A League of Their Own appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed edition was examined for this review. Although much of the movie looked glorious, enough problems cropped up along the way to make League good but not great.
Sharpness mostly seemed fine. Occasionally, wide shots came across as a little ill-defined, but those examples occurred infrequently. Instead, most of the flick was nicely detailed and concise. I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement popped up along the way. Print flaws showed up sporadically but caused some distractions. I noticed periodic examples of grit, marks and specks. These weren’t heavy, but they created some issues.
Colors seemed excellent. Despite the period setting, the film kept the hues natural, and they consistently looked vivid and dynamic. The tones were nicely rich and seemed quite distinctive. Blacks were deep and firm, and most low-light shots came across well. Some appeared a little dense, such as night-time images on the bus, but the shadows usually were solid. Overall, League fell short of consistent greatness but usually seemed very positive.
Although the package lists a Dolby Digital 4.0 mix, instead the DVD presents a Dolby Digital 3.1 soundtrack. This meant it presented three channels across the front plus support from the subwoofer but with nothing from the surrounds. The front three channels offered a decent sense of atmosphere. Music showed good stereo imaging, and the track came to life in a gentle way when necessary. The ballgames provided a nice feeling of environment, and louder scenes like the dance at the gin joint also brought us fair development. The track lacked great scope and could have used some surround ambience, but it still seemed fine for what it was.
Audio quality mainly worked well, with one exception: that LFE track. The bass was rumbly throughout the movie; even when nothing much should occur, I heard some distracting low-end. When the mix got more active, the bass became too dominant. This occurred for both effects and score, as they showed too much bass and overwhelmed the mix too much of the time.
Otherwise, the sound seemed acceptable. Speech occasionally betrayed some edginess but mostly seemed natural and concise. Effects appeared accurate and clean, without distortion or other issues except the heavy bass. In addition, the low-end caused the only problems with the score, as the music otherwise seemed clear and vivid. Ultimately, the audio of League appeared decent but somewhat flawed.
So how did the picture and audio of the new DVD compare to those of the original release from 1997? To my surprise, the old one both looked and sounded better. The biggest visual difference came from the original release’s greater lack of defects. While the 2004 disc didn’t suffer from tons of flaws, they showed up decidedly more frequently and prominently than with the past one. The 1997 release also looked a little crisper, though that different was minor.
As for the audio, while the old one showed some boomy bass, it wasn’t as annoying as with the 2004 disc’s low-end. In addition, the prior release showed a slightly broader soundfield, as it included some surround material. That element made little difference, as the rear speakers played a very minor role; the main improvement in the old DVD came from the less obnoxious bass. The 1997 DVD didn’t blow away the quality of the 2004 one, but it seemed superior nonetheless.
While the original DVD included no supplements, this new special edition packs some good materials. On DVD One, we launch with an audio commentary from director Penny Marshall plus actors Lori Petty, Megan Cavanagh and Tracy Reiner. All four sit together for their running, screen-specific track. While not a terrific piece, this discussion seems generally informative and entertaining.
Not surprisingly, Marshall dominates as the quartet addresses topics connected to the movie. Among other things, they go over training for the actors, elements shot but not used, Marshall’s directorial style, casting, and dealing with various logistical challenges. The three actors mostly toss in anecdotes from the set, many of which deal with Madonna. At times, we get some generic happy talk, and Marshall often tends to just tell us the names of participants. Nonetheless, the conversation moves briskly and offers a mostly fun look at the movie.
As we move to DVD Two, we find a lot of that cut material Marshall mentioned in the package’s 15 deleted scenes. We can watch these with or without introductions from director Penny Marshall. With the intros on, the entire set of snippets runs a whopping 36 minutes and two seconds.
Some excellent material appears here. We find a mix of extensions to existing scenes plus many that don’t exist at all in the final film. A good deal of them are quite funny, and we get segments that also elaborate on the sexual tension between Jimmy and Dottie. We find out the real reason Dottie cried after Betty’s husband got killed and see many other nice moments. It’s a fine collection of clips.
Marshall’s introductions mostly just set up what we’re going to see. Sometimes she gives us specific reasons for the deletions, though she implies the majority got the boot due to time reasons. The introductions don’t add a lot, but they’re short, and they’re informative enough to merit their use.
The disc’s other major extra presents a documentary called Nine Memorable Innings. It should come as no surprise that the program splits into nine chapters plus “pre-game” and “post-game”; via the “Play All” option, it runs 52 minutes and 12 seconds. It includes the standard mix of movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from director Penny Marshall, writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, and actors Lori Petty, Tracy Reiner, Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, Garry Marshall, Tom Hanks (from 1992), Jon Lovitz, David Strathairn, and Madonna (from 1992).
The program goes through a number of subjects. They talk about the films background and research, its path to the screen, casting, training, costume issues, shooting the baseball sequences and other notes from the set, Marshall’s approach and personality, anecdotes about the various actors, working with the older actors, and general reflections. The tone seems rather thin and fluffy, but a reasonable amount of good information appears. The mini-chapters go through the material fairly efficiently and it all goes down painlessly. I’d prefer less happy talk, but this remains a decent documentary.
Next we get the music video for Madonna’s “This Used to Be My Playground”. The song’s not exactly Maddy’s crowning achievement, but for a sappy ballad, it’s not bad. The video’s also decent but not better. It presents lip-synch clips from Madonna as part of a photo book. It’s a moderately clever execution of a standard format. It also tosses in some movie clips just like every other “music video for a song from a film” ever made.
A few other minor extras finish the package. In the Filmographies area, we get entries for director Marshall, screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, and actors Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, Jon Lovitz, David Strathairn, Garry Marshall and Rosie O’Donnell. The Previews section includes trailers for Brian’s Song, The Natural and League.
One disappointment in the extras department comes from the absence of a supplement that showed up on the old laserdisc. It had a documentary about the real women’s baseball league that inspired the film. Perhaps Columbia no longer had the rights to this and couldn’t include it here, but I still would have liked to get it as part of this package.
How can you resist a movie in which a ballplayer signs his autograph, "Avoid the clap - Jimmy Dugan"? I can’t. A League of Their Own presents a terrific film that works for a wide variety of audiences. While the disc presents very good picture, the audio seems below par, and neither comes across as well as they did on the original release of the DVD. This set includes some very nice extras, though.
I like A League of Their Own too much not to recommend it, but which version to recommend becomes a problem. The special edition provides a good collection of supplements, but the original DVD offers moderately stronger picture and audio quality. If you don’t care about extras, definitely get the old disc. If the supplements matter to you, I’d recommend the special edition. You lose a little in the picture and audio quality, but I think the extras make up for those issues. I remain disappointed that the new set displays weaker quality in any way, though.
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