When the producers of the film "Miracle" approached Al Michaels to participate in his film about the legendary US Olympic hockey team in 1980, the Hall of Fame broadcaster agreed … on one condition.
They had to get to the heart of the story.
"I'll do that," said Michaels, who recreated parts of his famous 1980 game teleconferences for the film. "But I would only narrate what I remember being … the real truth."
Michaels had nothing to worry about.
The impressive triumph of the 1980 US team, which shocked the world 40 years ago on Saturday, by beating the Soviet Union on its way to a gold medal, still resonates. Four decades later, he has partly to thank the 2004 film.
"(The film) really went back to exactly what was happening and how it happened," said Michaels, speaking on a conference call about his memories of the Olympics. “A little bit was too much, as is the case with most films that try to recreate real life. But I thought they got the gist of it.
Traditionally, hockey films of the late twentieth century fell in the same general lines: cheerful comedies with unconvincing action sequences. Images like "Slap Shot" and "The Mighty Ducks" were cult hits, but hardly the appropriate model for the creators of "Miracle" to follow.
Mark Ciardi, a longtime Hollywood producer specializing in sports films, was one of the film's leading producers. From the beginning, he recalls that director Gavin O & # 39; Connor's intention was to seek a different cinematic tone that would capture all the political turmoil of the Cold War surrounding that winter's Games.
"Many sports stories are very personal, the arc of the central character," said Ciardi. “To have a sports film with an international political crisis taking place with the Cold War – I remember there was a real fear that we were going to be in a war with Russia, a nuclear war – it was incredibly tense. Before that game, he played for a bigger stage. "
Michaels added, "Gavin had told me before, they wanted to turn this into a total love story between Herb and Patty Brooks," the US coach and his wife.
For the sake of history, said Ciardi, that did not happen.
"This was such a heroic and incredible story," said Ciardi. "People were crying at the premiere."
The United States celebrates its 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympic Games.
The 1980 Winter Olympics hockey tournament took place as a Hollywood script. At a time before NHL players took part in the Games, the American team of 20 men was composed mainly of college students, of whom only 13 would play in the NHL. The Soviets, on the other hand, were considered the best team in the world (NHL or not) and had won the gold medal in the last four Olympics.
Defeating the Soviets and winning gold, said team captain Mike Eruzione, "was an impossible dream."
For those born after 1980, the film helped bring that fantasy back to life.
"At the time, when the film was released, it was huge," said Alex Iafallo, a 26-year-old Kings striker who grew up outside Buffalo. "We watch all the time on the road as a team, just to get inspiration."
Added Calgary defender Flames Noah Hanifin, 23, from Boston: “Many American children now grew up watching that movie and became interested in the game. My friends at home have all memorized it. It is a legendary film. "
The relationship between Brooks, acclaimed in the film by Kurt Russell, and his team gave the film its heart. Ciardi recalled that the casting team considered several other actors, including Michael Douglas, before choosing Russell. Looking at the performance of Russell, who grew up with a galvanizing locker room speech, Ciardi cannot imagine another option.
"When we started focusing on Kurt and he met Herb, it was like 'Oh, this is the guy'," said Ciardi. “When we got to the set, you heard these very subtle things. His wardrobe. His hair. Your speech. It was so close to what Herb was.
Filmmakers also sought the same precision in difficult-to-shoot action scenes.
Current Kings Bill goalkeeper coach Bill Ranford performed the action shots of American goalkeeper Jim Craig (to be played by actor Eddie Cahill) during the week-long filming process on a track in Vancouver.
"We were really focused on trying to make it as real as possible," said Ranford, who had recently retired from the NHL and played the same stand-up style as current Jim Craig. "We let hockey do the events, on the contrary."
Actors Eddie Cahill, left, and Patrick O & # 39; Brien Demsey played goalkeeper Jim Craig and team captain Mike Eruzione in the 2004 film, "Miracle".
(Chris Large / Disney Companies)
The stunt team watched the 1980 game movie to recreate entire game sequences, not just brief climatic moments. They performed minutes-long shots to capture seconds of genuine action. They also did not falsify verification and body contact.
"I have a cut in the film and a concussion in the film," Ranford laughed.
But the final product – which grossed $ 64.5 million at the box office and earned a second life on the Disney + and Netflix digital streaming platforms – was worth it.
"The biggest concern for us was … what would end up in the editing area, once you got away from the hockey guys?" Ranford said. "That's where we like the final result a lot, because they did a good job."
The script, written almost entirely by Mike Rich (who was not credited for the technical details of the unions), also had few liberties. Some details – such as the exaggerated tension between American players from Minnesota and Boston, according to Eruzione – have been expanded. But, as Michaels was promised, the core of the story was kept intact.
"This thing sings, resonates," said Michaels. "It provides tremendous inspiration and will be for many more years."
During production, Michaels resisted just one request: "They wanted me to speak in the last 25 or 30 seconds" of the Soviet game, he said, at the time of his iconic: "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" line.
Your answer: "Not about my corpse".
Michaels laughs at the exchange now. Instead, he said, pointing to the final moment of the film's immortalization, "they used the real Lake Placid tape."