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Ron Shelton
Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Trey Wilson, Robert Wuhl
Ron Shelton

It's all about sex and sport. What else is there?
Rated R.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Surround 2.0
English; Closed-captioned

Runtime: 108 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 10/28/1998

• Audio Commentary With Director Ron Shelton
• Cast and Crew Filmographies

Special Edition DVD

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Bull Durham (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Although baseball movies generally have been regarded as box office poison throughout the years, the genre enjoyed a minor resurgence during the late 1980s. Within a year of each other, Bull Durham, Major League, and Field Of Dreams all came out and all did at least respectable business. Maybe the baseball movie actually did have some earning potential after all.

The problem with this inference is that of those three films, only Major League truly qualifies as a baseball movie. By that I mean that it was the only film that really was about baseball; it presented the subject in a fairly farcical manner, but it still focused on the sport itself.

For the other two films, baseball itself played an integral role but I don't think either movie used the sport as a focus. Field of Dreams held the weakest link to baseball of the bunch; it was more about relationships, especially in the way sports helps connect fathers and sons.

Bull Durham also really is a relationship movie. For the most part, it concerns a classic love triangle, with all the struggles and pitfalls that come along the way. Sure, the world of minor league baseball is used integrally as a backdrop, but in much the same way, An Officer and a Gentleman framed its picture with the reality of the modern-day military. No one thinks of An Officer and a Gentleman as being a film about the military, so why should Bull Durham be classified as a baseball movie?

I think that's largely why Bull Durham was successful; it was a sports movie that also appealed to a female audience, since the baseball aspects of the film were incidental to the relationships between the three leads. It also helped that the movie was funny, charming, and honest, and that it was executed with a great deal of class.

To me, the foremost reason why the film works as well as it does concerns the cast. Clearly a character-driven film such as this lives and dies with its actors, and from top to bottom, the performances are excellent. If the Kevin Costner of Bull Durham showed up more often, his career might not be in the toilet. Here he offered perhaps his most relaxed and self-assured performance. Watch Bull Durham and you can recall what made him a star in the first place.

Susan Sarandon does the miraculous with her role as Annie Savoy. With Costner's Crash Davis, there was some chance that he could come across as mean-spirited or harsh, but the script minimized these possibilities to a fair degree. However, as written, Savoy not only could have been but probably should have been absolutely insufferable. This woman, with all her pretensions and self-importance, seems completely unappealing in the abstract. However, such are Sarandon's gifts that she can take this genuinely obnoxious character and make her fairly charming and ingratiating. To be frank, I'm still not wild about Annie, but I certainly respect Sarandon's talent in avoiding what could have been.

Tim Robbins' character of simple-minded pitching phenom Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh seemed to be the easiest to portray of the three leads, if just because he's in the film the least and because the character is supposed to be more "one-note" and basic than the others. Nonetheless, Robbins infuses his performance with a genuineness that easily could have been lost along the way.

Bull Durham remains one of the best baseball-related flicks ever due to the vivid characters and the crisp and realistic portrayal of life in the minor leagues. Itís an entertaining and witty look at relationships that has aged very well and offers a consistently delightful piece of work.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B / Bonus C

Bull Durham appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though generally quite good, the picture displayed a few concerns that reduced its overall quality.

Sharpness appeared nicely crisp and distinct throughout the movie. I saw few signs of softness at any times, as the movie consistently remained well defined and accurate. Some mild moirť effects cropped up along the way, however, and I detected a little edge enhancement as well. The latter didnít seem to affect the definition of prominent material, but at times some background items looked fuzzier than they should; for example, signs at ballparks were a bit blurry at times.

Print flaws caused no huge concerns during Bull Durham, but they occasionally became a distraction. Some light grain appeared occasionally, and I also saw intermittent examples of grit and speckles. Again, nothing overwhelming occurred, but I found the picture to look moderately dirty at times.

Colors offered a strong aspect of the transfer. The hues appeared nicely vivid and accurate throughout the movie. I saw no signs of bleeding or noise, as the tones always looked clear and rich. Black levels also seemed deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Overall, the print flaws and edge enhancement knocked my grade down to a ďBĒ, but Bull Durham still offered a pretty satisfying image.

Also good but unexceptional was the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Bull Durham. The soundfield mostly offered a forward bias, where it provided generally solid stereo imaging. Music showed acceptable spread and delineation, while effects also created a reasonably positive sense of atmosphere. Most of those elements remained environmental, such as crowd noise at the ballpark or chatter in clubs. The surrounds contributed fair but unexceptional reinforcement of those aspects of the track.

Audio quality appeared decent. Speech remained consistently intelligible, but dialogue sounded somewhat stiff and metallic much of the time. Effects came across as acceptably accurate and clean, and they showed reasonable depth across the board. Music also sounded clear and distinct and displayed fairly good bass response. Nothing about the soundtrack made it stand out from the crowd, but for a chatty romantic comedy from the Eighties, it worked fine.

This version of Bull Durham includes only a couple of supplements. First up comes a running, screen-specific audio commentary from director Ron Shelton. Shelton offered a consistently compelling discussion of the film that didnít suffer from many empty spaces. He covered lots of different information, from the challenges that faced a first time director to changes from script to screen to working with the cast to deleted scenes to many other facets of the production. At times, Shelton came across as somewhat arrogant and full of himself, but those quibbles remained minor. As a whole, I found this to be a very good track.

Other than the commentary, the only special feature on this Bull Durham DVD is a section of filmographies for director Shelton and actors Costner, Sarandon, Robbins, Robert Wuhl and Trey Wilson. And thatís all she wrote!

Iíve always really liked Bull Durham as a film. It includes well-drawn and amusing characters who manage to avoid becoming stereotypes, and it lets them grow and progress in a naturalistic fashion. It also uses baseball as a believable backdrop for romantic comedy. Truly, this is the rare film of that genre that will appeal to male and female audiences. As a DVD, Bull Durham provides generally positive picture and sound plus a very interesting audio commentary. This movie belongs in any DVD collection.

Update: this review refers to the original 1998 release of Bull Durham. Itís now out of print and has been replaced by a new MGM special edition DVD. The latter adds some extras but provides different audio and picture transfers. Frankly, I preferred the sound and image on this DVD, though the variations were minor. Nonetheless, the new one may be the only game in town, as it probably will be tough to locate this original DVD.

To rate this film go to the review of BULL DURHAM: Special Edition.