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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( 65:09)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • French: Dolby Digital Mono
  Subtitles
    English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary - Voight + Schroder
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • Behind the scenes footage

The Champ

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 123 mins . PG . NTSC

  Feature
Contract

No matter what I say about this film, someone is going to disagree. If I tell you it's a wonderful family film that will pull at your heart strings like no other, some will laugh. If I tell you it's an overly sentimental, melodramatic piece of fluff that tries too hard, and runs the risk of disappearing up its own backside, there will be some who will bay for my blood. I am going to tell you it is both, depending upon how you approach it, but there are several things I think we will all agree on.

The Champ was released in 1979, at the end of a decade that was flooded with disaster films. It starred Jon Voight in the lead role of Billy "The Champ" Flynn, Faye Dunaway as his ex-wife (Annie), and Ricky Schroder as their eight year-old son, Timmy (T.J.). It was directed by Franco Zeffirelli, who specialised in films relying on heavy sentimentality, and won Ricky Schroder a Golden Globe Award in 1980 for Best Star of the Year.

Flynn is a washed up, former boxing champ now walking horses at a stable, who has succumbed to the demons of booze and gambling. He even stoops so low as to steal money from his son, T.J., in order to feed these demons. A short winning streak sees him buy young T.J. a mare, which they train up. At the track, T.J.'s mother, Annie, crosses their paths, though T.J. is not aware of who she is. Annie has remarried and moves in the best circles society can offer; life is all racetracks, yachts, and French fashion. The horse breaks down (but recovers), and Annie, using that as an excuse, drops by the stables to see her son. Flynn is not happy, but they manage to come to an access arrangement.

After a big gambling loss, Flynn punches out the loan shark who comes to collect the horse as payment when Flynn fails to raise the cash. Arrested and thrown in jail, Flynn all but pushes T.J. into the arms of his mother (who couldn't be happier). Upon release, he decides the only way he can provide any sort of decent future for his son is to return to the ring and win a big fight. So begins some serious training, but many questions are asked. Is Flynn too old? Does Flynn really still have what it takes? How many times can Flynn get punched around the ring?

The Champ is a film in two halves, though neither is really about boxing. The first explores the breakdown in the father-son relationship, and the second explores Flynn's attempts to make something of himself, repay his son's love and respect, and live up to expectations. Both halves are heavy on sentiment, and even cynics will be hard pressed to remain unmoved. The acting from the three leads is first rate, and Schroder manages to match it with Voight and Dunaway in every scene. Director Zeffirelli has pulled out every trick in the book to get you to cry, and although the story is a tad predictable, the ending may still manage to be a surprise to some.

  Video
Contract

First things first. The cover states this is presented in aspect ratio 1.85:1, but it is actually 1.78:1. At least the 16x9 enhanced claim is accurate. The second faux pas and first real quibble is that The Champ is another of those NTSC titles that Warners continue to release in region 4, so you'll need to have NTSC compatible hardware to view this.

OK, what about the transfer? This is a 1979 film and it has that slightly soft look that films of the era seem to have. There are some obvious marks on the film and certain passages are affected more than others, though overall it is quite clean. The first few minutes had me worried, but it soon improved. There is also some obvious grain, especially in those early scenes, though this too improves.

Colours are fair, though bordering on looking washed out, but the '70s fascination for pastels make this hard to determine. There is no problem of colour bleeding, though reds really stand out from other colours. Black levels will fail to impress, but there is no evidence of noise. There is a tendency for whites to glare and this is more obvious when next to dark areas. Shadow detail is fair.

This is a dual layer disc, but the layer change at 65:09 is barely noticeable.

  Audio
Contract

A choice of English Dolby Digital 2.0 or French 1.0 is offered. The English option is serviceable, but a 5.1 transfer could really have made use of the ambient sounds that are all through this movie, from the track to the ring. In stereo, they are a little flat and fail to impress. The audio is generally clear, though overall this is more low-fidelity than high-fidelity. There are a very few instances of drop out and a short scene early in the film where there is a slight drop in clarity.

There is not a lot of use made of the stereo track, and there is only minor panning and separation. The music is suitably sentimental and rousing, though fails to impact as much as a 5.1 track would. There are a few instances of distortion when characters are required to shout.

  Extras
Contract

There are a few extras that are of interest, though they don't offer anything new.

Audio Commentary: This is provided by the male leads Voight and the now adult Schroder. Basically reminiscing, it does provide a few insights into their relationship at the time of filming, lots of trivia, and Schroder's emotional side as he is reduced to tears more than once.

Cast and Crew: This is a text-only filmography of the three main stars, and although the full cast and crew are listed, only the three leads can be selected.

On Location With The Champ: This is a 6:49 minute behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, and includes short interviews with the adult leads. It is a full frame presentation in Dolby Digital 2.0.

Trailer: Presented with the same technical specifications as the feature, the trailer runs a little over two minutes but is not as clean, and has a noticeably softer look.

Awards: Perhaps the shortest and lamest extra, ever. One award, three lines of text. Incidentally, you've already read about it in this review.

  Overall  
Contract

This is the movie that introduced Ricky (now Rick) Schroder and cemented Voight as one of the tough guys of Hollywood in the '70s. The direction from Zeffirelli is very good, the acting is first rate (you'll be hard pressed to find a better performance from a child actor- ever!), and an unashamed play for the heart. Those with abandonment issues should approach with caution.


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      And I quote...
    "The 1979 remake of a film that offers no apologies for trying to make you cry. The cast deliver knock-out performances, and even the toughest will go down for the count..."
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Akai
    • TV:
          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
    • Speakers:
          Wellings
    • Centre Speaker:
          Wellings
    • Surrounds:
          Wellings
    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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