While Iíve never been a tremendous fan of the game of baseball, movies about the sport are a different matter altogether. I would count director Barry Levinsonís THE NATURAL amongst my favorite movies of all time, but there is another baseball themed movie that is near and dear to my heart. Without question, BULL DURHAM ($25) is an utter joy of a film. While baseball would seem to be the main focus of BULL DURHAM, this movie is equally about the other national pastime.
The plot of BULL DURHAM involves Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), a seasoned minor league catcher, who is nearing the end of his playing days. As the film starts, Crash finds himself traded to the Durham Bull, where he will impart the benefits of his experience to a young pitcher named Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), whom has what is best described as having "a million dollar arm and a five cent head." Making something of this cocky young ball player proves to be a challenge, not only because he is thick headed, but because of Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), a local baseball groupie, who take a shining to both men. Although Annie chooses to hook "Nuke" and make him her project for the season, her genuine attraction and affection for Crash remains ever present.
BULL DURHAM is a very sweet and very funny romantic comedy that produces consistent laughs. Writer/director Ron Sheltonís experience playing minor league baseball gives BULL DURHAM a very genuine feel for the game, but what is surprising about the movie is how well he has written the filmís central female character. Annie Savoy is one of the best roles of Susan Sarandonís career and my personal favorite of all of her performances. I have never found Kevin Costnerís performances to offer very much emotional depth, but he is perfectly suited to the role of Crash Davis, a man who keeps his feelings well hidden. Tim Robbins is hysterically brilliant in his portrayal of Nuke, a cocky, swaggering idiot, who is fortunate to have talent and people like Annie and Crash in his corner. The delightful supporting cast of BULL DURHAM features Trey Wilson, Robert Wuhl, William O'Leary, David Neidorf, Danny Gans, Tom Silardi, Lloyd Williams, Rick Marzan, Jenny Robertson, Carey 'Garland' Bunting and Max Patkin.
MGM Home Entertainment has made BULL DURHAM available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. A full screen presentation is also available on the opposite side of the DVD, but the comments in this review will be limited to the wide screen version. While the cinematography isnít particularly showy, this is a really nice transfer that accurately represents how this modestly budgeted film is supposed to look. The image is fairly sharp and the level of detail is respectable throughout. Some shots are a little soft, and others appear a bit grainy, but there is nothing particularly objectionable about the picture. Colors have a slightly dusty quality, but are rendered at a natural level of saturation, with nice looking flesh tones. Blacks seem just fine, as does the level of shadow detail. The film element used for the transfer has a modest number of blemishes, but not beyond what one would normally see in a typical 1988 release from a now defunct company. The wide screen version of BULL DURHAM has been authored on the dual layer side of the DVD and does not display any particularly noticeable digital compression artifacts.
For this release, BULL DURHAM has been upgraded to a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. The uninspired quality of the sound mix leads me to believe that the original un-matrixed Dolby Surround stems have been directly ported into the discrete format. Considering that BULL DURHAM a fairly talky romantic comedy, a showy sound mix is completely unnecessary for its presentation. Not surprisingly, the forward soundstage has a stronger presence than the rear channels, which provide a bit of ambient envelopment. However, the nicest thing about the mix is that it creates a genuine sense of open space during the ballpark scenes, which makes one feel as though they are at the game. Dialogue is cleanly reproduced and is always completely understandable. French and Spanish Dolby Surround, as well as Portuguese monaural soundtracks have also been encoded onto the DVD. Subtitles are provided in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVDís supplementary materials. BULL DURHAM features two running audio commentaries, the first with director Ron Shelton and the second with actors Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins. The commentaries are different enough that fans will want to check out both. Shelton covers all the bases on the filmís technical aspects, as well as working with the cast, while Costner and Robbins cut loose and have a grand old time sharing memories and talking about making BULL DURHAM. Those only interested in being entertained should stick with Costner and Robbins commentary, which can be pretty darn funny.
Also included on the DVD are three featurettes. Produced for this DVD release is Between The Lines: The Making Of Bull Durham, which runs a half an hour and includes new interviews with the cast and crew of the movie. The program provides a thorough look at the filmís production, as well as being somewhat fun and entertaining. Kevin Costner Profile and Sportís Wrap are lightweight programs that run a few minutes each and were produced for the filmís theatrical release in 1988. A theatrical trailer, a theatrical teaser, bonus trailers and a photo gallery fill out the DVDís supplements.
As I stated above, BULL DURHAM is an utter joy of a movie. BULL DURHAM is smart, funny, sexy and it makes one love the game of baseball, if only for itís running time. MGMís DVD presentation looks and sounds really good, making this a disc fans will want to snap up.
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