Disney / Buena Vista | 2004 | 135 mins | Rated PG

Given the way the world is today, memories of the Soviet Union as a superpower and the Cold War are beginning to fade, in favor of a host of new (and old) international concerns. However, it wasn’t that long ago that the Soviet Union was a foe in more ways than one. Until the breakup of the U.S.S.R., fitness and athletics was viewed as a kind of state religion and millions of people took part in an elaborate system of sports training and rewards. Like several other Communist countries, the U.S.S.R.saw athletic achievement as a useful political tool. Through the years, the Russians dominated international competitions; particularly the Olympics. At the 1976 Winter Olympics held in Innsbruck, Austria, the U.S.S.R. team won the Gold Medal in ice hockey and the U.S. team finished fifth.

MiracleMiracle begins in 1979; the United States was in the midst of a gas shortage due to a huge oil crisis. At the same time, University of Minnesota hockey coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) was selected as head coach of the U.S. Olympic hockey team. His selection was due in large part to a plan he brought US Hockey Board members surrounding building a team, a plan that could have been described as “Russian” in its thinking. Instead of bringing in star players, he wanted to focus on building on a strong collective group, which would result in a group of guys who could play effectively as a team.

From the start, Brooks was a determined man. Not only did he believe that the United States could put up a respectable showing in Lake Placid but they could play with the Russians. Brooks selects a preliminary roster of 26; later to be cut to a final roster of 20. These college students are quickly introduced to Brooks’ exhaustive training regimen. The team goes through an exhausting conditioning drill (which became known as “Herbies”), in which they sprint together back and forth across the ice, over and over. When Brooks notices the players are distracted by pretty girls in the stands and not playing up to their potential during an exhibition game against Norway, he makes them run “Herbies” long after the rink lights have been turned off.

The team is made up of goaltender Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill), offenceman Rob McClanahan (Nathan West), right wing Mike Eruzione (Patrick O’Brien Demsey), blueliner Jack O’Callahan (Michael Mantenuto), left wing Dave Silk (Bobby Hanson), centre Mark Johnson (Eric Peter-Kaiser), and defenceman Mike Ramsey (Joseph Cure), among others. Brooks’ tough, abrasive style alienates the young men at first but when his methods start to result in wins that alienation turns into respect.

Directed by Gavin O’Connor, Miracle avoids the clichés so many sports films seem to be full of. Presented with the unflinching authenticity of an engrossing documentary, O’Connor’s film, a multi-character study is more than a rousing drama, it’s a genuinely inspirational tale of perseverance and determination. Whether you’re drawn in by Eric Guggenheim’s masterfully constructed screenplay, assisted by the entire cast’s convincing performances, or reassured by O’Connor’s decisive directorial hand, Brooks’ story will get under your skin and work its magic.

Perhaps most importantly, Kurt Russell is allowed to play Brooks, flaws and all. He was utterly devoted to his sport. Russell’s revealing scenes with Patricia Clarkson (briefly but deftly portraying Herb’s wife, Patty) are moving and effective; his measured coaching and his locker-room antics made the hair on the back of neck stand up. Russell plays Brooks as the passionate man he seemed to be; that allows the film to speak to anyone regardless of how familiar they are with hockey or the history of the US/Russian Olympic rivalry. Miracle is truly one of the great sports films.

arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that proficiently captures O’Connor’s intentions. Colors are muted but stable, skintones reserved but natural, shadows aggressive but elemental and contrast stark but comfortable. Detail waxes and wanes with every camera move but the varying softness and coarseness of each scene suits the documentary-like atmosphere of the film, enhancing the director’s on-the-fly, handheld aesthetic. Fine textures are crisp and foreground edges are well defined (without the help of any significant artificial sharpening). There isn’t any substantial artifacting, banding, crush, or source noise. If there are any negatives, one might say delineation suffers a bit too much at times, and wavering creeps into a few rinkside shots — both of which are fairly negligible. All things considered, the Blu-ray edition of Miracle looks amazing.

Disney’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is fabulous. Whether sending a clattering puck skittering across the soundfield or filling your home theater with the deafening roar of an impassioned Olympic crowd, the mix carefully utilizing every speaker to create an immersive experience worthy of high praise. Ambience is a regular player in each scene, interior acoustics are accurate and astute, and reliable LFE support infuses every voice and effect with weight and dimension. Miracle’s DTS-HD MA track not only rounds out an excellent AV presentation, it stands head and shoulders above the majority of sports-genre audio mixes on the market.

Disney ports over the special features from the standard-definition set, presenting an adequate yet superficial look at the production and the historical context.

Filmmakers Commentary: Director Gavin O’Connor, editor John Gilroy, and cinematographer Dan Stoloff discuss casting, rehearsals, aesthetic choices and the challenges of shooting a hockey game.

From Hockey to Hollywood (SD, 28 minutes): This documentary focuses on the unknown actors and hockey players O’Connor tapped to fill key roles in the film.

The Making of Miracle (SD, 18 minutes): A standard EPK that still manages to inject some valuable information into the package. Specifically, it delves into the filmmakers’ attempts to stack the deck when it came to creating each hockey sequence.

ESPN Roundtable (SD, 41 minutes): Host Linda Cohn interviews actor Kurt Russell, the Olympic team’s real-life forward Mike Eruzione, goaltender Jim Craig, and left wing Buzz Schneider. They talk about coach Herb Brooks, their experiences, and the film itself.

First Impressions (SD, 21 minutes): This fantastic sit-down between coach Brooks and the filmmakers is a must see featurette. The audio/video quality of the piece is problematic but it’s a great addition to the package.

The Sound of Miracle (SD, 11 minutes): A surprisingly engrossing featurette that looks at the film’s sound design, the complexities of ice recordings, and the need for authentic effects and atmosphere.

Outtakes (SD, 5 minutes): Cute but short.

• This disc is also D-Box enabled, for those that have the equipment.

“Your Time” from Miracle

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