In a recent episode of The Cine-Men, hosts Darryl Mansel and I discussed a few of our favorite sports films. This is a topic not in my wheelhouse as, growing up, I preferred to play them than watch them, a feeling which quickly made me an outlier in my family. Thus, films like Hoosiers (1986) and Rudy (1993), both directed by David Anspaugh and written by Angelo Pizzo, never drew my attention. I’ve grown up knowing the references, such as the July 22nd, 2012, episode of The Newsroom titled “Amen” that heavily utilizes the emotional connection to a pivotal Rudy scene as a through line of a central plot of the episode, but never made myself sit down and watch it in full. Therefore, when the Cine-Men episode was recorded some weeks ago, Rudy would be a prime example of the genre, but would not make my shortlist. Now, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Anspaugh and Pizzo’s beloved sports drama starring Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings; Stranger Things) in the lead role, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is releasing a limited edition steelbook containing a first-time 4K UHD edition of the film, a brand-new director’s cut of the film, brand-new feature commentary, brand-new deleted scenes, and legacy features. For all of you who have rooted for Rudy in real life or his cinematic replica, if you’ve been waiting to upgrade, now may be the time to act.
In the factory town of Joliet, Illinois, Daniel E. Ruettiger (called Rudy by friends and family alike) dreams of playing football for Notre Dame, the favorite school of his father, Daniel (Ned Beatty). However, born smaller than most players and not particularly skilled in coursework, all roads leading to the Fighting Irish seem closed. Despite all this, Rudy pushes unrelentingly to attend the school and join the team, even if it means being on the practice squad as a living tackling dummy for those who get to dress for the regular season games. Year after year, game after game, Rudy does all he can to support this team and maintain his dream of one day wearing the gold and blue, but his eligibility window grows smaller, too, making him wonder if his sacrifices will ever be worth it.
As stated, included with the anniversary edition are two versions of the film: the theatrical running 114 and a new 127-minute director’s cut. Having not seen the film before, I opted for the version that my family has so lauded, the theatrical, and everything discussed going forward will be addressing that version. For this review, I used my Sony Bravia LCD 63” TV and 5.1 Yamaha Surround Sound setup. In the opening scene, which focuses on the sky before revealing a young Rudy playing football with his friends and siblings, there’s a great deal of visual noise, so the image doesn’t appear as clean or crisp as one would expect from a 4K UHD remaster. However, as the film continues, the visual noise disappears in the majority of the remaining scenes, with it only being truly visible during others featuring the sky. In close-up or mid-range shots, there’s no noticeable grain or noise, with colors reasonable muted, achieving a very natural look to go along with the dramatic elements of the narrative. This isn’t a film that relies too heavily on the color spectrum, so the improved dynamic range of color via Dolby Vision may only be noticeable during the scenes at the steel mill when the molten metal or flames are on display. As for the audio, it’s incredibly clean and clear, with the balance for dialogue, sound, and score in harmony. To describe it as immersive when this isn’t the kind of action-oriented production where one needs to *feel* the sound, when it comes to the final game and hearing the audience chant for Rudy, one can only use the word “immersive” to make it understandable. But, then, that’s also a credit to the storytelling that one feels so invested by this point.
Do note that the 4K UHD disc houses both versions, along with the new deleted scenes and commentary from Anspaugh and Pizzo. According to the press notes, both versions of the film on the 4K UHD disc were remastered using the original camera negative and are presented in Dolby Vision (versus HDR10 or HDR10+) and the sound is remixed with Atmos, though this is director’s cut only, with 5.1 also available for those without Atmos capability. The theatrical edition includes both 5.1 and 2.0 sound mixes, making the audio options incredibly versatile for home viewing. The Blu-ray disc features the remaining bonus features comprised of legacy materials and the theatrical cut of the film in 5.1 audio.
