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Although I enjoy golf, I am not particularly good at the game. Fortunately, when one plays golf, their only real opponent is themselves- well, at least that is one truth about the game that THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE ($27) brings out. In THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE Matt Damon portrays Rannulph Junuh, a promising young golfer from Savannah Georgia, who would appear to have the world in his back pocket- that is, until he goes off to fight in the First World War. Traumatized by his experiences overseas, Junuh returns home and withdraws from life, from golf and from Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron)- the woman he loves. The years pass and the depression hits the community of Savannah with the force of a freight train, which leaves Adele having to fend off creditors, who are trying to get their hands on the golf resort her father built. Selling off everything else she owns; Adele proposes to use the proceeds as a prize in an exhibition match between two of the world’s top golfers.

With Bobby Jones (Joel Gretsch) and Walter Hagen (Bruce McGill) scheduled to participate, the exhibition is certain to generate publicity for the resort, as well as for the town of Savannah. Of course, the town council would like to have a local golfer participate as well, just as a way of upholding Southern pride and generating even more enthusiasm amongst the locals. Although having spent much of his time in an alcohol induced haze the townspeople approach Junuh to represent them on the golf course. While it first appears that he is disinterested in participating in the match, the fact of the matter is that Junuh has lost his swing and doesn't want to embarrass himself or the town. Try as he might, Junuh can't seem to hit a golf ball straight, until the intervention of a stranger named Bagger Vance (Will Smith), who appears out of nowhere and offers to be Junuh's caddy in the upcoming match. Somehow, Bagger manages to rebuild Junuh's confidence with bits of wisdom and some old fashioned common sense. This gives Junuh the ability to swing a golf club again with a certain level of authority. As he regains control of his golf game, Junuh discovers that Bagger's words are also able to help him piece together the rest of his fractured existence.

Director Robert Redford succeeds in visualizing the mythic and inspirational properties of THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE, although the film itself isn't perfect. I am tempted to compare THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE to Barry Levinson's THE NATURAL, a film in which Redford starred, but comparing golf to baseball is like comparing apples to oranges. All I want to say on this matter is, as a film, THE NATURAL greatly exceeds the sum total of its parts, whereas, THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE doesn’t. THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE is entertaining, well acted and beautiful to look at, but I wouldn't regard it as a sports movie classic. However, Will Smith does give a truly standout performance, thus showing that his acting abilities are well beyond the "throw away" leading roles he usually plays. The cast of THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE also includes Lane Smith, J. Michael Moncrief, Peter Gerety, Thomas Jay Ryan, Michael O'Neill, Trip Hamilton, Dermot Crowley, Harve Presnell and an uncredited Jack Lemmon, who serves as the narrator of this tale.

Dreamworks Home Entertainment has made THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 playback. Michael Ballhaus' warm, nostalgic cinematography is truly well served by the fine transfer, which produces an exceedingly pleasing image that is sharp and very well defined. Colors are rich and vibrant, while flesh tones appear completely natural. Neither chroma noise nor bleeding ever effect color reproduction. Blacks are pure, plus the image provides very good shadow detail and excellent depth. As for the film element, it is free from blemishes, although noticeable grain does make an appearance from time to time. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed by dual layer authoring.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is quite nice, with a subtle but effective mix. Directional sound effects are rarely overwhelming, but they are realized with remarkable clarity and total believability. Ambient sounds are used effectively throughout the film to create wonderfully natural sonic environments. The actors’ voices are reproduced with full intelligibility and a nice live quality. The bass channel is quite solid and adds the necessary whomp to key moments in the film. A DTS 5.1 channel soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD; it is little different from its Dolby Digital counterpart, adding an extra layer of dimensionality to the sound effects and the music. English subtitles are provided on the DVD.

Full motion video animation and sound all serve to enhance the interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. A five-minute HBO behind-the-scene featurette is included, as is a second featurette entitled Robert Redford: Insight into The Legend of Bagger Vance/. Redford’s insight lasts less than five minutes, but it does include stills, along with commentary from the director explaining his personal reasons for making the film. A theatrical trailer and teaser, plus production notes and cast/filmmaker biographies fill out the extras.

THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE may not be a classic, but it is a likable movie that is worth spending an evening with. True fans will want to own Dreamworks great looking and sounding DVD, although the uninitiated will want to rent it before they add a copy to their collections.


The Legend of Bagger Vance


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 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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