Movies can still be timeless

Ryan Stieg

Last week, I wrote a column that some readers enjoyed and appreciated. However, others saw it as divisive and that I had an agenda that I was trying to push.

So after writing on that type of subject, I decided to write something a little more light-hearted this week. That topic is movies.

We all like movies, right? I adore sports movies. Some of them are tense and keep you leaning forward in your chair wondering what will happen next.

Others are tearjerkers that tug at your heart until the very end. Finally, there are some that are just there to make you laugh and show the absurd side of sports.

No matter what your preference may be, they all have something to offer the viewer.

Several sports movies are celebrating anniversaries this year, so I thought I’d look back at a few of them and see if they still hold up today.

I’m starting off with the only one that won Best Picture.

Rocky (1976)

“Rocky” is the quintessential underdog movie that has been imitated several times since them. For those who haven’t seen it, the tale is of a tough boxer from Philadelphia who fights in rundown gyms in the city. Meanwhile, heavyweight champion Apollo Creed is looking for an opponent for the upcoming American Bicentennial after his scheduled opponent drops out. So he searches for upstart boxers and chooses Rocky based on his nickname “The Italian Stallion.” By agreeing to the fight, Rocky is promised a large cash prize.

There’s a romantic subplot involving Rocky and a shy woman named Adrian, and he also fights with self-confidence issues going into the big fight. However, his hard work pays off and he heads into the big fight looking good, even though no one believes he can win including himself.

Here’s the spoiler alert — Rocky doesn’t win. He pushes Creed to the final round, but he is unable to knock out the champ. Still, the movie ends on a positive note in that Rocky is content with what he has accomplished and he and Adrian hug in the ring.

After rewatching it, “Rocky” is still timeless. As he tries to prepare for the fight, you pull for him more and more, and by the time the match begins, you believe that he will win despite the fact that you know he doesn’t.

The musical score is famous and continues to be played at sporting events today as well as other movie genres if an inspirational song is required. Also, the training scene where he runs up the steep steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art is iconic and there was even a statue placed at the top before getting moved to the bottom.

People watching it for the first time might have a hard time connecting to the time period since it was 40 years ago and the film quality isn’t great compared to today. However, it’s still memorable and one that most viewers can relate to because we all want to achieve our full potential and achieve personal glory, even if it for a short period of time.

Hoosiers (1986)

Here’s another famous sports flick beloved by many and is seen as a classic 30 years later.

When it comes to summing up the passion the state of Indiana has for basketball, “Hoosiers” is the best. I lived in Indiana for two years when I was going to graduate school and the passion is really something to behold, like football in Texas or hockey in Minnesota.

Indiana and Purdue of course have huge followings and the Pacers also have their rabid fans. However, if you want to really understand the love the state has for the game, you have to look to the high school level, and for small towns like the one in the film, people live and die with the basketball team.

The movie is somewhat inspired by a true story, but that doesn’t take place until the very end.

In a nutshell, a basketball coach comes to one of those small towns that are hoping he can bring the team to glory. Things don’t exactly go well at the start. The players hate him as do the townspeople with the latter attempting to overthrow him.

His job is saved thanks to the intervention of the town’s reclusive star player. As the movie goes on, the team starts to improve and the town goes all out to support the squad following it to away games and packing their gyms. During the playoffs, the writers pump in as much drama as they can with each game having its own key moment.

Finally, the town reaches the state title game, which is played in Indianapolis at the famous Butler Fieldhouse. The kids are in awe, but the coach puts them at ease telling them even though the size of the facility is different, the dimensions of the game are the same.

Before the game, there’s a sentimental moment in the locker room and during the game, the team is forced to make a furious comeback. Eventually, the game comes down to the closing seconds and the tiny town we’ve grown to love has a chance to win a state title on a last-second shot, which is what the movie is based on.

Another spoiler alert — they do win and the crowd rushes the court exulting in pure joy.

“Hoosiers” is almost perfect. The plot is good, the drama is tense and exciting and like “Rocky,” the musical score is awesome. Seriously, try listening to it if you’re in a frustrated mood.

If you keep humming it, it might keep you motivated for the rest of the day. The movie’s only flaw has to do with its coach, Norman Dale, whose antics are downright mind-boggling. I could write an entire column about how awful of a coach he is, but I’ll save that for another day.

There’s also a weird romantic subplot that seems just shoved in there for an extra effect, but doesn’t add anything to the tale. It’s also set in the 1950s where fashion wasn’t exactly great and there’s an old-fashioned vibe to the film that people might not connect to.

However, it’s too much fun to dwell on that. I watched it for the first time when I was a kid and whenever it’s on TV and the playoff montage is on, I’ll make sure to drop everything and tune in.

The very last scene is just great and it’s one of my favorite endings. Even though it didn’t win Best Picture like “Rocky,” “Hoosiers” is just as memorable.

Space Jam (1996)

Finally, there’s one more sports film that I’m sure is going to generate some groans from people. However, it’s the 20th anniversary and if you are talking about movies that are memorable, you can’t count it out.

I can hear your boos now as I’m writing this. I know that I said that I wouldn’t write something divisive, but “Space Jam” is one of those movies. It’s either loved or despised. There really isn’t an in-between.

Basketball movies weren’t exactly great after “Hoosiers” and most sports movies were engineered toward kids involving zany antics and fun characters. “Space Jam” is like the peak movie during that stretch. The whole plot involves Michael Jordan playing ball with a bunch of Looney Tunes characters. It’s about as absurd as you can get.

The film starts off with a young Jordan shooting hoops in his backyard where he tells his father how his career will go and then that he wants to play baseball after he’s done with basketball.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s when Jordan makes his famous announcement that he is retiring from the NBA and taking up minor league baseball. He struggles with his new career and his mocked on a regular basis.

Meanwhile off in Looney Tunes land, the invading Monstars aliens are trying to capture the characters to take them back to their home planet to put on shows for their amusement park. To avoid this, the Tunes challenge the tiny aliens to a basketball game.

To the characters’ surprise, the aliens suck the talent out of various NBA players (some significantly more talented than others). Seeing as the aliens are now gigantic superstars, the Tunes try to capture Jordan to help them out.

The wackiness continues for the remainder of the film and celebrities make cameos as well.

When the big game comes, the Tune Squad is woefully overmatched and fall behind quickly. Down badly at the half, Bugs Bunny inspires the team by pretending water is Jordan’s “Secret Stuff.”

The characters then start to believe in themselves and make a monstrous comeback.

Jordan then makes a bet with the aliens’ evil leader that if the Tunes lose, Jordan will take their place on the other planet.

Here’s the spoiler alert — the Tune Squad comes out on top with Jordan scoring the winning basket. He then bids farewell to his new friends, gives the other NBA players their powers back and returns to the NBA himself.

As bizarre as the premise is, it works. There’s some good jokes thrown in and it’s the best basketball movie of my generation as sad as that is to say. There have been plans for a sequel for years and it appears to be gradually getting closer to happening, so I think that speaks to the staying power of “Space Jam.”

All of the movies I’ve written about have been talked about for a long time and they mean something to a lot of people, whether it is to relax, laugh, cheer or be inspired.

If there is one thing that can bring people together, it’s watching sports on the big screen and I think it’s something we could all use right now.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.