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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Believe In Miracle

Got to catch a pre-release screening of the upcoming movie Miracle, about arguably the most unforgettable moment in sports history, the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team's defeat of the Soviet Red Army team. Being a Disney employee has its perks. So, with thanks to Uncle Walt, here's what I thought of the movie.

First of all, it's the kind of story that would be far too cheesy to swallow were it not for the fact that it actually happened. Like The Rookie, another Disney true-story inspirational sports flick, Miracle's strength lies in the fact that the movie's plot hasn't been changed much from the events upon which it is based. It doesn't need to be.

The movie has another link to The Rookie - writer Mike Rich, who wrote the screenplay for The Rookie as well as having a hand in Eric Guggenheim's script for Miracle.

Kurt Russell does an excellent job as Herb Brooks, the no-nonsense head coach who took a group of college hockey players who were rivals and united them through pushing them mercilessly. He has you believing his character, with the exception of his Minnesota accent, which sometimes seems a little forced.

As for the players themselves, they are what really makes the movie work. All of them are no-name actors, and they all play their roles very well, particularly Patrick O'Brien Demsey (Mike Eruzione), Eddie Cahill (Jim Craig), and Michael Mantenuto (Jack O'Callahan). Although only it's only necessary to know a handful of them as far as their contributions to the plot go, each one brings more to the table than an extra would.

There are several good lines throughout the movie - in more ways than one. One scene that had the theater laughing was when Brooks decides to keep three skaters on a line together. The three skaters, who become known as the Coneheads, after the Saturday Night Live skits of the era, are kind of a toned-down version of the Hanson Brothers from the hockey classic Slap Shot.

Another good exchange comes between Brooks and Jim Craig, the goalie who has just had a rough outing. When Brooks threatens to put the backup in, Craig tells him, "That's my net!" To which Brooks responds, "They just scored 10 goals. It's everyone's net."

The hockey scenes themselves are done very convincingly, a trend that seems to be picking up in sports movies. The famous Olympic showdown with the Russians has tons of action footage, all very well-done. Even the minute details of the game are replicated, down to player substitutions and the shirt and jacket that Brooks wears on the bench.

There is also plenty of detail that can be appreciated by hardcore hockey fans, including players wearing their college teams' practice jerseys in the Olympic tryouts (Terriers, Gophers, UNH, and UMD are just some of the sweaters you'll see.)

Also, Al Michaels and Ken Dryden (Cornell '69), who called the game in 1980, lend their voices to the movie, complete with Michaels's famous call that inspired the title of the film. An added bonus is the national anthem before the U.S.S.R. game, sung brilliantly by Lauren Hart, whose voice Flyers fans will recognize. For my money, she sings the best anthem you'll hear anywhere.

I wondered how the filmmakers would handle the ending of the story, because the game against the Soviet Union was actually the semifinal, not the gold medal game. Without giving away too much, let's say that the ending does a good job of carrying the momentum from the win over the Russians through the movie's finish.

One part of the movie that was slightly unneccessary, although always a presence in these types of movies, was Brooks's strained relationship with his wife. The tension in the coach's family life doesn't play with the plot line of his hockey team, and could have been dropped altogether, although it wouldn't have left room for the standard Disney female romantic lead.

Overall, Miracle is a movie certainly worth seeing in the theater. It premieres on Friday, Feb. 6, but there is a sneak preview in theaters on Sat., Jan. 31. I'm sure the DVD, when it comes out, will be loaded with great bonus material on the actual story of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team.

Is it my favorite movie of all time, like I predicted it would be? I won't say that it is - yet - although I can say there isn't any movie I'd like to see more than this one. It's a movie that makes you feel good, and is worth watching over and over again. Because of the inspirational story, Miracle will never get stale, no matter how many times you watch it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to look for Mike Eruzione replica jerseys on eBay.

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