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May 12, 2009
Forever Strong Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
None28/4/2009Eagle EntertainmentRyan Little
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD MA 5.1MSean Faris

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Sean Faris shows off his physique.

Over the years there have been hundreds of sports movies, with many now considered classics including Rocky, Chariots of Fire and even Caddyshack. This movie doesn't reach those heights, but is a competent effort nonetheless and includes a few well known actors to generate even more interest.

Rick Penning (Sean Farris) lives life just like he plays rugby; fast, hard-hitting and intense. When life on the edge lands him in jail, prison ward Marcus Tate (Sean Austin) offers him a chance to get back in the game by playing for longtime rival team Highland Rugby. Reluctantly Rick joins the team where he must adopt the grueling training schedule and unique code of conduct that Highland's legendary coach (Gary Cole) demands. Egos clash and bitter competitors struggle to find the meaning of "team".

As on-field battles rage, hearts are challenged and loyalties are tried. Rick Penning must decide between the life he lived, and a life that stands before him. With a national championship on the line, he will learn that the greatest victories are born from the heart.

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Sean Austin in Forever Strong.
As a bit of a sports fanatic I was quite keen to check this movie out. While I prefer AFL (Australian Rules Football for those not living in Australia) to Rugby (League or Union) I'm willing to watch the odd match. My wife, however, as keen on sport, but fortunately Forever Strong doesn't need you to know any rules of the game besides the absolute basic - cross the line to score. Overall though this isn't the best sports movie, its utterly predictable from the opening scenes after the party, to the result of the big match. Where this movie is saved though is simply the fact that it is based on true events (even if those taking place over several years have been merged into a single season in this movie), and the decent performances from the rugby players, and certainly by Sean Farris as Rick.

For me, the real stars of this movie were the older actors, the two coaches and the prison ward. Played by Gary Cole, Neal McDonough and Sean Austin, each plays their roles brilliantly. Even the real life Coach Gelwix was impressed by the on-screen portrayal by Gary Cole and his humility and friendship is apparent on-screen. Rival coach and father of Rick is played by Neal McDonough and while he seems a little cold at times this is certainly the persona which the director asked for in being unforgiving and expecting the very best from his son. Sean Austin, who everyone should know from the three Lord of the Rings movies, is great as the mentoring and friendly prison warden. It is these three actors that really highlight this movie.

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Any New Zealander will know this...
Forever Strong isn't the best sports movie ever, but it does tell a heartfelt story which is based on real events. Rugby isn't a big sport in America and no doubt this movie won't receive the recognition that it deserves. In Australian and New Zealand, where Rugby has a much larger following, it should do fairly well. Both sports fans, and even those who don't follow much sport, should still enjoy this movie for various reasons. Worth a rental at least.

Forever Strong is presented at the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 which fills your TV at the resolution of 1920 x 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 codec. Again Eagle Entertainment are upping the quality of their transfers and even with the fast paced, quick cutting during the rugby matches this movie holds up quite well. The bitrate, according to the PS3 here, hovers around the mid-20Mbps mark with impressive levels of details and natural looking colours throughout. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a triple-A transfer, indeed the source material probably wouldn't allow it, but it is certainly a fairly impressive transfer overall.

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One of the few females in Forever Stong.
Forever Strong comes to Blu-Ray with an impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which generally sounds fantastic. Indeed the opening few moments is a wonderful cry from the Haka - anyone who knows the Haka will instantly recognise the calls. Dialogue is clear and the music rather emotive at times while the on-field audio includes plenty of calls from players, crowd effects and brutal hits. There is some use of the surround sound channels and sub-woofer and while it isn't up to the latest big blockbuster standards it sounds great for a low budget movie.

There are no other languages on this disc but, more disappointingly, there are no subtitles either so if you're deaf, you will probably want to give this release a miss.

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Neal McDonough as Coach Richard Penning.
Again Eagle Entertainment has upped the stakes when it comes to extras on their Blu-Ray discs. Unfortunately the video is only presented in Standard Definition, but the quality of the actual features is excellent.

The Making of Forever Strong (22:29): This is a pretty decent look at the making of Forever Strong with interviews with the main cast and crew as well as plenty of detail from the real coach of the Highland Rugby team. A little too much replaying of clips from the movie is disappointing, but there's enough here to warrant a look.

2007 USA High School Rugby Championship (1:09:10): Approximately 70 minutes of the 2007 Championship is shown here. Being in Standard Definition the video isn't great but it shows off the teams and some of the best plays and then shows the Championship game between Jesuit (Sacramento) and Highland.

The Haka/Rugby in the USA/Who is Coach Gelwix/Behind the Scenes with Coach Gelwix: Twenty-one pages of text are presented here which detail how the Haka works, Rugby in America and the Coach featured in the movie.

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Coach Gelwix is played by Gary Cole.
04/06/08 KUTV Newscast (3:42): A short TV interview with some Highland Rugby Team players and the coach.

31/05/08 KSLTV Newscast (3:53): A look at Highland's 18th's National Championship with a news article about the team.

Behind the Scenes: A rather disappointing series of 11 photos from the filming of the movie.

Image Gallery: A further 46 images are presented here with still from the movie.

Trailers (9:43): Trailers for My Fathers Footsteps, Autumn Hearts, Speed and Angels, and Phoebe in Wonderland. I really do wish that Eagle would start putting some of these on Blu-Ray in High Definition.

Forever Strong isn't the best sports movie we've ever seen, but there are plenty of likable characters, and being based on true events makes it even more engrossing. Solid audio and video, and numerous extras makes this a disc worth checking out.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Eagle Entertainment. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.