Release Date(s)1993 (November 14, 2023)
Studio(s)TriStar Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
For whatever reason, there have only been a handful of great football movies over the years. In fact, there have only been a handful of great sports movies period. There’s Knute Rockne, All American, Field of Dreams, and The Natural. There’s Bull Durham, Miracle, Rocky, and Creed. And of course, there’s Hoosiers (which, by no accident, was also directed by David Anspaugh and written by Angelo Pizzo, the very same team behind this film). But for every great sports movie, there are many bad ones. So why can’t Hollywood do better with this genre?
These films are tough to do, for one thing. They tend to be pretty simple emotionally, so audiences can find them sappy or schmaltzy. And they’re often predictable—they usually follow a clear formula with which we’re familiar. After all, you expect the characters to win the big game in the end, so how do you make the film interesting or different? So how do you make it unique? Well, in the case of Rudy—which is one of those great sports movies—it helps that the story is based on a real person, so the characters are relatable. And while it’s also based on real events, they’re not as predictable as you might imagine.
Rudy follows the life of a young man named Rudy Ruettiger (played by Sean Astin, The Lord of the Rings), who’s grown up in a working class family in Joliet, Illinois in the 1970s. Rudy’s only dream in life is to play football for Notre Dame, but his family can’t afford the tuition and he’s a slow learner—his grades in high school wouldn’t even get him into community college. So upon graduating, he ends up working in the local steel mill just like his father (Ned Beatty, Superman) and older brothers. The only person who believes in his dream is his best friend Pete. But when Pete is killed in an accident at the mill, Rudy realizes that it’s now or never—if he wants that dream to become a reality, he’s gonna have to go out and make it happen.
So with little money and no place to stay, Rudy gets on a bus for South Bend. There, he befriends a Catholic priest (Robert Prosky, Thief), who gets him into nearby Holy Cross Junior College. The plan is that if he can make the grades there, he might be able to transfer into Notre Dame and then try out for the team’s practice squad. In the meantime, Rudy is also befriended by the head groundskeeper at Notre Dame Stadium (Charles S. Dutton, Alien 3) who gives him a job and a place to stay, as well as a fellow student (Jon Favreau, Iron Man), who helps him with his classwork. But just getting into Notre Dame isn’t Rudy’s only challenge. How do you win a spot on one of the country’s best football teams when you stand five foot nothing and weigh a hundred and nothing?
The real beauty of Rudy is that this film isn’t just about football, and it isn’t really about winning the big game. It’s about heart, about chasing a dream. It’s about never giving up on it, even when the people you love think it’s foolish. Some might call that crazy, but here’s the thing: Heart, hard work, determination, perseverance—that’s not just what football is all about. That’s what life is all about. No wonder it makes for a great film. Add to all this a terrific supporting cast (which includes Lili Taylor, Vince Vaughn, Jason Miller, Ron Dean, and John Beasley) and another moving score by the great composer Jerry Goldsmith (reportedly one of his favorites among his own work), and you’ve got a all-time classic of the genre.
Rudy was shot on 35 mm photochemical film by cinematographer Oliver Wood (Die Hard 2, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, The Bourne Identity) using Panavision Panaflex cameras and spherical lenses, and it was finished photochemically at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for theaters. For the film’s 30th anniversary release on Ultra HD, Sony scanned the original camera negative and master interpositive in native 4K, then completed a digital restoration and graded the color for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are available options). What’s more, director David Anspaugh was invited to come back and create a new Director’s Cut of the film, which restores some thirteen minutes of footage. And it’s all good material—as Anspaugh says in the new audio commentary, these scenes were cut simply because the studio mandated a running time under two hours for the theatrical release. (The 114-minute Theatrical Version and 127-minute Director’s Cut are both included on the 4K disc via seamless branching.)
The newly-restored scenes include: a Christmas dinner with Rudy’s family at their church (where Rudy’s dad explains why Notre Dame is so important), Rudy and Sherry talking after Pete’s funeral (Rudy tells her that he’s leaving for South Bend), Rudy working out with some of the Notre Dame football players in their weight room (he rubs Jamie the wrong way), Rudy introducing Jamie to Mary at Corby’s Irish Pub, Rudy and Father Cavanaugh walking in the snow, multiple scenes of Rudy and Mary’s growing friendship when he finally does arrive at Notre Dame (including her interviewing Rudy for the student newspaper), Rudy saying goodbye to Cavanaugh (when the latter leaves Notre Dame to go do missionary work), and Rudy introducing himself to the team’s new football coach, Dan Devine. The cumulative effect is to add more character depth, to expand Mary’s role as Rudy’s friend (after D-Bob leaves), and to give more screen time to some of the football players showing their growing respect for Rudy (so their gesture on his behalf at the end of the film has greater impact). The result is a richer and more rewarding viewing experience.
