Baseball films always hold a place near and dear to me. I would go see them with my dad when I was a kid and enjoy the plight of a team or an individual with a desire to win and overcome the odds. Sometimes it would be funny (Bull Durham), sometimes it would be sad (Eight Men Out), sometimes it would be uplifting (Field of Dreams). However, all of the above movies would have never been as successful without one movie in particular. That movie is The Natural . The Natura… (starring Robert Redford & Glenn Close and so many other great actors & actresses) is the story of a fairy tale; one where Roy Hobbs (Redford) grows up with a great gift. The gift to play baseball better than anybody who has ever played the game. However, fate deals him a cruel hand as he encounters a mysterious woman (played by Barbara Hershey) who guns him down with a silver bullet. This ends his career for the next sixteen years until he battles back to find a spot on the Knights, a last place professional team in search of a hero. From here, this is where the story begins of a man battling his health and his demons to capture the pennant and to have his name remembered for ever.
The cast of characters are many; Glenn Close who plays Iris Gaines, the childhood girlfriend of Roy who is his guardian angel that inspires him to be the best. This would earn Close an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Kim Basinger plays Memo Paris who would become Roy’s lust and desire. Robert Duvall plays an inspired role as Max Mercy, the baseball writer who chronicles Roy through comics at both periods of his baseball life. Wilford Brimley delivers perhaps the funniest lines as Pop Fisher, the manager of the Knights (“I shoulda been a farmer”). Directed by Barry Levinson; this film plays out like a morality tale. Good (Iris Gaines, the Knights) vs Evil (Memo Paris, the Judge (Robert Prosky), & Sam Simpson (John Finnegan) and Roy Hobbs trapped in the middle fighting his own demons and aspirations.
The director’s cut of this movie runs a full 144 minutes with 20 minutes of new inserted footage. This amount to about six more minutes overall and changes the first part of the film for the most part. The theatrical version of the Natural told the story of the young Roy Hobbs through a series of flashbacks. However; for the DC, we get that in real time from start to finish. He grows up as a young boy with the gift, he meets the mysterious woman who guns him down, and then he joins the Knights to try to win the pennant. I’ve never been a big fan of the flashback when it’s used to tell us something that we have never seen before. So this DC certainly works and makes the film more complete.
This film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and is a huge improvement from the previous release. The picture is crisp and looks improved in every aspect. The film does feel a bit old but the film is over twenty years old and the era they are playing in is reminiscent of the 30’s and 40’s. But that never stops the film from being bright. Since a lot of the games are in the night; this really shows off the work that was put forth.
Sound is also given a significant upgrade. This movie sports 5.1 Dolby Digital (English, Japanese and Portuguese) and is the best this movie has ever sounded. Some of the effects might sound a bit manufactured; however the 5.1 really booms and all speakers will be used. There is a lot of good surround effects working here and in all the places you would expect it to be. The crack of the bat, the lightning strikes, the cheers in the stands. Subtitles are also provided for English, Japanese, Portuguese & French.
Video Introduction by director Barry Levinson : A short intro that explains a couple of quick things about the movie and how it is closer to the director’s vision.
When Lightning Strikes: Creating the Natural- 40 min
Pre-Game – A Novelist steps up to the Plate(10)
Line Up – Assembling the Moviemaking Team(16)
Let’s Play Ball – Filming the Show(23)
This serves as the true documentary of the film taking from the novel written by Bernard Malamud to the film directed by Barry Levinson. It explains how they changed the ending from the novel to the movie (it is a shocker and I won’t spoil it) and then goes on to explain the process of hiring the cast and how it was filmed. Good stuff, and full of useful information about the movie.
Extra Innings 7 min: Four shorts ( Slow Motion, The Sandberg Game, Uniform Color & The President’s Question) that go over special little aspects of the film & things that happened around that time outside of the film. Includes some baseball footage of Ryne Sandberg and some pictures of Ronald Reagan.
Clubhouse Conversations 15 min: A good featurette that talks to stars such as Don Mattingly about the game and the various comparisons to the Natural.
A Natural Gunned Down: The Stalking of Eddie Waitkus 17 min: Perhaps the most interesting featurette, this is the story of Eddie Waitkus who had a incredibly bright baseball career who got gunned down by a stalking fan but would come back to a couple of great seasons before going down the dark tunnel of alcoholism. This was one of the first cases of Celebrity stalking. and how it was partly modeled in the Natural
Knights in Shining Armor: Mythology of the Natural 9 min: Like I alluded to earlier, the Natural is a morality tale and we have a short feature that goes over the similarities and how it compares to the Odyssey and other parts of mythology.
Heart of the Natural 44 min: This is a documentary by Charles Kiselyak that talks about Cal Ripken Jr and his life in baseball in comparison to the Natural. It also spends a little bit of time with the director Barry Levinson. I might be in the minority (and I enjoy Cal as a youth) but this feels long and drawn out. Cal is an interesting speaker but not for 44 minutes straight. It does do a good job of talking about the Natural and what Cal Ripken Jr. thinks about the game.
Some films stay with me for a lifetime. The Natural is one of those films. I saw it when I was a kid and know a tear or two came at the end. I would venture to say that similar expressions of sadness came when I watched it as an adult. However, the reasons were slightly different. I played baseball for roughly 10 years, from 7 to 16. My dad’s greatest joy I think came from watching me grow up and playing baseball. I was a decent hitter, very good first baseman, and even an okay relief pitcher (I had a nasty screwball and good curve). My dad always wanted more for me and I know he secretly wanted me to “make it”. Even though I loved baseball, I never practiced enough; I never showed the dedication I needed to make my gifts into something great. I always wondered if I let him down. He asked me a few years ago to go play catch with him and we honestly had a good deal of fun. When Roy Hobbs plays catch with his father or son, I finally understand why my dad asked me to do that after all these years. I thank my dad for all he’s done and hope that I am a worthy son. The Natural is the best baseball movie ever from the casting to the acting to the story it unfolds. The Director’s cut makes the movie in the proper order and re-establishes itself as a classic. Video and audio are sharp and the featurettes are broad. May this movie have the little kid come out inside of you and for your loved ones in the years to come. Highly recommended.
Special Features List
- When Lightning Strikes (3-part documentary)
- Extra Innings (4 misc. featurettes)
- Clubhouse Conversations
- A Natural Gunned Down (Eddie Waitkus)
- Knights in Shining Armor (Mythology of the Natural)
- Heart of the Natural (Cal Ripken/Natural documentary)
- Video Introduction by the Director