We are the Ti-TANS
Mighty mighty Titans
Everywhere we GO-O
people wanna know
who we AR-RE
who we are.
When the Titans football players shuffled into stadiums with a mixture of military drilling and jive dancing, they raised a few eyebrows. So did the T.C. Williams 1971 championship football team's story, which writer Gregory Allen Howard took to Jerry Bruckheimer. It didn't take the producer long to see the potential for a rousing, inspirational film on the order of "Hoosiers." Only instead of David going up against a big-school Goliath, it's racial prejudice that this team defeats en route to a Virginia Triple-A State High School Championship.
Based on a true story, "Remember the Titans" relates how court-mandated integration is handled by one school district that was forced to take a black school and a white school and combine them . . . which, of course, required busing at a time when the very word sparked epithets and violent protests. At first, legendary coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton) is told he's got to take on a black assistant coach. But then, even before that shockwave hits home, the bottom falls out of his world. Yoast, who's had 15 winning seasons and is headed for the hall of fame, is dismissed because the school board was forced to have at least one black head coach. And Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) is apparently the one. That seems to make the town even more fired up than before.
The best sports films are those that go beyond the plays or the wins and losses, and it's clear from the beginning that "Remember the Titans" is something special. Yes, there's the obligatory training scenes (Do it my way, or else!), the locker room banter, and on-the-field ups and downs. But the real focus is on human beings and their personal situations. Boone, we learn, isn't wanting to take a man's job because of race, since he left a situation where he was denied a job because of color. That's not who I am, he says. But then the entire black community of Alexandria, Virginia turns out on his front lawn to meet him and applaud him for giving them something to cheer about during turbulent times when blacks still weren't allowed inside many businesses. So he takes the job, reluctantly.
Yoast, meanwhile, is ready to move on to a year's sabbatical and a position outside the district when his players refuse to suit up unless he's their coach. But Yoast knows that it would be the kiss of death for everyone hoping to land college scholarships, and so he's put in a position he'd rather not be in--accepting Boone's offer to coach the defense under him in order to protect his guys.
Originally, Howard's script was laced with foul language, but Disney made him tone it down to get a PG rating. That's good, actually, because this is a movie that young people ought to watch. And frankly, it doesn't take a scene full of "mo-fo" talk to make you believe these guys are real. Because they're from a different era, and the coaches and parents exert control over them that today's adults simply don't have, we can easily believe that the young people will toe the line. One scene actually emphasizes that, and with not-so-subtle humor. When the all-star white player, Gerry Bertier (Ryan Hurst), gives Coach Boone an ultimatum and tells him half the positions had better be reserved for his white school buddies or else he walks, the confrontation ends with Boone telling him that his mama won't be on the bus or at the two-week training camp at Gettysburg College that they're headed for. But his brothers will be. And his daddy. "Who's your daddy?" he says, right up in the young man's face, then repeats it until he says, softly, "You are"--while his own parents look one from afar, somewhat horrified.
Moments like that add plenty of interest and tension, as do comic elements and fun juxtapositions. A very young Hayden Panetierre gives a wonderful performance as the over-animated, precocious daughter of Coach Yoast, who seems to know more about football than any of the players. Contrast that with Boone's daughter, who's into dolls and nail polish, or with the adults who are trying to win games and you've got some very effective comic relief. Same with Ethan Supplee ("My Name is Earl"), who does a great job in his role as Louie Lastik, a self-admitted white-trash, low-intellect, no-ambition fellow who just moved into the area and ends up joining the black guys out of a refreshingly disarming innocence. Or Wood Harris, who as Julius becomes Bertier's best friend. Or Kip Pardue as Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass, the golden boy from California who may or may not be gay. Then again, the entire cast makes you believe they're really Titans. Perhaps a two-week boot camp helped the actors, too, though a really heavy Supplee says, bluntly, "it sucked." But everyone really makes you believe . . . first that they're real characters, and then, that racial divides can, indeed, be bridged if we only learn more about each other and spend more time with each other.
Relatively untested director Boaz Yakin has a good sense of "scene," and Michael Tronick really does a nice job of editing, moving us quickly along so that it feels more like an integrated sswirl of activity we're caught up in, rather than a mixture of training, game, and personal interaction footage. Then there are those memorable lines that Howard gives us.
"Water is for cowards," Boone tells his parched and dehydrated players during one heated practice.
"Coach," Yoast tells him moments afterwards, "there's a fine line between tough and crazy, and you're flirtin' with it."
There's no substitute for fine writing, and Howard gives us a screenplay with enough substance to hold our attention, even when the storyline lapses into familiar territory.
"Remember the Titans" looks great on Blu-ray, with the 1080p Hi-Def picture (2.35:1 aspect ratio) full of detail, even in dark scenes. A number of sequences are shot with deliberately blurred backgrounds, but the foreground detail on hair and facial features really stands out. So does the level of color saturation. You'd hope for bright, fully saturated colors with football uniforms and cheerleaders, and this disc doesn't disappoint.
PCM, baby! The English 5.1 uncompressed sound (48kHz/24-bit) is exceptional, with nice rich tones and a clarity that allows you to savor every smack of pads-against-pads. Additional options are French and English Dolby Digital 5.1, with Spanish relegated to Dolby Digital 2.0. Subtitles are in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Good news, sports fans: all of the bonus features from the Special Edition DVD are included here. In addition to six deleted scenes there are two worthwhile commentaries and several short features.
The best of the bunch is the audio commentary with the real Boone and Yoast, who tell what's real and what was "Hollywoodized." Except for Victory Stadium in Roanoke, the entire movie was shot in Georgia, for example. On the other track, the director and writer are joined by Bruckheimer, who tends to dominate at times. The focus here is on what it took to bring everything together.
The best of the featurettes is an overview hosted by former NFL wide receiver Lynn Swann, but "Beating the Odds" and "Denzel Becomes Boone" also show behind-the-scenes footage.
But brace yourself, Blu-ray lovers, for more menu abuse. Disney has rigged this disc so you can't just press menu. You have to sit through no fewer than a half-dozen previews, or else keep hitting the "next" button. When will studios realize that all they're accomplishing this way is giving a generation of viewers repeat-motion injuries? I am no more inclined to watch or buy a product when I'm forced to see a trailer than I am if they strapped me to a chair. The best way of handling this is to just reactivate that "menu" button so people can watch the previews the first time around, and then by-pass them during successive plays.
Yes, we know they're headed for the championship, and yes, we recognize a busload of sports clichés along the way. But "Remember the Titans" gives us a memorable cast with memorable moments, and Washington is a pure delight as the dictatorial coach.