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Steve James
Arthur Agee and WIlliam Gates
Steve James and Frederick Marx

A film following the lives of two inner-city Chicago boys who struggle to become college basketball players on the road to going professional.

Rated PG-13.

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English DTS-HD MA 4.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 172 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 3/31/2015

• Audio Commentary with Filmmakers Peter Gilbert, Steve James and Frederick Marx
• Audio Commentary with Documentary Subjects Arthur Agee and William Gates
• “Life After Hoop Dreams” Documentary
Siskel & Ebert At the Movies Segment
• Additional Scenes
• Music Video
• Two Trailers
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Hoop Dreams [Blu-Ray] (1994)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 29, 2015)

With 1994’s Hoop Dreams, we find an acclaimed documentary that looks at the way in which youngsters attempt to use sports as a way out of poverty. Shot over a five-year time span, we meet Chicago kids Arthur Agee and William Gates, both 14 years old at the start of the production in the mid-1980s.

Like most city kids, Arthur and William love basketball and dream of NBA success. Their family members encourage these aspirations, as do local “talent scouts”. Both Arthur and William display hoops talent, and we follow the kids as they go through the various processes as they attempt to achieve their basketball goals.

Along the way, we get lots of comments from Arthur and William as well as from William’s mother Emma and brother Curtus, Arthur’s mother Sheila and father Bo, unofficial talent scout Earl Smith, high school coaches Luther Bedford and Gene Pingatore, guidance counselors Marjorie Heard, Aretha Mitchell and Sister Marilyn Hopewell. Encyclopedia Britannia president Patricia Wier, Arthur’s friend Shannon Johnson, William’s girlfriend Catherine Mines, William’s brother-in-law Alvin Bibb, teacher/school registrar James Kelly, college coaches Kevin O’Neill, Bob Knight, Bo Ellis and Joey Meyer, basketball camp academic director Frank DuBois, college student Myron Gordon, and independent scouts Stan Wilson and Bob Gibbons.

When Dreams hit screens in 1994, viewers didn’t know what would happen to William and Arthur. More than two decades later, we know whether or not they achieved their hopes of playing in the NBA, but I won’t say anything about that here, as I think Dreams works better if the viewer enters with some level of uncertainty.

Not that the film’s success depends in any way on its subjects’ post-movie lives. Dreams doesn’t intend to tell us about what happens to kids who make it to the NBA; instead, it gets into what occurs with kids who aspire to make it to the NBA and who possess just enough talent to have others feed into their hopes as well.

That becomes arguably the most interesting theme of Dreams: the manner in which the system uses kids for its own goals. This comes out mainly due to the varying paths William and Arthur take – or are allowed to take, I should say. Both enter St. Joseph’s High School as freshmen but Arthur – the less talented player at that point – gets the boot after one year.

While the folks at the school chalk this up to problems the Agee family had paying bills, it becomes clear that if Arthur played as well as William, he would’ve stayed at St. Joseph’s. Indeed, Dreams shows all the assistance William receives while Arthur gets sent back to public school.

The folks at St. Joseph’s don’t come across especially well in Dreams - in fact, the school felt so unhappy with their portrayal that they sued the filmmakers for defamation! That seems like an extreme response, as a) St. Joseph’s doesn’t look that bad and b) I don’t believe the movie depicts anything the folks at St. Joseph’s didn’t actually do.

To be sure, there’s no such thing as a truly objective documentary, as all filmmakers bring their own thoughts/slants to projects. However, Dreams seems about as even-handed as a movie of this sort could be. At no point does the perspective of the filmmakers become obvious or intrusive. This isn’t a Michael Moore production; those behind Dreams mostly let the material to speak for itself.

And that allows the film to prosper, as we find ourselves absorbed in the ups and downs of the subjects’ lives. Shot over such a long time period, we see Arthur and William evolve and we become invested in their journeys. <

Actually, as interesting as it is to see what happens to William and Arthur, some of the supporting participants tend to seem more compelling. In particular, Arthur’s dad Bo and William’s older brother Curtis could have been the stars of their own documentaries. They’re colorful characters – especially Bo, who apparently hates to wear shirts – and add spice to the proceedings.

Not that the program needs lots of flashy personalities, as the basic story carries it so well. Hoop Dreams holds up nicely after more than 20 years, as it gives us an understated view of a fascinating topic. A good piece of social commentary, it allows viewers to think for themselves and remains gripping over almost three hours. This is the movie Boyhood wishes it could be.

