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For most people going to a ball game is all about watching the players as they fight for victory. Yet there are those who really get into the half time events. The cheerleaders and music gives an entertaining break from the hectic pace of the game. The half time show was basically invented to give the players a little time in the middle of the game to regroup and discuss strategy with their couch but in recent years it has become almost as important as the game itself. The half time shows have grown from a few cute cheerleaders in short skirts and a marching band in outlandish uniforms cavorting around the field. Now cheerleading is a respected sport in its own right while the bands have transformed into elaborate spectacles that mesmerize the audience. Cheerleaders have always had their time in the sport light of films but the marching band continued to be the punch line for nerd jokes. That is until one film forever changed the public perception of the marching band; ‘Drumline’. This movie brings everything that you want from a sports flick and plays it against the background of the love of music. What makes this film work as well as it does is it employs the most universal elements from a typical sports movie and seamlessly transposes it to the musicians. It has bits of the underdog flick melded with the ever popular fish out of water theme and stirs in a touch of a love story too give it a little spice. Like a lot of films of the sports genre this one is based on a true story. In most cases the term means that there are obtuse and remote connections to reality. In this case there is a little more to give this story some credence. It was based on the autobiography of Dallas Austin and he must have approved of the film treatment since he served as the executive producer. The real Austin went on to become a major music producer in the hip hop community and is highly successful in that career. The film cost $20 million to produce and made about three times that in its box office so it was a commercial success for the studio. It also garnered critical acclaim for its new slant on an old genre. As is the case with a lot of popular movies this one was released about a year ago on DVD. Fox has been revisiting these titles and releasing them in Blu-ray. This is a film with strong performances, great musical routines and a solid story to hold everything together. It is something that the entire family can sit down and enjoy together.

The screenplay was provided by Tina Gordon Chism and Shawn Schepps. This was the first script for Chism but Schepps has been plying hiss craft for many years now. She wrote the screenplay for ‘Encino Man’ the flick that launched the career of Brendan Fraser. It may seem like an unlikely match for two women to create a story that is so testosterone driven as this one but to their credit they do an excellent job of it. Perhaps part of the reason the story is so engaging is the feminine touch that softens the hard edges without muting the emotional impact of the screenplay. At the center of the story is a young man from Harlem in New York City, Devon Miles (Nick Cannon). After graduating high school there he moves to Atlanta Georgia to attend Atlanta A&T University. He finds the college experience more daunting then expected and has to struggle for acceptance in his new surroundings. This could have been any number of college football or basketball flicks but in the case here the musical element adds a novel touch that carries the day. Like many in the audience I have to admit that I never gave much thought to the world of competitive drumming but this story turned me around and made a fan of me. There is the need to be the best in any field of endeavor and the spirit of competition drives our society so this theme is expandable so that everyone in the audience can relate.

Charles Stone III displays the right directorial flair to make this film succeed. This is only his freshman feature film but the man shows that he has what it takes to become a director of renown. Instead of concentrating on the music and sports analogies he uses them to punctuate the story and develop the characters. In so many recent films about a young man from the inner city trying to make his way in the world there is a lot of violence, drug abuse and sex. This film takes the high road which isn’t to say that it lacks excitement. The movie is paced to near perfection in the way Stone introduces the leads and gets right into the main themes. He also had the advantage of directing the best possible cast. Nick Cannon made his name on his own Nickelodeon series and would go on to an MTV improvisational comedy series and a marriage to singer Mariah Carey. Here he displays an infectious energy but aptly avoids taking it over the top. He plays his role in such a fashion that you can feel for his character rather than coming across as a show off. Adding to the realism Stone chose to get real marching bands to appear in the film. One thing is certain; after this movie you will stick around for any half time show that features a drum line.

Devon Miles graduates from his high school in New York City and travels down south to attend college in Atlanta. He was on the personal invitation and full scholarship from Dr. Lee (Orlando Jones), the head of the marching band. Lee is demanding insisting that his band members do more than just parade around during half time. Each member has to be able to read music and be familiar with most forms of music not just what is currently popular with the young people. He sees them as proud musicians not band geeks. The band takes pride in their abilities and that carries over to their lives in general. Lee pushes the band members to excellence and the results showed in their demeanor. Initially things are going well for Devon until he runs afoul of the percussion leader Sean Taylor (Leonard Roberts) who resents Devon’s attitude. He challenges Devon to take the all important solo in an upcoming event. Devon fails to perform as well as he should and is humiliated. When it comes to light that Devon cannot read music he is demoted in shame. Devon responds by contacting A&T’s rival school and joining their band for a showdown at the conclusion of the film.

The film will carry you along and entertain you completely. The DVD was good but nothing compared to this Blu-ray release. The high definition video is fantastic showing the smallest details and giving the feeling that you are right there on the field. The color balance is reference quality with a contrast that is perfection. The DTS HD audio track is the only way to hear this film. The pounding of the drums will reverberate in your chest. The channel separation is spot on. There is a commentary track by Stone as well as a behind the scenes featurette and some deleted scenes. Rounding things off is a look at a real battle of the bands. This is one to get and enjoy.

Posted 01/29/09

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