These days, it's a struggle to make your sports movie stick out. To make it relevant, it's even harder. We Are Marshall makes it through the first hour before collapsing into sports movie hell, but it's a strong hour that's worthy and notable.
We Are Marshall concerns the Thundering Herd's tragic plane crash in 1970 that killed all aboard, from coaches and players down to fans. The visuals are stunning, and the film wisely avoids showing the crash itself. Shots of the plane taking off are superb, and subsequent efforts as it flies overhead are incredible in their foreshadowing. The chaos on the ground following the inevitable is likewise outstanding.
Emotional impact cannot be denied as the town struggles with the repercussions of this event. Performances are strong, and character development is properly paced. Matthew McConaughey takes over the head coaching job as Jack Lengyel, a quirky yet intelligent coach who must handle the players and lasting memories of November 14.
His introduction is timed perfectly, arriving exactly when the film needed a lighter touch after wearing down its audience beforehand. The transition from deep drama to football movie is handled wonderfully, slowly pulling the audience away from a focus on the crash and into the game.
Unfortunately, it's about football. That means movie fans need to trudge through the countless generic scenes of the coach yelling at his players, the team fights/dissension, and the thrown together on-field squad everyone is counting on. Likewise, you'll end up with the unbearably stereotypical "last play," filled with slow motion, an impossible number of lineman dodged by the quarterback, and quick shots of the coaches staring in awe as the on-field theatrics play out.
It's been done hundreds if not thousands of times. It didn't need to happen again. At a little over two hours, the game sequences could have been mere minutes long and it wouldn't have destroyed any of the emotional pull built in the first hour. This football movie doesn't even need football. There's nothing special in terms of how the games were filmed or presented.
In addition, the players themselves are left completely undeveloped. Only one is given any significant screen time, and it leads to yet another clichéd storyline (true or not). Others are tossed onto the field and it's up to the audience to piece everything together.
While the clichés drag We Are Marshall to the limits if your patience, the narrative and respect for the material is constantly evident. This is an emotional recreation of a difficult period for the school. As a movie, it only manages to get things about half right.
Video quality is all over the place for this DVD release. Opening scenes prior to the crash are layered with an artificial grain, causing massive compression problems. Post-disaster, the grain is lifted yet the heavy artifacts remain. Color is bright and rich, with deep blacks in all scenes. Contrast is strong.
There's decent crowd audio to be had here utilizing the sound field to immerse the viewer in the game. Bass adds to the impact of the hits. The soundtrack provides decent accompaniment, though it tends to become lost in the mix.
Extras amount to almost nothing aside from a decent documentary, Legendary Coaches. While it features the real Coach Lengyel, its relevance to the film's story is fleeting. It's a 37-minute effort focusing on what coaches across all sports do to motivate players.
The only thing to play with in the menu beyond that is an embarrassing advertisement for Marshall University. While it lasts only one minute, it cheapens the movie and the DVD. It's incredible that space was wasted on something like this and nothing was given to the team that inspired the story. This is shameless promotion.
Other DVDs are available that focus specifically on the events featured. It's inexcusable that this disc is disrespectful enough not to include anything on the events that inspired it, not to mention the story made Warner Bros. $43 million. Warner released Return of the Thundering Herd, a 44 minute documentary distributed alongside the theatrical run of the film on DVD. It's worth tracking down, but it should have been here.