Film Ratings (Theatrical Version/Director’s Cut): A-/A
The 4K image on this disc is truly lovely, and a major upgrade over the previous 2008 Blu-ray. There is just a massive improvement in overall resolution, not to mention greater refinement in the texturing, and cleaner fine detail (whereas the Blu-ray was noisy, had a digitally-processed appearance, and exhibited edge enhancement.) But even better is the film’s color palette, which is much more natural looking. The football team’s shinny gold helmets have a vibrant luster—you can see it right in the film’s opening scenes. Everything is just richer and more nuanced looking—blues, greens, browns, the yellow titles, the winter sunset. Shadows are deeply black yet detailed. And the photochemical grain is organic at all times, ranging from light-moderate to moderate, as it should be. (The lack of obvious digital processing that was visible on the Blu-ray makes everything about this image look more natural, including the grain.) A few shots are optically soft here and there, exhibiting a bit more grain, particularly optical transitions and titles. So I wouldn’t call this a reference-quality image. But it’s a superb looking 4K image for this particular film.
Audio on the 4K disc is present in a brand new English Dolby Atmos mix for both versions of the film, specifically created for this release. Whereas the previous Blu-ray’s 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix was solid, with clear dialogue and atmospheric use of the surrounds, the new Atmos mix is notably fuller sounding, with a bigger and more immersive soundstage. It’s wide across the front, with the height channels utilized for a bit of echo and lift in the steel mill scenes and especially for game day crowd noise in the finale. The bass add pleasing rumble when football players collide on the field. There’s also a lovely change in the ambience when Fortune leads Rudy into the Notre Dame locker room for the first time for cleaning and maintenance—the sound has a harsh quality as they climb the brick-walled stairwell and then it closes in and takes on a hushed tone when they enter the locker room. It’s lovely. For Rudy, this is a reverent moment and the mix softly emphasizes that idea. Best of all, Goldsmith’s score has just never sounded better—the stings swell, the horns have a full and brassy quality, and the piano notes seem to linger in the air. This is a lovely Atmos mix that fits the 4K image perfectly. Additional audio options include the previous English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix (on both versions) and English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Spanish Dolby Surround (for the Theatrical Version only). Optional subtitles are included in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish (on both versions).
Sony’s 4K Ultra HD release includes the following special features, all of them newly-created for this release:
- Audio Commentary with David Anspaugh and Angelo Pizzo (Director’s Cut only)
- Deleted Scenes (HD – 5 Scenes – 3:14 in all)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:59)
The audio commentary is terrific, featuring the director and writer (who apparently went to college together) talking about the film, the production, the differences between the two cuts, and much more. The deleted scenes here are in addition to the footage already restored in the Director’s Cut. And the trailer is terrific. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before, as it was never included on the previous Blu-ray or DVD.
Note that the 4K package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray, but it’s not remastered—this is the exact same Blu-ray released in 2008. In includes the following additional special features:
- Rudy: The Real Story (SD – 12:53)
- Production Featurette (SD – 3:10)
- First Down with Sean Astin (SD – 1:05)
All of those are holdovers from the original 2000 DVD Special Edition. The highlight of this material is a short piece on the real Rudy Ruettiger, who talks about his life and achievements compared to what we see in the film. There’s genuine emotion to be found here, and it’s a very moving and interesting piece. This obviously isn’t a lot of content, but the new material on the 4K is terrific (and getting an entirely new cut of the film is a bonus in itself). You also get a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert in the packaging, which is a handsome Steelbook case. The only things missing here are the DVD’s isolated score track and the soundtrack CD that came with that release (so be sure to keep those discs if you have them).
A quick side note: I actually met Rudy Ruettiger on a flight from Las Vegas to Orange County about twenty years ago. It turns out, he’s just as nice in real life as you’d hope. He was flattered that I’d recognized him, and we spoke for several minutes. When we parted, he asked for my business card. And a couple weeks later, he sent me a signed copy of his book. The memory still makes me smile.
Whether you value it as a sports film or just a feel-good story, Rudy is an all-time classic. Sean Astin’s performance here is perfect, hinting at the quality he’d later bring to the character of Samwise Gamgee in Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy trilogy. Ned Beatty will warm your heart in a number of scenes here. And this is the film that first introduced Jon Favreau to movie audiences (and introduced Favreau to Vince Vaughn, which eventually led to Swingers). If the ending of Rudy doesn’t move you, well… you probably can’t be moved. I’m pleased to report that Sony’s new 4K Ultra HD is a welcome upgrade, a must-have release for fans, and definitely gets my recommendation. Don’t miss it.
- Bill Hunt