Hoop Dreams (Madman) (1994)

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Released 6-Jul-2012

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 170:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Steve James

Madman Entertainment
Starring William Gates
Arthur Agee
Emma Gates
Curtis Gates
Sheila Agee
Arthur 'Bo' Agee
Earl Smith
Gene Pingatore
Isiah Thomas
Sister Marlyn Hopewell
Bill Gleason
Patricia Weir
Marjorie Heard
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Ben Sidran
Tom Yore

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Every documentary filmmaker strives to have their movie "make a difference". Steve James, the director of Hoop Dreams, achieved just that with his 1994 documentary film, but perhaps not in the way that he expected. Not only is this sporting documentary regarded as one of the greatest non-fiction movies but it also created a controversy resulting in a change in that most venerable of institutions, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

     Hoop Dreams is something special. On the face of it is a simple story - a fly on the wall documentary following two young men as they chase their dreams of becoming basketballers in the competitive world of the NBA. It is not a short film, clocking in at a mighty 170 min. However, by the time this film ends we are so caught up with the lives of these young men that each step forward is met with elation and each setback is a punch in the stomach.

     The film focuses on two young men from the troubled parts of Chicago. William Gates and Arthur Agee are two hugely talented kids playing basketball on bitumen courts when they are given an opportunity, a chance at a better future. Rather than sinking baskets in the hood they are offered a chance to attend the prestigious junior school, St Joseph's. Not only is St Joseph's a mainly all white environment but it has a proud tradition of being highly competitive in the Illinois schools basketball competition, a tradition which it has enhanced by selecting some of the best young black men from the inner-city.

     If this all sounds like exploitation, welcome to step one of the NBA journey! Perhaps the most unique aspect of Hoop Dreams is that it takes us into the lives of these young men as their lives are changing. Certainly in other biographical documentaries, like the Seven Up series, the viewer has been able to see changes in the characters. In this film, however, we see the events as they are happening. To my mind this is as close to an early version of reality TV as you could get.

     William and Arthur come from pretty much the same background. Arthur's father Bo is a semi-reformed drug addict and dealer who comes in and out of his life often to offer advice to his less than convinced son. Arthur is a combination of extreme shyness around authority figures and strutting assurance when he steps on to the basketball court. William’s father is also pretty much absent. However, he has some guidance in the form of his older brother, Curtis. Trouble is Curtis has a good deal of his own baggage. A brilliant basketballer who was himself selected for greatness Curtis blew it and earned a reputation of being uncoachable.

     Both these young boys travel for hours to get to St Joseph's where, they are assured, they will not only get to play good basketball but they will improve their lives and their chances of going to college. It doesn't quite work out that way. Arthur gets behind on his studies and his mum can't pay his tuition fees. He has to return to is mostly African American school and rejoin his old friends some of whom aren't the best of influences. William also struggles to get the grades he needs and suffers injury problems.

     The documentary follows them for years as they pass through the school and junior college process and make their way to Senior College. It is a journey of numerous ups and downs. Just when one of the boys looks like he has got that big break fate steps in and hands them a setback only to elevate the other boy. It is, as said above, an emotional experience.

     But back to the Academy. The film found its way into many Best Film lists for 1994 with Roger Ebert saying "a film like Hoop Dreams is what the movies are for". It was anticipated that the film would easily win the Best Documentary Oscar and several people were campaigning for a rare Best Picture nomination. Imagine everyone's surprise when the film didn't even earn a documentary nod and in fact only scored one nomination, somewhat strangely for a three-hour documentary, in the editing category. There was an outrage and an investigation.

     The investigation revealed that the documentary category Oscars were treated as the poor cousin of the films and that, due to the amount of documentaries to be seen, a curious practice had developed whereby every 15 minutes the audience would signal using flashlights as to whether they wanted the film to continue. It is not difficult to imagine a film like Hoop Dreams, which develops quietly and organically, failing to survive the torch test. Even more so, an examination of the votes found that there was a good deal of vote rigging going on. The films were to be awarded a score out of 10 and an examination of the vote showed that many of the films (impliedly this film) had been awarded both tens and zeros by the viewers. The further implication was that friends of the voters managed to secure a large number of tens for their documentaries. The system was changed to make sure that it was less susceptible to contrarians and vote rigging. Only documentarians could vote for Best Documentary.

     Hoop Dreams dates from 1994 although it took five years to film. No doubt if the film was to be made today it would probably be sharper and more media aware. As it is, this is a film that moves at a gentle but deliberate pace and investment from the viewer is richly rewarded. Although the film is about basketball it is really about the difficult and often cruel journey from poverty to success. Basketball fans will probably get a little more excitement out of the movie with its frequent scenes of amazing athleticism from the boys however a love of the sport is not necessary. The story is universal. It is hard to imagine that almost 20 years later the journey for some of these young men is any different.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


     Hoop Dreams was shot on Betacam (yes you read that right!) at a 4:3 original aspect ratio. The film was cropped to a 1.85:1 aspect ratio for cinematic projection. The version on this DVD release is the original aspect ratio. Naturally it is not 16x9 enhanced.

     The film looks exactly as an early 90s video movie should look. It has not been the subject of a frame by frame restoration though it probably looks about the same now as it did upon release. Image quality is decent throughout considering its origins. The colours are also decent enough although the film brought back some sad memories of the early 90s fashion - think The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Family Matters!

     The flesh tones are reasonably accurate and image quality generally stable. There are minor artefacts throughout although it must be said that the print quality is at times surprisingly good.

    There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The sound for Hoop Dreams is fairly basic, understandably so. It contains a Dolby Digital 2.0 English-language track running at 224 Kb/s.

     The dialogue is generally easy to understand however there is a bit of slang going on and some mumbling. I doubt that I missed much.

     Not surprisingly for the film that features young African-American guys wearing high tops in the hood, the soundtrack features a good deal of hip-hop and rap. Most of the music comes from Chicago legend Ben Sidran who keeps the grooves rolling!

    There are no technical problems with the soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Only the trailer.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     For dead set fans the Criterion Collection version of this film, from 2005, is the one to get. It contains:


     Hoop Dreams is a film that all documentary fans should have in their collection just as cinema buffs should have Citizen Kane. It is a classic documentary and despite its length, or perhaps because of it, it is still a deep and emotional experience.

     It doesn't look that good or sound great either but this is consistent with its original production values.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Friday, September 07, 2012
Review Equipment
DVDCambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer SC-LX 81 7.1
SpeakersAaron ATS-5 7.1

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