, all in the hopes that one day he'll be able to take the field in full dress and show his family that he really is part of this team. When Notre Dame's longtime coach steps aside, though, that dream starts to slip away...

Part of what's so charming about Rudy is that his dream is so modest. He doesn't fantasize about becoming some sort of football hero. He doesn't daydream about
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singlehandedly pulling off a win in a playoff game. He's not even trying to impress some childhood crush. All Rudy wants is to run through the tunnel with the rest of the team, even if all he does afterwards is sit on a bench. Sean Astin infuses this story of the real-life Rudy Ruettiger with just the right amount of pluck and wide-eyed innocence, and everything that's earned Rudy such a following over the past fifteen years rests on his shoulders. It would've been an entirely different movie -- and probably not a particularly memorable one -- without him. Sure, the sentimentality can be pretty heavy-handed -- there's even a slow clap when Rudy darts onto the field for one final practice -- but the schmaltz is part of what makes Rudy so endearing. Nearly every last Underdog Sports Movie cliché creeps in at least once, but Rudy does step away from convention in its final moments. The climax isn't meant to be the difference between a win or a loss for Notre Dame as a team; it's about a victory for Rudy Ruettiger himself, and it has nothing to do with what's plastered across the scoreboard.

Rudy is a sweetly inspirational movie about determination and the power of dreams. The screenplay by Hoosiers' Angelo Pizzo can be oversentimental and leans too heavily on formula, and those weaknesses become more and more glaring the more I watch it, but the movie's buoyed by an outstanding leading turn by Sean Astin, and its uplifting finale still leaves a smile beaming across my face. Recommended.

Video: Don't be turned off by the nostalgic glow of the first few minutes of Rudy. The soft, overcast opening may be underwhelming, but the definition and vibrancy of this Blu-ray disc's high definition video improve quite a bit once the movie flashes forward to Rudy's final months in high school. That's not to say that Rudy is a knockout on Blu-ray -- the image is still a bit softer than usual, particularly in wider shots, contrast is flat and lifeless, some edge enhancement infrequently creeps in, and its grainy texture starts to look awfully noisy when the lights are dialed down -- but for a lower profile catalog title, this disc looks alright. Rudy isn't marred by any visible wear or damage in the source, and the grainy texture hasn't been smeared away by heavy-handed noise reduction. Fine details in certain textures -- clothing, in particular -- really set this Blu-ray disc apart from the DVD. Not every movie is destined to dazzle in high definition, and all in all, Rudy looks perfectly fine.

Audio: Rudy sports a 16-bit Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, and for a remix of a 15 year old catalog title, it's not bad. There's a good bit of color in
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the surrounds, from light atmospherics like the howl of a wintery wind to the roar of the crowd in Knute Rockne Stadium. Outside of the stadium and the almost deafening steel mill, surround use is light but adequate. Considering that this is a movie where the title character is more or less a tackling dummy, I'm surprised by how lackluster the lower frequencies are. The subwoofer hardly ever roars to life, and the checks and tackles lack any real punch. Clarity and fidelity are both fine, although I wouldn't expect this Blu-ray disc to sound remarkably different from a DVD.

A French TrueHD 5.1 dub and subtitle streams in English (traditional and SDH) and French round out the audio options.

Extras: Not much. The lengthiest of the extras is "Rudy: The Real Story", a chat with the real-life Rudy Ruettiger. While it's nice to see the man the movie was based on featured like this, the interview itself is kind of a waste. It's basically just Rudy condensed down to 12 minutes, bogged down by clumsy narration and far, far too many clips from the movie. The interview sticks too closely to the skeleton of the film to offer any chance at real insight, although seeing how proud and misty-eyed Ruettiger gets when he touches on taking the field for the first time does make this featurette seem a bit more worthwhile. Also included are a dated, vintage promotional featurette (3 min.) and a minute long chat with Sean Astin about tackling such an inspirational and gruelingly physical role.

The only high definition extras are the usual Blu-ray promo reel and a plug for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The 'deluxe edition' DVD included an isolated score and a soundtrack CD, and neither of those have made it into this Blu-ray package.

Conclusion: Rudy is a giant bear hug of a film and one of the most sweetly inspirational sports movies ever made. I'll admit that watching Rudy too often has sapped away some of the magic, and the skeleton of the plot certainly doesn't veer all that far from the Plucky, Determined Underdog formula, but it's so charming and endearing that I can't help but recommend it. Rudy's release on Blu-ray isn't anything especially jaw-dropping, and it'd be a tough sell to casual fans who already own the movie on DVD. Still, for the uninitiated and those who haven't seen the film in years, Rudy comes Recommended.

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