July 2005

Reviewed by:
Marc Mickelson

Format: DVD

(all ratings out of 5):
Overall Enjoyment


Picture Quality


Packaged Extras

Sound Quality
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Starring: Arthur Agee, William Gates

Directed by: Steve James

Theatrical Release: 1994
DVD Release: 2005
Released by: The Criterion Collection

Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo

Hoop Dreams considers the place of sports in society, and it reveals truths about a number of subjects relevant in modern-day America, including the roles of work, education, economic status, and family in creating the people that each of us becomes. Filmed over the course of six years, it follows two Chicago-area basketball prodigies, Arthur Agee and William Gates, from before their first day of high school into their first year of college. Both Arthur and William are compelling characters, alike in so many outward ways but different enough to be engaging co-stars in an unfolding drama whose many twists and turns cannot be telegraphed. Their portrayal, as fully realized characters, is much of what makes Hoop Dreams an engrossing movie. We see them grow physically and emotionally over the course of years, empathize with them, and ultimately root for them, especially as the story line detours sharply from anything Hollywood could pull off successfully.

From the Hoops to the Streets

Dogtown was an area that encompassed the south side of Santa Monica along with all of Venice and Ocean Park, California, and the Z-Boys were the members of the Zephyr skateboarding team, which grew out of a Dogtown surf shop. Dogtown and Z-Boys (***1/2) documents the genesis of the skateboarding subculture, tracing its roots to surfing and the outlaw mentality prevalent in Dogtown in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The movie's many skateboarding sequences convey well the athleticism that would eventually pervade the sport, along with the raucous attitude required to be a Z-Boy. The movie's high-energy, fast-paced style is perfect for its subject, and the use of rock music to punctuate scenes is very skillfully done -- the perfect song is used each time. Director Stacy Peralta was a Z-Boy, which makes for a look that is not exactly objective but one that certainly holds interest. We get an insider's view of the Zephyr team and the success that a few Z-Boys achieved while they were all creating a slice of youth culture that endures today. Extras include extended skateboarding footage, trailers, an alternate ending, and commentary by the director and editor. A fictional account of the Zephyr team, Lords of Dogtown, is in theaters now, and the DVD includes a free ticket to it.

...Marc Mickelson

That all of this happens in the context of a movie about basketball indicates how richly entertaining Hoop Dreams is. All of the weighty subjects the movie dredges come from Arthur's and William's dreams to play in the Illinois state basketball tournament, then in a big-time college program, and finally in the NBA. Even with their common dreams, their experiences are vastly different. Both begin their quest by attending a suburban parochial high school simply because of their basketball talent, but only William finishes there. After his first year, Arthur attends an inner-city school and yearns for the sense of belonging his first year put within his reach. Both lead separate lives on and off the basketball court, with the sort of uncertainty that hangs over each game hanging over their futures.

Hoop Dreams was released to theaters in 1994, and it was very well received because of Gene Siskel's and Roger Ebert's championing of it on their weekly TV show. It became the highest-grossing documentary ever. This makes the fact that it is only now debuting on DVD all the more perplexing. The Criterion Collection has produced a very good package, although other Criterion releases have greater extra materials, sometimes an entire second disc's worth. Extras here include segments from Siskel & Ebert at the Movies, a commentary from Arthur and William, and a second commentary from the filmmaking trio of director Steve James, editor Frederick Marx, and cinematographer Peter Gilbert. The Siskel & Ebert segments are especially interesting because of controversy surrounding Hoop Dreams and the Academy Awards, but the included booklet, which has essays on the film and a Washington Post article that updates us on Arthur's and William's lives now, surpasses the DVD extras. What would have been especially welcome was unused footage, some 250 hours of which exists.

Hoop Dreams is one of the very best documentaries I've seen. Its story is unpredictable, its stars are generously depicted, and its themes go far beyond basketball. Sports figures today are revealed to us in seconds-long highlight clips on ESPN, and this makes the depth of Hoop Dreams all the more precious.


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