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For more than a quarter of a century, director Barry Levinson’s film THE NATURAL ($25) has remained the single thing that I enjoy the most about the game of baseball. But then again, THE NATURAL isn't so much about the game of baseball itself, as it is about the mythic qualities of the sport. THE NATURAL takes the mythos of the great American pastime to an almost supernatural level, especially when it comes to dealing with the central character's "destiny" and potential for "greatness." Director Levinson imbues almost every frame of THE NATURAL with a sense of awe and wonder that magnifies the film’s near mythical elements, which makes it something much more than a simple movie about the game of baseball.

THE NATURAL stars Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs, a young man who has been gifted with the talent to play baseball since his childhood. On his way to Chicago to try out for the majors, Roy encounters a woman named Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey), who first attaches herself to The Whammer (Joe Don Baker), the greatest living baseball player, and then to Roy, when she realizes that he will eventually become the greatest of the great. Then, the unimaginable happens- Harriet commits an act that tragically cuts short Roy's career as a baseball player… even before it begins. THE NATURAL then flashes forward sixteen years, where we find an older Roy reentering the game he loves, at an age when a player should be retiring from the sport. Roy is signed to play for the struggling New York Knights by The Judge (Robert Prosky), the unscrupulous co-owner of the team, who is trying to steal the team from his partner, Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley). Unfortunately, the only way Pop can retain ownership of the Knights is if the team wins the pennant for the current season. Considering that Roy should be way past his prime, it becomes apparent that to Pop that The Judge signed Roy to a contract simple because he figures that the retirement age rookie will be absolutely no help to the team. However, even after sixteen years away from the sport, Roy still retains his tremendous talent, which comes a complete surprise to The Judge, as well as everyone else associated with the game of baseball.

THE NATURAL is a beautifully acted film that benefits from a wonderful cast. Certainly, Robert Redford is the heart and soul of the movie, giving a performance of understated grace. Glenn Close has never been as serene or radiantly beautiful on the screen, as she is portraying Iris Gaines, the girl Roy leaves behind, when he goes off to play baseball for the first time. Kim Basinger shows some of the stuff that earned her an Academy Award later in her career, as Memo Paris, the somewhat tainted woman who catches Roy's eye when he joins the Knights. Robert Duvall and an uncredited Darren McGavin give wonderfully oily performances, as two men who try to manipulate the game of baseball to suit their own purposes. The cast of THE NATURAL also includes Richard Farnsworth, Alan Fudge and Michael Madsen.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has made THE NATURAL available on Blu-ray Disc in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. I have to say that I am mighty impressed by the 1080p presentation that has been afforded to THE NATURAL. Caleb Deschanel’s slightly diffuse and nostalgic cinematography has never looked better in the home venue than it does right here. Interiors and nighttime sequences are the most diffuse, while exteriors appear more naturalistic. Despite the diffusion, the picture produces a lot more fine detail and apparent texturing than I have ever seen before on this film. Dimensionality also proves itself to be quite wonderful, especially during the natural daylight and baseball game sequences. Color reproduction is really quite splendid; much of the time the hues appear very true to life or slightly subdued, while at other times, they take on a warm and nostalgic glow. Blacks are inky, while the whites are clean and crisp. Contrast is smooth, while shadow detail does have some limitations due to the stylized cinematography. The elements from which THE NATURAL has been transferred appear are pretty clean. Grain is always noticeable, but becomes more discernable in darker sequences.

THE NATURAL is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. As a film that originated in the Dolby Surround era, there are limitations within the original sound design that prevent the track from engaging the viewer the same way that newer films do. That said, THE NATURAL still sounds pretty wonderful. Of course, as a mid-eighties soundtrack, most of the activity occurs in the forward soundstage, while the rear channels provide ambient sound and musical fill. The baseball game sequences effectively convey crowd noises and other sounds that heighten the action, although not to the level of modern films. Where this track really excels is in terms of musical reproduction. Thanks to the lossless encode, Randy Newman's haunting Academy Award nominated score has never sounded more robust, which again, left me humming the main theme for days after my latest viewing. French and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks are also encoded onto the disc, as is a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 channel track. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials, which have been ported from previous DVD releases. When Lightning Strikes: Creating the Natural is a three-part program that takes the story from the pages of the novel to the screen. Extra Innings are four featurettes that covers such diverse topics as Slow Motion photography, Uniform Color, The Sandberg Game and The President’s Question. Clubhouse Conversations finds Don Mattingly amongst the featured participants in this program about playing the game. Knights In Shining Armor: The Mythology Of The Natural is a pretty self-explanatory program. The Heart Of The Natural finds Cal Ripken Jr. talking about how his experiences mirror some of those of THE NATURAL. A Natural Gunned Down: The Stalking Of Eddie Waitkus offers the real life inspiration for the opening act of THE NATURAL. THE NATURAL is also BD-Live enabled (requires a Profile 2.0 player). Sony’s MovieIQ feature is available through BD-Live, which provides the viewer access to a continuously updated database of additional information about the film, its cast, crew and soundtrack, as well as other trivia. Bonus Trailers close out the supplements.

THE NATURAL is a wonderful film that makes a beautiful debut on Blu-ray. Very highly recommended.



The Natural [Blu-ray] (1984)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2010 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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