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Barry Levinson
Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Robert Prosky, Richard Farnsworth, Joe Don Baker, John Finnegan
Writing Credits:
Bernard Malamud (novel), Roger Towne, Phil Dusenberry

Boyhood dreams, a bat made from a tree struck by lightning and most importantly, a never-ending passion for the game.

Nothing was going to stop Roy Hobbs from fulfilling his boyhood dream of baseball superstardom. Robert Redford stars in this inspiring fable that begins when 14-year-old Hobbs (Redford) fashions a powerful bat from a fallen oak tree. He soon impresses major league scouts with his ability, fixing his extraordinary talent in the mind of sportswriter Max Mercy (Robert Duvall), who eventually becomes instrumental in Hobb's career. But a meeting with a mysterious woman shatters his dream. Years passand an older Hobbs reappears as a rookie from The New York Knights. Overcoming physical pain and defying those who have a stake in seeing the Knights lose, Hobbs, with his boyhood bat, has his chance to lead the Knights to the pennant and to finally fulfill his dream.

Box Office:
$75 million.
Opening Weekend
$45.033 million on 3471 screens.
Domestic Gross
$102.543 million.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French DTS-HD MA 5.1
Portuguese DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 138 min.
Price: $24.95
Release Date: 4/6/2010

• “When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural” Three Part Documentary
• “Extras Innings” Featurettes
• “Clubhouse Conversations” Featurette
• “A Natural Gunned Down: The Stalking of Eddie Waitkus” Featurette
• “Knights in Shining Armor: The Mythology of The Natural” Featurette
• “The Heart of The Natural” Documentary
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Natural [Blu-Ray] (1984)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 14, 2010)

After the low-key, comedic character piece that was 1982’s Diner, director Barry Levinson went for something completely different: The Natural. The 1984 flick spun a baseball fairy tale with an emphasis on airy mythology and a lack of much realism.

And it worked. The Natural became a pretty substantial hit with critics as well as moviegoers, and it remains one of the better regarded baseball flicks. Farm boy Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) once looked like a potential baseball all-star. He gets the invitation to pitch for the Cubs, and he shows his skills when he strikes out legendary hitter “The Whammer” (Joe Don Baker).

This attracts the attention of sports groupie Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey). She only goes for the best, so she abandons the Whammer and casts her spell on Roy. Harriet also proves to be a nutbag; when Roy tells her he’ll be the best that ever played, she shoots him, an event that completely derails his baseball career.

The story picks up years later. After an extended absence from the game, Roy attracts attention from scouts and nabs a spot as a middle-aged rookie right fielder for the sad-sack New York Knights. He also meets beautiful Memo Paris (Kim Basinger), the niece of manager Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley) and the girlfriend of arrogant, lazy outfielder Bump Bailey (Michael Madsen).

At first Pop refuses to play Roy, but he eventually puts Hobbs in the lineup. He causes an immediate sensation when he literally hits the cover off the ball in his first at bat. When Bailey dies during a freak accident, Roy permanently gets his spot in right field and lifts the Knights’ fortunes with him. Not all greet this with joy, however. Team owner “The Judge” (Robert Prosky) wants Hobbs to play less well; if the Knights win the pennant, Pop can buy majority interest in the franchise, so the Judge wants to prevent this.

Those elements lead to complications, especially when Roy develops a romantic interest in sexy Memo. She’s a bad influence, and his performance on the field immediately goes in the tank. The rest of the flick follows Roy’s fortunes in various ways, with a split between the team and his personal life – a factor altered when his childhood sweetheart Iris (Glenn Close) returns to the scene.

I’ve been hard on Levinson in the past, and I think he warrants such treatment. Levinson has always been an extremely up and down director, which an emphasis on the lows. And believe me: I don’t think it gets much lower than insufferable clunkers like Good Morning Vietnam, Toys and Avalon. Even Levinson’s biggest hit – the Oscar-winning Rain Man - is little more than sentimental hogwash.

Nonetheless, I’ll give credit where it’s due, and Levinson can produce solid work at times. 1991’s Bugsy worked awfully well, and The Natural also clearly stands as one of his better efforts. At times Levinson veers toward the flaws that mar many of his films, as he tends to be cloying and condescending. The latter doesn’t become an issue in this simple fable, but the former could cause problems.

