The Greatest Game Ever Played

As noted in another blog, I've been having fun lately with unexpectedly good movies that fell through the critical and audience cracks during their theatrical releases. And The Greatest Game Ever Played certainly surprised me as much as any of them.

Let's face it, though. We're all jaded by underdog sports movies. It's one of Hollywood's most bankable genres, and they've banked it right into clich. Add to that the fact that movies about golf have never been big hits (The Legend of Bagger Vance, a superb film with an A-List cast, is a case in point).

If you can get around all that, however, The Greatest Game Ever Played, directed by Bill Paxton, is a compelling and ultimately very moving film. It's also based on the true story of an amateur golfer from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks, Francis Ouimet, who, improbably, is entered in a U.S. Open golf tournament. How it all turns out is in the historical record, but in the (likely) event you didn't see it in your 1912 New York Times, the movie will be more fun if I don't provide any further details.

But I will tell you that it's a great ride. Yes, there's a bit too much class snobbery shtick thrown in for dramatic effect, too many already overdone shots of us hitching a ride on a gold ball in flight and other camera tricks that were used a little more discretely in Bagger Vance. But these do help to add excitement to a game that isn't particularly exciting for spectators. But golf is much like baseball in that its thrills are generated more by anticipation, tension, and release than by continuous action. I think there's also an analogy to good movie scripts in that observation.

The movie begins slowly, and I wasn't sure that its young lead, Shia LaBeouf, could pull it off. But he did, and by the end I was moved by the richness of all the performances in the film, his included.

This is a solid video transfer. It isn't pin sharp, but because its slight softness appears appropriate to the film's mood it's not at all distracting. The same goes for the subdued color palette, with its noticeable sepia shading obviously designed to enhance the film's period feel. It works. The video also has a convincing depth, good shadow detail, and no obvious artifacts. Edge enhancement was never a distraction.

The audio is equally good. Brian Tyler 's music is more than a bit reminiscent of James Horner's, with its sweeping themes, but it's nicely recorded and adds a useful measure of excitement to the film. While there's little here besides dialogue, music, and crowd noises (plus a few dressy audio effects to enhance the camera and CGI gymnastics mentioned earlier) the overall combination is impressive.

And don't miss the special features on this Disney release. They provide background not only on the making of the film, but on the real characters on which it's based.

Video reviewed on a Yamaha DPX-1300 DLP projector, 78-inch wide Stewart Studiotek 130 screen, and Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player set to 1080i. Audio evaluated via the player's digital output to an Anthem D1 pre-pro, Proceed AMP5 amplifier, and Revel F52/C52/M22/B15 loudspeakers.