Blu-ray Review: Fever Pitch (1997) - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Fever Pitch is most likely quite endearing to those prone to obsessing over professional sports teams. Those unmoved by such things are likely to have a difficult time relating. Originally produced in 1997, with David Evans directing Nick Hornby’s screenplay (adapted from his 1992 memoir of the same name), Fever Pitch is about irrational fanship. Paul Ashworth (Colin Firth) is a lifelong Arsenal FC supporter. The team is in the midst of an 18-year draught during which they have won no championships. It’s England in the late-‘80s and the sport hadn’t yet come into vogue, which may strike younger contemporary viewers as a bit odd. As put into context by the commentary track found on Twilight Time’s new limited edition Blu-ray (only 3,000 copies available), at that point in history, U.K. football fans were viewed as “yobs” by non-fans; uncool and uncouth.

Paul is a school teacher by day, but football is seemingly all he really cares about. That changes, somewhat at least, when Sarah Hughes (Ruth Gemmell) begins teaching in the classroom next door. In a classic example of the old “opposites attract” rule, the prim and proper Sarah begins a relationship with Paul. She’s put off, understandably, by his obsession with Arsenal. Paul seems to live for his team, religiously attending matches and endlessly belly-aching about their lack of success to anyone who’ll listen. To her credit, Sarah begins to make an honest, earnest attempt to understand why someone would take pride in the performance of a group of professionals with whom they are in no way affiliated. Once she realizes Paul has impregnated her, mutual understanding becomes more of a necessity if their relationship is to survive.

Fever Pitch cover TMR.jpgFever Pitch was remade in 2005 as a Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore vehicle, directed by Robert and Peter Farrelly. It was reasonably effective in transposing Paul’s football (known as soccer in the U.S.) obsession to the Fallon character’s baseball fanaticism (specifically the Boston Red Sox). Devoted fans of the lesser-seen original, however, will note that the significantly goofier tonal changes in the remake result in a far less subtle experience. Ultimately, of course, preference between the two comes down to a matter of personal taste, but the 1997 version barely feels like a comedy when compared to the 2005. It also downplays the cutesiness of the romance, shooting for a less-defined attraction between fan and non-fan than the Fallon/Barrymore pairing. In other words, the original feels more like the proverbial “slice of life” dramedy versus the Hollywoodized remake.

Fever Pitch, lensed by cinematographer Chris Seager, looks pretty solid on Blu-ray—as well it should, given that it’s a reasonably recent film. While it may not be the most striking transfer to look at, I haven’t seen the film in any other form and have no basis for comparison. The source print was clean. There was just sort of a drab, flat look to the film that simply may be inherent in the original cinematography. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix is similarly acceptable; nothing fancy, but nothing problematic either. The many period-appropriate pop tunes sound nice and bright and the dialogue, while very occasionally a bit harsh and brittle (shouted lines, at least), is clean.

As expected, since it’s a pretty standard inclusion on Twilight Time releases, there is an isolated score track (DTS-HD MA 2.0) included as a bonus. More interesting to non-film score buffs is the newly recorded audio commentary by Twilight Time team members Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo. It’s a breezy chat focused largely on placing the characters’ football obsessions in context. Redman, being British and a football enthusiast, goes a long ways towards explaining the somewhat peculiar place these “yobs” had in U.K. society in that era. They both seem to acknowledge that this is a pretty lightweight film to begin with, but their discussion keeps going steadily right through the end credits. Kirgo also contributes another of her excellent essays in the Blu-ray booklet.

More realistic and more serious doesn’t necessarily translate to more entertaining. I suspect many fans of the 2005 U.S. version who seek this out might wind up feeling a bit meh about Fever Pitch. While both are convincingly unlikable, neither Colin Firth nor Ruth Gemmell ultimately does much to endear themselves to the viewer. Their relationship understandably lacks chemistry at the outset, but no sparks ignite even as the rather conventional climax rolls around.

For ordering information on this limited edition Blu-ray (once the 3,000 copies are sold out, that’s it), visit Twilight Time distributor Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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