Varsity Blues - 4K Blu-ray Review

Michael Scott

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Varsity Blues

Movie: :3.5stars:
4K Video: :4stars:
Video: :3stars:
Audio: :3stars:
Extras: :2.5stars:
Final Score: :3.5stars:

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I have a love/hate relationship with Varsity Blues, and it’s mostly a nostalgia thing. Back in 1999 I was a free wheeling Junior in High School, having fun with friends, partying, and basically acting like a dumb teenager. So back then when Varsity Blues hit it was sort of an anthem for our class. It had everything right and wrong with the 90s in it, complete with jackass abusive sports coaches, under age drinking, a scene at a strip club. You know, full bore late 90s cringe stuff that we though was awesome back in our teens. Growing up and looking back at the film I sort of loathe that we actually loved the film as much as we did, and it’s kind of an embarrassing mark on my re watched film collection over the years. I objectively know it’s a mediocre movie full of bad behavior, bad tropes, and a fairly anti-climactic ending. But at the same time it literally draws me back to being 17 and the fun I had at the time, so the nostalgia of it sort of puts a smile on my face simultaneously.

In many southern and midwest small towns over the nation Football isn’t just a sport, it’s a lifestyle. It permeates every part of the town from the kids playing it, up to the parents who vicariously live through their children, and even the old timers just cheering on the side line. Most people consider their husbands spending all of NFL season on the couch as obsessiveness, but in these places, football is the literal glue that holds the town together. Enter in West Canaan, Texas, one such town where football is the very life’s blood of the community. Jonathan “Mox” Moxon (James Van Der Beek) is the second string quarterback of the local high school, and not your typical jock. While he plays second string he also has ambitions to make it out of the football life and get accepted to Brown. However, those around him don’t exactly care that much. All they care about is the game itself, and he’s sort of the “inside outsider” as a result.

To make matters worse their coach, Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight) is not the amazing coach people have made him out to be in the town. Sure he gets the job done, but he also is a brutal man who abuses and pushes his players past the point of wisdom. After he pumps enough painkillers for their star quarterback (Paul Walker) to keep on playing against all conventional wisdom, Mox has a chance at being quarter back for real (thanks to said star quarterback injuring himself under all those drugs). Now he’s shot to stardom as his latent talents come to light, making him the defacto star of West Canaan, with all of the fame, girls, and admiration that he could ever want. Only thing is, Mox doesn’t really want this fame. He likes it, but his abusive coach has created a sort of moral conundrum within himself. Play as the coach says play, or rebel and throw off the yoke that has choked this team and town for way too long.

Varsity Blues features a veritable 90s playlist of “it” actors from the time. Allie Larter, Amy Smart, Paul Walker, Scott Caan, the list goes on. Not only that, it features every 90s trope known to man as well. We have teens drinking, stealing cop cars, going to strip clubs, random nudity, and of course all of that 90s slang that I grew up saying 25 years ago (and still do to a certain degree, much to the chagrin of my younger relatives). Simply put, it’s a pure football film, without any of the heart of Rudy, or the intensity of Friday Night Lights. It’s a teen coming of age film with football as the main method of distribution. Everyone is having a ball and delivers a solid performance, with Jon Voight probably carrying the most dramatic weight due to his obvious skill compared to a bunch of 20 year old actors. But lets face it, even though the movie is cheesy and 90s bad to the core, we’re only here to see that Allie Larter whipped cream scene anyways, amirite?


Rated R for strong language throughout, sexuality and nudity, and some substance abuse

4K Video: :4stars: Video: :3stars:
Now, on to the fun part. It’s well known that the Blu-ray transfer for this film is one of those early Paramount titles that was just “meh” all the way around. It’s never looked good, and with the promise of a new 4K remaster we were hoping for the best. Well, prayers are answered as the new 4K UHD sports a new encode that is faithful to the sun drenched yellows and greens of the late 90s filmography, while look way better than the smushed 1080p encode. It maintains a healthy light grain coating, with nice details and some really punchy highlights thanks to that honey yellow 90s look. Blues and reds on the field really pop more than anything, but the black levels offer one of the biggest upgrades. Gone is the banding and crush, and instead we get some really fantastic low light scenes such as the before mentioned “shooting trophies at night” one with Mox and Billy Bob (Ron Lester, who has since lost over 300 lbs). There’s some mild smearing going on a few scenes, but overall this is a hefty upgrade over the aging Blu-ray. Well worth the price of admission alone.

Audio: :3stars:
I’m not sure why, but Paramount has simply copied over the well known “meh” 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track from the 2009 Blu-ray, which is a strangely front heavy mix for being a big budget football movie. The majority of the audio stays up in the front 3 speakers, with the surrounds getting a boost here and there from the score, and some very anemic bass. Nothing is every BAD, it’s just that it’s weirdly front focused and there’s not a lot of dynamics. The track is pleasing and clean to the ear, with no distortion of dialog issues, but at the same time I always feel like it’s constrained and held back. Imaging is decent with some neat panning effects during the games, and that scene where the kids are shooting the shotgun at trophies offers a surprisingly great scene that stands out from all the rest. Personally I would have loved for a remaster of the audio, but it is what it is.

Extras: :2.5stars:
Audio commentary with director Brian Robbins and producers Michael Tollin and Tova Laiter
Football is a Way of Life - The Making of Varsity Blues
- The Ellis Way
QB Game Analysis
Billy Bob with No Bacon

Final Score: :4stars:

Despite being an overload of 90s cliches, Varsity Blues makes for a decent football watch if you want to teleport to being a teen at the turn of the century in a small football town. It’s got a decent third act, and a surprsingly mellow ending, but it’s fun enough for what it is. The negatives will of course being second fiddle to a dozen other great legendary football movies, but features a lineup of 90s it people and a fun pop-punk and rock 90s score that never gets old. Paramount’s 4K UHD disc is also night and day better than the abysmal video of the aging Blu-ray, although the same anemic audio is transported across. If you’re a fan of the movie then this is a pretty solid upgrade, but not a mind blowing one. Solid Watch.

Technical Specifications:

Starring: James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Paul Walker, Allie Larter, Amy Smart
Directed by: Brian Robbings
Written by: W. Peter Iliff
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 HEVC
Audio: English: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French DD 5.1
Sugtitles: English SDH, English, French
Studio: Paramount
Rated: R
Runtime: 105 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: December 9th, 2024

Recommendation: Solid Watch



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Great Review Michael. " we’re only here to see that Allie Larter whipped cream scene anyways, amirite?"....I said a very similar thing in my review. A little factoid, that wasn't whipped was actually shaving cream. Whipped cream just runs like mad...don't ask how I know that ;)
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