North Dallas Forty (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Apr 01, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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North Dallas Forty (4K UHD Review)


Ted Kotcheff

Release Date(s)

1979 (March 26, 2024)


Paramount Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: B

North Dallas Forty (4K UHD)

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More than four decades after it was originally released back in 1979, North Dallas Forty still remains one of the crown jewels not just in the pantheon of football movies, but in the entire sports genre as well. While many of the elements in it may seem a little bit dated these days, the film still remains as relevant as ever, especially during this era of increased awareness regarding the toll that’s taken on the bodies of football players due to repetitive injuries such as CTE—to say nothing of the toll from the drugs that many of them take in order to be able to play through their pain. It’s all just business as usual in the NFL, and North Dallas Forty perfectly captures the perpetual disconnect between players and the owners who exploit them, which is something that hasn’t changed in the entire history of the sport. As Phil Elliott (Nick Nolte) tells his coach (G.D. Spradlin):

“We’re not the team. They’re the team! These guys right here, they’re the team! We’re the equipment. We’re the jock straps, and the helmets, and they just depreciate us and take us off the goddamned tax returns!”

North Dallas Forty began life as a novel by former Dallas Cowboy player Peter Gent, based loosely on his own experiences with the team. Gent’s frequently harsh source material was inevitably softened somewhat on its journey to the big screen, but his themes still shine through in the final film. The whole project was shepherded from beginning to end by producer Irwin Yablans, who also worked on the script along with director Ted Kotcheff and Gent, with help from an uncredited Nancy Dowd. Dowd, of course, was no stranger to deconstructing the sports genre, having already written the bitingly acerbic script for Slapshot just two years prior to this.

Needless to say, North Dallas Forty was produced without the participation of the NFL, so all of the names and logos had to be changed into something generic instead, but it’s always clear what’s actually being represented onscreen. The North Dallas Bulls are obvious stand-ins for the Cowboys; quarterback Seth Maxwell (Mac Davis) is a barely-disguised alter ego for “Dandy” Don Meredith, and coach Strother (Spradlin) is an unmistakable Tom Landry figure. There’s no real need for anything more direct than that, because the clash between the players who sell their bodies to the sport and the owners who prioritize profits over player safety is something that’s universal enough regardless of the context.

Nolte gives one of his very best performances as Phil Elliott, and that’s saying something considering just how many great performances that he’s given over the course of his lengthy career. Kotcheff and Yablans surrounded him with a superb supporting cast that included Davis, Spradlin, Dayle Haddon, Charles Durning, Bo Svenson, Steve Forrest, Dabney Coleman, and former defensive end turned actor John Matuszak. Sadly, Matuszak would pass away just ten years later at the age of 38 due to an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers. It was a case of life imitating art imitating life. North Dallas Forty may be a work of fiction, but it’s inspired by the very real pain that football players suffer (and the measures that some people will take in order to escape that kind of pain).

Under Kotcheff’s sure hand, the whole cast is quite good, and even Mac Davis manages to give Seth Maxwell a surprising amount of depth. Kotcheff has never really gotten the full respect that he deserves despite the extraordinarily varied body of work that he’s left behind, but he really nailed the tone for this film in a way that few other directors could have done. North Dallas Forty is broadly satirical, yet nothing ever feels implausible or forced. There’s also an understatedly elegiacal quality to the film, since it conveys the idea that Elliott really does love the sport despite the exploitative nature of ownership and coaching. The tension between those two elements is the heart of North Dallas Forty, and arguably the heart of the sport itself. That’s best summed up by something that Maxwell tells Elliott midway through the film:

“Hell, we’re all whores. Might as well be the best.”

Cinematographer Paul Lohmann shot North Dallas Forty on 35mm film using Panavision Panaflex cameras with anamorphic lenses, framed at 2.39:1 for its theatrical release. This version utilizes a 4K scan from the original camera negative that was supplied by Paramount, graded for High Dynamic Range in both Dolby Vision and HDR10. Like a few of their other recent 4K masters, the results are generally good but still a little bit perplexing. It’s the same core master that Paramount provided to Via Vision for their 2022 Blu-ray release, and while there are some visible improvements here compared to that disc, some of the same issues are still lurking in the background. To be fair, there are some weaknesses that are inherent to the original production, like the optically printed opening titles being a little softer and less detailed than the rest of the film. The Panavision lenses that Lohmann used display an extreme amount of softness around the perimeter of many shots, with some of them essentially having only an oval in the center that retains sharp focus. Lohmann also used diffusion filters occasionally that added to the apparent softness. This was never going to be a 4K presentation that offers the last word in fine detail, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

None of that is particularly surprising, and it’s not an issue with the transfer itself. The odd thing is that the image has a slightly processed look to it, with grain that doesn’t always look natural. The effect was much more obvious on the Via Vision Blu-ray since it ran at a relatively low bitrate. This encode is much more robust, and that definitely helps, but there’s still some odd processing lurking in the background. Paramount isn’t above using digital tools to strip out the original grain and then replace it with a layer of artificial grain instead, but that would have created more consistent results than what’s visible here. Stepping through some scenes on a frame-by-frame basis, there are places where the grain alternates between looking fairly natural in one frame and then smeared in the next. There’s still some minor damage like speckling and other single-fame blemishes that haven’t been smoothed out with digital tools, either, so it’s just not clear exactly what Paramount did in this case. Now, the usual caveat applies to all of this, which is that these issues are really only apparent when seen from up close on a large projection screen. Viewed on a flat panel at normal viewing distances, they may not even be noticeable, so your mileage may vary.

