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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Varsity Blues (4K UHD Review)


The Film
The Video
HDR Effect
The Audio
The Supplments


A second string high school quarterback in small-town Texas, more concerned with getting into the Ivy League than getting a football scholarship, must step up and lead his friends and teammates when the star quarterback is injured, bringing him in direct contention with the abusive coach.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

1999’s Varsity Blues was the first feature film for James Van Der Beek who was still riding high on his success from TV’s Dawson’s Creek. Van Der Beek plays high school football player Jonathan Moxon on the West Canaan Coyotes in West Canaan, a small Texas town where high school football is an ingrained part of the culture (see Friday Night Lights). The backup quarterback and childhood friend to the school’s star player Lance Harbor (Paul Walker), Moxon is more concerned with reading and getting into an Ivy League school than following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a star footballer. But Moxon is thrust into the limelight when Lance is badly injured during a game and he must step up to become the first string quarterback This thrusts Moxon into direct conflict with the tough coach, Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), who is in a ruthless pursuit to win his 23rd divisional championships, but Moxon does not play by his rules and takes exception to Kilmer’s coverup of serious injuries being suffered by his teammates.

The film, which also features a famous scene with Ali Larter “dressed” in nothing more than whipped cream and maraschino cherries, is a cross between a teen sex comedy (the guys go and get drunk at a topless bar), a teen romance (Moxon has relationship issues with his girlfriend Julie (Amy Smart)), and a sports drama (Remember the Titans, etc.). The problem is the film does not know which direction it wants to take, therefore just paints by the numbers and in the lines of many of the tropes from the genres it is straddling. There is the hated coach, the banding together of teens to prove their solidarity, the raunchy sexcapades (at one point there is a teacher the teen boys catch in a compromising position), and the over-dramatic game scenes in slow motion.

Jon Voight has the standout performance, which is not surprising, while Van Der Beek is doing Dawson in a football uniform. Amy Smart is an afterthought in this film, and Ali Larter’s character is a stereotypical, gold digging “bimbo,” but, it’s okay, we are told she is very “smart.”

Getting past the tropes and two-dimensional characters, there is plenty to enjoy in the film, like the camaraderie between the teammates, the determination to stand up for those being abused, and excellent camera working that infuses the game sequences with a kinetic energy.

Purchase Varsity Blues 4K Ultra HD Combo on Amazon.com

  • Amy Smart and James Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues
  • Scott Caan and James Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues (1999)
  • Jon Voight and James Van Der Beek in Varsity Blues (1999)
  • Varsity Blues 4K Ultra HD Combo (Paramount)
  • Varsity Blues 4K Ultra HD Combo (Paramount)

The Video

Varsity Blues was originally shot on 35 mm Eastman EXR 100T 5248, Kodak Vision 500T 5279, and EXR 200T 5293 film stock. This new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from Paramount comes in a 1.78:1 HEVC 2160p (4K UHD) Dolby Vision transfer. While the film grain structure looks natural and flesh tones hit just right, the overall quality and detail is uneven. The opening sequences have some semi-coarse grain and softness. The image does pick up and settle into a thinner layer of grain, but some scenes still have higher granularity and softer details. The overall look is good, watchable, and free from source damage, but it is not as sharp as one would like. The Dolby Vision grading does result in some scenes where there is good ‘pop’ in specular highlights in lighting and extended shadow details, but it is almost a non-factor.

The Audio

Varsity Blues gets an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio mix on 4K that is competent and listenable but fails to take full advantage of the material. The dialogue is clear and full, but the surround channels are underutilized. In the various game-sequence scenes, there could have been more done with crowd noise and ambient effects in the surround channels. The low frequencies are good, where tackles and hits have good thump and crunch, but the low end hardly qualifies as the deepest, most bombastic one could ever hear.

The Supplements

There are no new extras on this release and all the video extras but the theatrical trailer are still in standard definition. There is also a digital copy code included.

Bonus Features on Blu-ray:

  • Commentary with director Brian Robbins, and producers Tova Laiter and Mike Tollin
  • Football is a Way of Life: The Making of Varsity Blues (SD; 00:17:47)
  • Two-A-Days: The Ellis Way (SD; 00:07:48)
  • QB Game Analysis (SD; 00:15:15)
  • Billy Bob with No Bacon (SD; 00:04:38)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 00:02:33)

The Final Assessment

Varsity Blues is an underwhelming sports movie that presents well, if not absolute reference level, on 4K from Paramount. Turn off your brain and let this late-90s film work as a paper thin pastime on a slow day.

Varsity Blues is out on 4K Ultra HD Combo January 9, 2024, from Paramount

Purchase Varsity Blues 4K Ultra HD Combo from Amazon.com

  • Rating Certificate: R (for strong language throughout, sexuality and nudity, and some substance abuse)
  • Studios & Distributors: MTV Films | Marquee Tollin/Robins | Paramount Pictures | Tova Laiter Production | Paramount Home Entertainment
  • Director: Brian Robbins
  • Written By: W. Peter Iliff
  • Run Time: 104 Mins.
  • Street Date: 9 January 2024
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: Dolby Vision (HDR10 Compatible)
  • Primary Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
  • Secondary Audio: French DD 5.1
  • Subtitles: English | English SDH | French

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A second string high school quarterback in small-town Texas, more concerned with getting into the Ivy League than getting a football scholarship, must step up and lead his friends and teammates when the star quarterback is injured, bringing him in direct contention with the abusive coach.Varsity Blues (4K UHD Review)