At the end of the year 2000, critics released their lists of the best and worst films of the year. I remember one guy lamenting the "Bruckheimer trifecta" of "Gone in 60 Seconds", "Coyote Ugly", and "Remember the Titans" that was released during the middle months of the year. The last film on that list does not deserve to be abased along the ranks of the other two. Indeed, "Remember the Titans" is one of the finest football films ever made, and it is also a nicely-done populist biopic that serves as an easy gateway for young viewers to learn about an important story that took place during the American civil rights movement.
The funny thing about Jerry Bruckheimer movies is that people are always quick to bash them for their "thudding stupidity", but once in a blue moon, the man does come through with a laudable film. For example, "Crimson Tide", starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, is an excellent dramatic thriller. Mr. Washington reunited with Bruckheimer for "Remember the Titans", a story about the integration of two high schools and two football teams in Alexandria, Virginia in 1971.
Bruckheimer regular Will Patton ("Armageddon", "Gone in 60 Seconds") plays Coach Yoast, the popular and successful coach who's replaced by Boone when the schools in Alexandria are integrated. Needless to say, tensions are high in every facet of town life, especially when decades of segregation created unfounded fears of blacks and whites about one another.
Washington and Patton give strong performances as the two initially antagonistic coaches. They have very different styles and ideas about how to win, but they learn how to work together. After all, they both have so much to gain and lose in their endeavor. Beyond respecting one another, Boone and Yoast became friends, and the actors make that personal journey believable.
Although this is a biopic about coaches Boone and Yoast, director Boaz Yakin and screenwriter Gregory Allen Howard paint the story in bold, broad strokes. There is the scene where everyone bonds in the locker room while singing along with the radio and telling "yo mama" jokes. There is the "big fat boy" who thinks that he's dumb but ends up going to college. There are the charismatic leaders who emerge to play their part as men, not boys, on and off the field. There is the racist girlfriend who becomes the symbolic bridge between brother and brother. Then there is nine-year old Sheryl Yoast, a little girl so obsessed with football that she even knows more about strategy than most of the guys on the team. She's a hoot in this movie.
I was working at my school newspaper last year, and one of my colleagues at "The Cornell Daily Sun" actually went to T.C. Williams High. While I did not have a chance to talk to Coach Boone, I did have the pleasure of editing a nice feature article written by a fellow who knew him personally. It was a treat, to say the least.
If my memory serves me correctly, I don't recall this film ever hitting the number one spot at the box office. Yet, "Titans" managed to gross over $100 million at the box office, more than either "Coyote Ugly" or "Gone in 60 Seconds". "Titans" is not an instant classic, but its box office performance indicates that a lot of people out there got a good overview of the civil rights issue from a solidly crafted, intelligent film.
The video looks gorgeous. In fact, the only DVDs that I've seen look better than "Remember the Titans" were "Saving Private Ryan", "Gladiator", and Buena Vista's own pristine transfer of "Shanghai Noon." Framed at 2.35:1 (anamorphic), the print is so clean that it almost squeaks across your TV. Colors are realistically rendered, and there is nary a sign of video noise or compression artifact. Oscar-winning cinematographer Phillipe Rousselot has been done right on this DVD. (A pan & scan version is available, but don't you dare buy that travesty.)
On the audio front, Disney has managed to squeeze THREE 5.1 tracks onto the disc: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, and an English DTS 5.1 track. Needless to say, the soundtrack is LOUD. This is a Jerry Bruckheimer film, after all. However, there are directional subtleties that make good use of the surrounds. Ambient sounds immerse the viewer in a sonic environment that sounds textured, and while I'm not a big fan of Trevor Rabin's music (think Ministry meets the Philharmonic), the score is nicely presented as well. So are the songs that play almost non-stop. Its a pleasure sitting in the middle of this well-mixed track.
(The disc has been mastered by THX, and I'm glad to see THX giving their stamp of technical excellence on discs that deserve a THX label.)
There are quite a number of informative extra features on this presentation of "Remember the Titans". While they are fluff pieces by nature, they also refuse to shy away from the controversies that surround the issues that affected Boone, Yoast, their friends, and their families.
The best feature is probably the feature-length audio commentary by the real Herman Boone and Bill Yoast. They describe the historical liberties that the film takes, but they don't seem to mind that much. They are proud to have been the subjects of a film that tells their story seriously and proudly. Boone is heard on the left stereo channel, and Yoast is heard on the right.
There is a second audio commentary featuring director Yakin, producer Bruckheimer, and writer Howard. Factually, they cover most of the same material that appears in the featurettes, the other commentary, and the film proper, but they also talk about the arduous process in getting a project like this one off the ground.
The disc includes three featurettes. One discusses Washington's portrayal of Boone, one discusses the history of the 1971-1972 Titans, and the final featurette gives a broad overview of the production. The real Boone and Yoast appear in these mini-documentaries, and I was moved to see the actors meet their real-life counterparts.
There are six deleted/extended scenes that are presented in anamorphic widescreen. While they are interesting to watch, you can see why they were cut (pacing reasons). Besides, the points that these scenes make are already well-made in the main feature, and including them in a final "director's" cut would've been overkill.
To finish things off, you get the theatrical trailer for "Remember the Titans" and a couple of other Disney releases. However, why they did not include a trailer for "Pearl Harbor" is beyond me, for this seems like the perfect opportunity to promote the upcoming and similarly unsubtle, uplifting tale of glory.
"Remember the Titans" is a great family film. Viewers will see how a community united behind a common cause helped overcome racism on the local level. Sure, this is not a subtle film or the kind that wins awards. However, sometimes we go to the movies to be entertained, and if we can be entertained by a true, inspirational story, then that's time well spent.