The steelbook itself seems to be playing directly to fans of the film by using one poster design on the exterior front and the other on the exterior back. On the front is the shot of Rudy on the Notre Dame football field, bag in hand, stadium visible behind him, the sunlight coming through the clouds, with the name of the film sitting in the skyline: Rudy Has Come (to play football), it seems to say. On the exterior back, is Rudy, dressed to play, riding on the shoulders of his teammates after participating in the final play of the final game of the season. The interior of the steelbook case has the typical clear plastic liner that holds the discs on the right (places for both the 4K UHD and Blu-ray discs) and nothing on the left. With the discs removed, a full film still is displayed with Rudy in his gear on the field (though Rudy is on the left side of the steelbook, meaning that there’s nothing behind the discs other than the stadium and its occupants). In short, the total art design for the steelbook leans hard into the emotional resonance fans of Rudy feel by leaning on the journey and where it ultimately takes him.
With the film now in my rearview, it makes sense why those who love sports (or a good drama) would line up for Rudy. Especially as played by Astin, who just makes you root for him whether he’s a Goonie, a member of the Fellowship, or anyone else in his extensive career, Rudy is someone that you can’t help but feel connected to as he strives in this sort of lunkhead/naiveté toward his dream despite everyone around him who can’t see what he sees. It especially hurts to see his family either belittle or betrayal him because all they can observe within him is their own failures and insecurities, rather than sparing just a bit of faith and encouragement. Perhaps it’s a result of the story I tell myself with my own family as the aforementioned black sheep, the story of Rudy remains moving and powerful, so much so that even knowing about the famous jersey scene, I still found myself moved. Between Astin’s performance, the script from Pizzo, and Anspaugh’s direction, there’s very little inauthenticity to Rudy, making his devotion to the team and to his dream something that never comes off as insincere, thereby making the response from his teammates genuine. In an era of sports entertainment when Apple TV’s Ted Lasso (2020-2023) dominates with critics and general audiences, watching a film like Rudy reminds us that sometimes the power of belief, or as Lasso puts it, “to believe in believe,” is magic enough to set aside cynicism long enough to remind ourselves that dreams that uplift are laudable and should be supported. This is the story of one such moment in history and it makes sense that this film would be touted as among the best in the genre.
Though my feelings on Rudy have certainly changed, the question really comes down to whether or not the remaster is worth it for potential collectors and fans. Baseline: the biggest thing that this release has going for it is a new audio/video remaster and feature commentary track for the director’s cut. Die-hard Rudy fans aren’t going to balk at snagging this because of that alone. When you add in the art design that tickles those emotional frequencies and that it includes the legacy features, a solid case can be made for both die-hard and casual fans to pick this up. That the remaster may not be the best or the prettiest bears little influence as, overall, it’s a solid presentation that won’t leave anyone who enjoys the film disappointed. However, if you’re just a casual fan, not a collector, completionist, or major fan, then the solo Blu-ray that’s available will likely do the trick just fine for your needs.
Consider where you sit before purchasing, but this feels like a safe recommendation for folks still on the fence.
Rudy Special Features:
4K ULTRA HD DISC
- NEW: 127-minute Director’s Cut of the film
- Also includes the original 114-minute Theatrical Cut of the film
- Both versions of the film remastered in 4K resolution from the original camera negative and presented in 4K with Dolby Vision
- Both versions also include all-new Dolby Atmos immersive audio mixes
- 4K picture and Atmos sound mix approved by director David Anspaugh
- Also includes English 5.1 for both versions + 2-channel surround for the Theatrical Cut
- Special Features:
- NEW: Feature Commentary with Director David Anspaugh and Screenwriter Angelo Pizzo (Director’s Cut Only)
- NEW: 5 Additional Deleted Scenes
- Theatrical Trailer
- Theatrical Cut presented in High Definition
- 1 audio
- Special Features:
- Rudy: The Real Story Featurette
- Production Featurette
- First Down with Sean Astin
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray and digital November 14th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Sony Pictures Rudy webpage.