Setting that aside, the HDR grade offers some of the clearest improvements over the previous Blu-ray version. The colors are richer and better saturated, but in a subtle way that doesn’t take away from the way that North Dallas Forty originally looked. It was a product of the Seventies, and it still looks like Seventies filmmaking in this rendition. The Via Vision disc was prone to crushed blacks, but the expanded contrast range in this version offers a bit more detail in those shadows. Taken as a whole, this is unquestionably the best that North Dallas Forty has ever looked on home video, but it does fall short of greatness. It’s still quite good, however.

Audio is offered in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. North Dallas Forty appears to have been released theatrically in mono only, but even this 2.0 is in stereo, so both of these are remixes of some sort. There’s not much difference between the two, as the dialogue and sound effects are still mono, with the stereo spread coming solely from John Scott’s score. The 5.1 does add some reverb from the music into the surrounds, but not much else. Engaging a decoder on the 2.0 creates phantom surrounds that sound pretty similar, so once again, it’s not a drastic difference. The stereo spread of the score does seem a bit stronger in the 2.0, since the 5.1 steers some of it into the center channel, but you really can’t go wrong either way.

The Kino Lorber 4K Ultra HD release of North Dallas Forty is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film and a slipcover that matches the theatrical poster artwork on the insert. All of the extras have been ported over from the Via Vision Blu-ray, with the addition of a TV Spot for North Dallas Forty and a variety of Trailers for other films that Kino Lorber offers:


  • Audio Commentary by Daniel Kremer and Daniel Waters, with Ted Kotcheff


  • Audio Commentary by Daniel Kremer and Daniel Waters, with Ted Kotcheff
  • Hit Me with Those Best Shots: Ted Kotcheff Remembers North Dallas Forty (HD and Upscaled SD – 5:22)
  • Looking to Get Out: A Comparative Analysis of the Ted Kotcheff Vision (HD – 18:36)
  • Introduction by Ted Kotcheff (Upscaled SD – 1:21)
  • TV Spot (SD – :33)
  • Trailer (SD – 3:05)
  • Number One Trailer (HD – 2:48)
  • The Longest Yard Trailer (HD – 4:04)
  • Semi-Tough Trailer (SD – 2:11)
  • The Best of Times Trailer (SD – 1:47)
  • Return to Macon Country Trailer (HD – 2:17)
  • New York Stories Trailer (SD – 3:20)
  • Lorenzo’s Oil Trailer (SD – 2:30)
  • Jefferson in Paris Trailer (SD – 2:44)
  • Mulholland Falls Trailer (SD – 2:01)
  • Billy Two Hats Trailer (HD – 4:00)
  • Split Image Trailer (HD – 2:39)

Filmmaker/historian Daniel Kremer and screenwriter Daniel Waters offer a relaxed and conversational commentary for North Dallas Forty, interspersed with a few interview segments from Kotcheff. Kremer admits up front that despite his love Kotcheff and the film, he’s not really a football fan, so Waters is a perfect companion for this track—Waters describes himself as a “screenwriter and football fan.” He also describes the film as “The Godfather of football movies.” They spend some time examining the production and provide some interesting information, like the fact that Matuszak served as a sort of an unofficial assistant director on the set, advising Kotcheff on the details of the football life. Kremer and Waters make good companions for a track like this, with Kremer providing the specifics, while Waters focuses on his personal connection to the genre—in fact, he wonders at the end if he may have sounded a bit too much like Chris Farley. (He’s got nothing to worry about on that score).

Both the Introduction and Hit Me with Those Best Shots feature Kotcheff reminiscing about North Dallas Forty, which he describes as a great experience with a wonderful cast and crew. He talks about the opening and closing shots in the film, and explains how those two bookends are always the single most important part of every film. He stresses the need for technical accuracy in a story like this, and praises Matuszak for the invaluable help that he provided in that regard. Looking to Get Out is a video essay by Kremer that examines the way that Kotcheff used his deceptively simple visual style to express the primary themes in his movies. Kotcheff may have made films that seemed wildly divergent, but Kremer sees a unifying pattern that links all of them together.

North Dallas Forty may or may not be The Godfather of football movies, but it’s unquestionably one of the most important sports films ever made, and it holds up well even when considered from a modern sporting perspective. While Paramount’s 4K master might fall a bit short of perfection, it still looks as good as it possibly can in this UHD rendition from Kino Lorber, and it’s nice that they were able to include all of the extras from the Via Vision release. That makes this the best version of North Dallas Forty that’s currently available on home video.

- Stephen Bjork

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