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.