Criterion presents Hoop Dreams in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this dual-layer disc. The film was originally shot on video and was intended, at first, to be a short for public access television. It then blew up to this rather large project and was picked up for theatrical distribution. In theaters it was presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.85:1. For this release, though, Criterion is presenting it in the format it was originally shot, which presents more information on the top and bottom, and is also the ratio the filmmakers prefer.
While this is definitely the best the film has looked, it has a few issues, the big one being the fact it’s interlaced. This of course presents all sorts of issues, including ghosting and jagged edges just to name a few. While Criterion has inexplicably done interlaced transfers in the past for films where it doesn’t make sense, in this case it might have to do with the fact the film was shot on video, so it may not have been something they could have fixed.
So in the end it looks like you’re still watching a video cassette, and there’s some blurriness and other artifacts present because of this. But overall it still beats the old VHS edition of the film as overall it’s much sharper and presents somewhat better colours.
I’m happy to finally have the film on DVD (it was one I had long been waiting for) though it’s a slight disappointment that it feels like I’m really only watching an above-average VHS tape. 6/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Considering this is a bigger release from Criterion (a well known documentary that actually did pretty well, licenced from a bigger studio, New Line, and considered by many one of the best films of the 90's) the selection of supplements put together here is rather disappointing. I would have hoped for a two-disc set, but nope, it's a single disc. And since the film is 3 hours long that doesn't leave much room for supplements.
Thankfully what we do get is very good. The big supplements are the two audio commentaries. I will be honest straight out and say I did not listen to the entirety of either one, as that pretty much means I would have spent 9 hours in total on the film and unfortunately just didn't have the time, I'm sorry to say. I listened to about over an hour of each one, skipping through using the index of the commentary tracks that Criterion has set up (oh how I wish every company did this.) But I can safely say that based on the just over two-hours in total I spent on the commentaries that these are both excellent commentaries, or I just got lucky and hit all the good parts. I am definitely coming back to them when I get the chance.
The first one is by the filmmakers, Peter Gilbert, Steve James, and Frederick Marx. This of course goes heavily over the making of the film, starting with the intent (which apparently was just a short documentary, a half hour, that might get shown on PBS if they got lucky) but ended up growing and growing and growing until they had pretty much a whole story. What's crazy is how lucky they really got. This movie is a great movie but let's face it, they were lucky they got what they did, and it's interesting to hear, especially in retrospect, how they weren't even sure they were following the right kids (well, they really questioned whether they should be following Arthur, but the scout assured them he was definitely something.) It was also nice hearing some of the back stories and anecdotes that weren't captured on film. From what I listened to it was definitely an excellent track as the three talked about the shoot and it gives an excellent insight into the making of the film.
The second commentary is, I'm happy to say, just as good. It features the subjects of the film, Arthur Agee and William Gates. It's presented in an interesting way, with Arthur coming from the front right speaker, and William from the left. Both talk about what it was like being followed around, and even touch on how the film, after its release, has changed their lives (they get recognized constantly.) They both talk about themselves currently and also appear to have no regrets about not making the NBA. And another wonderful thing is they constantly expand on scenes in the film, getting into more detail about their families and their relationships with them (William talking more about his father is a great little addition, as he ends up adding more to that captured reunion.) Some scenes actually come off differently after listening to the commentary. Yes, I only listened to segments of it (though I think I listened to more on this one) but what I heard makes it easy for me to state it's an excellent commentary and worth listening to.
The next supplement is a 15-minute compilation of the segments from episodes of "Siskel & Ebert" where they talked about the film, from seeing it at Sundance (when the festival actually meant something), to it's actual release, to video, to the Oscars, to it's snub, the controversy around its snub, and then to a special (after Gene died) where Ebert and Scorsese go over their favourite films from the 90's. This is an excellent compilation, and was sort of trippy and nostalgiac watching them again since it was actually the acclaim from Siskel and Ebert that got me and my buddy pumped on seeing this film. It's especially excellent if you are unaware of the controversy that surrounded its Oscar snub. But it's also worth watching just to remind you how much better the show was when Gene was on it.
The rest of the supplements are more marketing. You get a music video of the film's title song, made to promote the film's soundtrack. You also get two theatrical trailers, one which was made to appeal to the "heartstrings" of “white Middle-America” and another to appeal to “young African-American males”. One is a sentimental piece of claptrap and the other is a more fast-paced trailer with a more youth oriented appeal. These supplements, even though they're just trailers, are interesting just for how the studios see their target audience. It's also funny how the trailer aimed at younger audiences probably got the spirit of the film better than the other, which is sort of heavy handed in its sap.
The DVD also comes with an excellent booklet with a couple of essays on the film by John Edgar Wideman and Alexander Wolff, a 2004 piece from The Washington Post about what has happened to those involved, and you'll also find a tribute by the filmmakers to Curtis Gates, William's brother.
The one big disappointment is the lack of any sort of "reunion" segment. While the commentaries do touch on current events, another documentary would have been nice, because as Gene Siskel said, you actually do want to keep watching and see where they go. Apparently one was planned, though. Like how the film took off, apparently the documentary made for this DVD took off and may become a feature film, a sequel of sorts. I'm disappointed that it did not make it onto the DVD but am looking forward to seeing it, probably even getting its own Criterion release on DVD. (As of this writing I have not heard more on this.)
And there you have it. It's not plentiful and this is a disappointment but the supplements on here are all excellent, even the comparison of trailers. I think I was hoping for some “reunion” piece but the commentaries somewhat cover for that. 7/10