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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
The Natural (Director's Cut) (1984)

"God, I love baseball."
- Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: April 02, 2007

Stars: Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Kim Basinger
Other Stars: Wilford Brimley, Robert Prosky, Richard Farnsworth
Director: Barry Levinson

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:23m:30s
Release Date: April 03, 2007
UPC: 043396184084
Genre: sports


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-AA B+

DVD Review

I had this wonderful, jowly old professor of medieval history in college who, in between furious bouts of his chain smoker's cough, happily volunteered that his all-time favorite movie was The Natural, which he saw as a straight-up retelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. And certainly as baseball movies go, this isn't one that smacks of authenticity, or that even wants to—it's self-consciously mythical, playing on the lore of the game, the sort of stuff that will only make number-crunching sabermetricians roll their eyes. Well, leave those guys to their spread sheets and their fantasy leagues, because this is a grand American story, deliberately archetypical, almost to its detriment. That is, the myth sometimes gets in the way, and occasionally we feel like we're watching types and symbols, not right fielders and middle relievers. But so much of Hollywood is about printing the legend, and there's no better instance of that than this.

It's tough to resist the baseball metaphors when writing about this movie, or about the book on which it is based, so I won't, especially since it's a movie about, in part, temptation—Bernard Malamud was swinging for the fences with his novel, one that gets at baseball as a classic part of the immigrant experience, and that doesn't recoil from the darkness that's always been a part of the American dream. Robert Redford stars of course as Roy Hobbs, who makes it to the show at an age when players are thinking about hanging up the spikes, and there's more than a little of both the cowboy and the noir hero in Hobbs. He's a man with a past, and he doesn't care to discuss it; he's been nursing some ancient wounds, and makes it his business to keep everyone at arms length. Whatever his age or his history, however, the fella can hit, and he's out to prove that he's the best you ever saw.

Director Barry Levinson brings his love of the game to this project, though it had to have pained him on some level for the great American hero to be playing for New York and not Baltimore. The Natural has become such a staple of popular discourse on baseball that it's actually kind of refreshing to see it in this director's cut—it's not significantly different, though it's more consciously a memory piece, beginning with Roy at the end of his journey returning to the old homestead, haunted by the voices of his past. Redford has never looked more like an Adonis striding the earth than he does here—neither he nor the character he plays seems merely mortal, but rather gods among us. It's almost like the movie looks at its hero the way that boys look at their favorite players before the inevitable disillusionment. It's hokey, sure, but that sort of childhood hero worship is palpable and powerful. (Dedicated dOc readers will not be surprised to learn that simply uttering the words "Derek Jeter" are enough to make my son swoon.)

This Knight of course has his sword, Wonderboy, and he jousts with a literal prince of darkness—Robert Prosky is bombastically wicked as the Judge who owns the team, wants always to sit in the dark, and pulls for his nine to lose, for business and gambling reasons. (This improbable story line is pretty much parroted beat for beat and played for comedy in Major League.) Glenn Close doesn't have the iconic stature of Redford—hardly anybody does, I suppose—so at times it feels like she's not up to handling the mantle of being Roy's angel—and having much more fun, anyway, is Hobbs' own Mephistopheles, Max Mercy, played with relish by Robert Duvall.

We all know of course that baseball isn't in fact a Manichaean drama, and that the groupies hanging at the team hotel probably aren't as deranged as Barbara Hershey or as wicked as Kim Basinger; and that a coaching staff made of crotchety old sorts like Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth is the stuff of central casting exclusively. But it's pretty to think that the uniforms are that gorgeous, that the game is that stately, and it's deliberately nostalgic for a time when the players wore flannels on the field and fedoras off of it, and when their worst vices were poker games on the team train. If you've got even a modicum of baseball fan in you, you've got to be stirred by the movie's climax, and I bet you've played it out, in your head or on the school yard, more than once. It's a bit over the top, maybe, but it's easy and pleasurable to lose yourself in—and, really, isn't that what the movies and baseball are for?

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: As he did at around the same time on The Right Stuff, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel turns in work that's just absolutely stellar—his sepia-infused palette evokes a kind of nostalgia without larding it on too thick, and you wish that life looked like a movie that he's shot. As sports movies go, his work may rival Michael Chapman's on Raging Bull, though in terms of tone and heft and style, they've got little else in common. This is a very strong transfer, a significant improvement on the movie's first release on DVD.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Japanese, Portugueseyes


Audio Transfer Review: Randy Newman's score may be as iconic as any other single element of the movie, and it and the rest of the soundtrack sound swell here. The layered sound mix is full of ambient touches like the ding of elevator bells and the clinking of highball glasses and beer bottles, while keeping the dialogue clear and well dispersed.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Japanese, French, Portuguese with remote access
5 Documentaries
7 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Levinson provides a very brief introduction (02m:04s) to the feature, discussing recutting it for DVD, and claiming that this edition is closer to his original intention, which wasn't met the first time out because of an accelerated post-production schedule. The rest of the extras are on the second disc, starting with a three-part documentary, When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural, which can't avoid the baseball lingo any more than I could. Pre-Game (09m:49s) includes new interview footage with Levinson, Redford, Close, professional baseball fans Bob Costas and George Will, and Janna Malamud Smith, the novelist's daughter, along with a grab bag of other scholars and baseball historians—they go over the writing of the book, Malamud's own immigrant experience, and some of the historical figures who inspired the author. The Line-Up (16m:26s) features screenwriters Phil Dusenberry and Roger Towne, along with Prosky, Deschanel, and producer Mark Johnson, discussing the evolution of the script and the years the project spent in development, and Let's Play Ball (23m:37s) focuses on the shoot—it gives everybody a chance to tell their favorite anecdotes, and to praise the minor-league park in Buffalo that was the movie's principal location.

Under the heading "Extra Innings" are four very brief featurettes, dealing with Deschanel's use of slo-mo; the Knights' uniforms, with guidance from Cooperstown; Costas and Ryne Sandberg, who had a Hobbs-like game shortly after the film opened; and Ronald Reagan asking Dusenberry about a crucial plot point. Clubhouse Conversation (15m:24s) offers extended reminiscences on baseball and American manhood, featuring Redford, Will, and Yankees first basemen past and present: Don Mattingly and Jason Giambi. A Natural Gunned Down (17m:07s) tells the story of Eddie Waitkus, a ballplayer shot three years before the novel was published, and an obvious source of inspiration for Malamud. Knights in Shining Armor (09m:17s) offers still more on baseball, The Natural, and American mythology, and back from the first DVD release is The Heart of The Natural (44m:03s), featuring Cal Ripken Jr. reflecting on the movie, and how his relationship with his own father affected so much of his life, both on and off the field.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Barry Levinson, Robert Redford and company have knocked the cover off the ball; this has never been a movie for baseball purists, and this director's cut stokes the mythology of the piece still further. In truth, though, it's got to be impossible to be a baseball fan and not have some deep-seated sentimental weakness for The Natural, which looks marvelous on this disc, and has been suited up with a fine package of extras.

 


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