The Disc Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus B+

Hoop Dreams appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Shot on videotape, Dreams betrayed its origins but looked about as good as one could hope.

Sharpness was acceptable but not better than that. Close-ups showed reasonable definition but wider shots tended to be loose and indistinct. Occasional instances of jagged edges and shimmering occurred, and the video revealed edge haloes as well. No real source flaws were a concern though, as only periodic video artifacts occurred.

Colors lacked vibrancy but seemed acceptable given the original material. Actually, the tones usually looked pretty peppy for footage from decades-old video; the hues didn’t impress, but they were fairly satisfactory. Blacks seemed reasonably dark, and shadows showed decent clarity; a few too-thick shots emerged but most looked fine. You won’t one will use Dreams to show off your ginormous TV, but it represented the source appropriately.

Though Dreams comes with a DTS-HD MA 4.0 soundtrack, it didn’t offer much sonic pizzazz. Much of the film stayed monaural, with a heavy emphasis on the front center channel. Music occasionally expanded to the side and rear speakers, but even those elements essentially stayed monaural most of the time.

A smattering of effects also cropped up from the side/back channels, but not many. For instance, a few basketball games offered crowd noise from the various speakers. Still, those moments didn’t have much impact, as this usually remained a restricted soundscape.

Audio seemed dated but decent. Due to “on the fly” recording techniques, speech occasionally seemed a bit rough and reedy, but dialogue remained intelligible. Music was acceptable, as the score showed some thin qualities but was reasonably smooth. Effects stayed in the background and seemed okay. This ended up as a suitable track for a movie of this sort.

With this Criterion release, we get a bunch of extras, and we find two separate audio commentaries, both of which were recorded in 2005. The first features director Steve James, director of photography Peter Gilbert and editor Frederick Marx. All three sit together for a running, screen-specific look at the project's origins and development, thoughts about various participants, editing, structuring and unused footage, reflections on their experiences and the film's aftermath.

Expect a good commentary here, as the filmmakers offer a strong array of observations. They touch on all the appropriate topics and seem frank along the way, as they mention regrets and controversies connected to the flick. This chat keeps us informed and engaged from start to finish.

For the second commentary, we hear from documentary subjects Arthur Agee and William Gates. Both sit together for much of the track, but it also includes some solo segments as well. Agee and Gates discuss aspects of their lives, careers and relationships as well as thoughts about the filming process and related areas.

While not as good as the filmmakers’ chat, this track offers a fairly involving take on the subjects’ lives. They convey their experiences reasonably well and bring us up to date on their lives. Though the commentary can drag at times, it still delivers enough useful material to merit a listen.

Life After Hoop Dreams runs 39 minutes, 50 seconds and mixes updates from 2004-2005 with info from 2014. We hear from Gates, Agee, James, Gilbert, William’s mother Emma Gates, Arthur’s parents Bo and Sheila Agee and William’s wife Catherine. The program tells us what happened to the participants after the movie’s shoot/release. “Life” could’ve been shorter, as I don’t think it offers 40 minutes of good information, especially since the commentaries deliver so much of the same material.

Next a compilation of six snippets from Siskel & Ebert At the Movies. These occupy a total of 15 minutes, 18 seconds and relate the critics’ thoughts connected to Dreams. (Martin Scorsese sits with Roger Ebert for the final segment from 2000, as Gene Siskel died the prior year.) The clips offer interesting viewpoints.

Seven Additional Scenes take up 20 minutes, 52 seconds. Given how much extra footage must exist from the long shoot, I expected some interesting material, but most of these seem fairly forgettable. I do like the one in which Arthur auditions for a role in a movie about Isiah Thomas’s mother, though, and the insane prom outfits worn by Arthur’s friends must be seen to be believed.

In addition to two trailers, we find a music video for the movie’s theme song. Performed by Tony M – best-remembered for a brief affiliation with Prince – neither the tune nor the video seem memorable.

Finally, the package includes a fold-out booklet. This provides essays from Professor John Edgar Wideman and filmmaker Robert Greene as well as photos and clippings of the movie’s subjects. It adds some value to the set.

As a documentary, Hoop Dreams succeeds due to the way it tells its story. The film offers an absorbing take on its subjects and benefits from the subdued, even-handed manner it relates its information. The Blu-ray provides acceptable picture and audio as well as a good array of bonus materials. More than 20 years after its release, Hoop Dreams remains an involving program.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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