Director Barry Levinsonís film THE NATURAL ($25) is probably 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 filmís near supernatural 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 like few others can. While on his way to Chicago to try out for the major leagues, Roy encounters a woman named Harriet Bird, who attaches herself to The Whammer (Joe Don Baker), the greatest living baseball player of the day. However, when Harriet realizes that Roy is destined become the greatest of the great, she transfers her attentions to him. Then, the unimaginable happens- Harriet commits an act that tragically cuts short Roy's career as a baseball player, even before it has had a chance to begin.
Skipping forward sixteen years, THE NATURAL finds an older Roy reentering the game of baseball, 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 for Pop, the only way he 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 simply because he believes that the retirement age rookie can offer absolutely no help to the down and out team. However, even after sixteen years away from the sport, Roy still retains his tremendous talent, which comes as a complete surprise to The Judge, as well as everyone else associated with the game of baseball. . For this release, director Barry Levinson has gone back and re-cut THE NATURAL to suit his original intentions for the film. This Directorís Cut adds new footage and removes bits from the theatrical version. Changes strengthen the filmís opening act, which enhance the filmís overall power.
THE NATURAL is a beautifully acted film that benefits from its superb 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. Portraying Memo Paris, Kim Basinger shows some of the stuff that earned her an Academy Award later in her career, as 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 DVD in a 1.85:1 presentation that has been 16:9 enhanced widescreen displays. Like the previous theatrical edition, this transfer reproduces the filmís nostalgic look quite beautifully. The cinematography has intentionally gauzy softness than is well rendered. Despite the intentional softness, the picture is rich looking and offers a good level of detail. The color palette goes for a golden sepia toned look, with subdued hues. Blacks are generally accurate, but the level of shadow detail is reduced by the stylistic choices made in the cinematography. The film elements used for the transfer are in very good shape, with the newly added footage blending well enough. Digital compression artifacts are a not a problem.
For this release, THE NATURAL has been upgraded to a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. Of course, the filmís mid eighties origins remain quite evident in the new mix, as the majority of the sonic information remains localized to the forward soundstage. As for the surround channels, they provide mild effects, ambient sound and musical fill. Not surprisingly, the baseball game sequences are the most detailed aspect of the sound design, as everything else is pretty much just talky drama. Randy Newman's magical musical score is the true highlight of the soundtrack and is well served by the upgraded presentation. Every time I view THE NATURAL, I end up humming portions of his score for days. Japanese and Portuguese 5.1 channel tracks are also included on the DVD, as are English, Japanese, Portuguese and French subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some nice supplements. Barry Levinson offers a brief Video Introduction to this Directorís Cut. 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 Presidentís 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 a superb movie about the game of baseball and its mythic qualities. Sony Pictures Home Entertainmentís Directorís Cut release is an excellent offering for fans of this outstanding movie. Highly recommended.
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