[Moving picture of popcorn]

Laramie Movie Scope: Miracle

A very slick new version of the Miracle on Ice

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

February 7, 2004 -- “Miracle” is a slick new retelling of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team's improbable victory over the mighty Soviet Union team in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. This story of one of the greatest upsets in sports history was originally told in the “Miracle on Ice” made-for-TV movie which came out in 1981 starring the great Karl Malden as U.S. hockey coach Herb Brooks.

This new version of the story is as good, if not better than the original movie. While it does not have Malden, Kurt Russell gives perhaps his best performance ever as Brooks in the new film. Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson plays Brook's wife, Patti. While the original film used actual footage of the games, “Miracle” recreates all the hockey scenes, using real hockey players trained as actors, rather than trying to teach actors to skate. The skaters do a fine job both playing hockey and acting. The filmmakers even got skaters who looked like the original members of the hockey team. The skaters even came from the same parts of the country that the original skaters came from. A total of 133 plays from the original games are recreated in the film. The skaters underwent six weeks of training prior to filming the games. As a result, the hockey scenes, photographed by Dan Stoloff (“Tumbleweeds”) look great. The game sequences generate suspense and excitement, despite the fact we already know how most of them are going to turn out.

The hockey sequences were also filmed chronologically. This gives the movie a true sense of the skaters coming together as a team. A lot of time is spent in the movie on showing how Brooks trained the team and how his innovative strategies helped to beat the Soviets. It was not a miracle, in the strictest sense, the big win was the result of a lot of hard work and planning by Brooks and his players. The upset was huge, however, since the Soviets had won four straight gold medals, had beaten the NHL all stars 7-0 and the U.S. Olympic team by a 10-3 score shortly before the Olympics began. Brooks comes across as a driven, determined visionary in the film, who successfully resisted all efforts to interfere with his leadership of the team. It is a shame the real coach Brooks died before this film was released. It would have been interesting to hear his reaction to it.

The film has an interesting appendix which tells what happened to various players on the team after the Olympics. Interestingly, a lot of these players went on to become high-ranking business executives. Relatively few are still involved in hockey as coaches and scouts. Perhaps this is a reflection on Brooks' influence on the players, or on his ability to pick the right people for the team in the first place. This sports movie is really a cut above the average, with a solid story, well-directed by Gavin O'Connor (“Tumbleweeds”). It rates a B+.

One thing that has irritated me about the U.S. Hockey team's triumph is that it has been called the greatest sports story of the 20th century. Perhaps it was, for white people with no sense of history. It is certainly one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history, but it hardly compares with Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in major league baseball, the historic 1936 Joe Louis boxing victory over Max Schmeling, or Jessie Owens' triumphs in the 1936 Berlin Olympics (Owens also won the Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Honor). Robinson's story meant a lot for the civil rights movement, and the triumphs of Louis and Owens did as well. In addition, they made a loud statement how false Hitler's notions of racial superiority were. They also sounded a note of hope in the dark days of the depression as the world rushed towards World War II. In contrast to that, the Hockey Team's victory made us feel good at a time the nation was undergoing economic and political woes. That's fine, as far as it goes, but the significance of it stops there. It is true, the late 1970's were bad, but the Great Depression was many orders of magnitude worse. The hockey game's significance in this regard is not quite up to the level of the legendary match race between War Admiral and Seabiscuit during the depression (a race that actually had about the same percentage audience as the hockey game).

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

[Strip of film rule]
Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
[Strip of film rule]
Back to the Laramie Movie Scope index.
[Rule made of Seventh Seal sillouettes]

Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)