Happily, Levinson avoids the gooey sentimentality that harms so many of his films. Natural walks a fine line in this regard, and with its heavy emphasis on the mythological, it almost falls into a treacly abyss. Miraculously, the movie manages to remain on the positive side of this divide. It teeters but never succumbs to its weaker tendencies.

Indeed, these elements turn into a strength. Natural wears its mythology and its sentiment on its sleeve. It never pretends to exist in the real world, and it emphasizes the awe-inspiring and the semi-corny. This is a sphere in which lightning always appears whenever anything dramatic occurs, and in which good girls always wear white and bad women always don black. There’s not a lot of room for dramatic interpretation in this fable.

But since Natural truly exists as a fantasy, Levinson makes these elements work. The nature of baseball helps. It’s always been the sport most appropriate for mythology, and the film milks baseball’s inherent drama and magic. It’s a basic good vs. evil tale, but one that makes perfect sense within its confines, and baseball helps create an even more engaging setting for its themes.

A terrific cast helps. In addition to the actors I already mentioned, we find stellar talents like Robert Duvall, Richard Farnsworth and Darrin McGavin. This excellent group abets the material well and gives the tale a little more credibility; if so many fine performers buy into the fantasy, who are we to argue?

Redford seems too old for the part; the then-47-year-old actor looks well past his mid-thirties, his character’s age. (Don’t get me started on the absurdity of Redford as the teen Hobbs!) Nonetheless, Redford still had enough golden boy sparkle to make his performance work. Redford doesn’t dazzle in the part; in fact, he seems a little dull at times. That’s not a real negative, though, since his low-key simplicity matches Hobbs’ Midwest persona. I don’t know if it’s a great match of actor and role, but it’s certainly not a problem.

I can find a few reasons to complain about The Natural. The flick drags at times, and it doesn’t always explore its characters and relationships very well. Nonetheless, it succeeds much more than it falters. The film connects with the magical side of baseball to become an entertaining little fable.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio A-/ Bonus B+

The Natural appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This wasn’t a killer presentation, but it was a good one.

Sharpness usually seemed strong. A few slightly soft shots materialized, but the vast majority of the flick demonstrated good delineation. Granted, the period presentation occasionally favored a slightly hazy appearance, but I didn’t think those elements caused distractions.

No jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge enhancement appeared to be absent. Source flaws also didn’t create major distractions. A couple of shots were a bit grainier than expected and I saw a few specks, but no other defects came along the way.

Given its old-time setting, I expected a subdued palette from The Natural, and it went along the anticipated lines. The flick featured a fairly sepia-oriented tone. Within that, the colors seemed fine. The hues were well rendered inside the confines of the vaguely brownish visuals. Blacks were dense and dark, while shadows came across as smooth and clear. The occasional softness and the smattering of print flaws made this a “B” transfer, but it remained satisfying.

While not a slam-bang mix, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of The Natural provided surprisingly vivid accompaniment to the action. The soundfield created a strong sense of atmosphere. Music offered great stereo delineation, and the effects formed a nice feeling of place and setting. Early in the flick, trains moved accurately around the spectrum, and they also surrounded us in an engrossing way. Other effects – thunder, stadiums, etc. – also opened up the spectrum well. These helped make a realm that involved us well.

Audio quality never betrayed the 26-year-old roots of the material. Speech always remained crisp and concise, while music fared well. The score sounded rich and full at all times. Effects seemed accurate and dynamic, and they boasted nice low-end response when necessary. Because the soundtrack didn’t dazzle, I was a little reluctant to give it an “A-“. However, it worked so well – especially given the movie’s age – that I figured it merited a high mark.

The Blu-ray shares the same extras as the Director’s Cut DVD from 2007. We begin with a three-part documentary entitled When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural. Taken together, the three segments fill a total of 49 minutes and 49 seconds. The show combines movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from Levinson, author’s daughter Janna Malamud Smith, Syracuse University professor Richard Breyer, writer/former chairman BBDO North America Phil Dusenberry, Great Baseball Films author Rob Edelman, National Baseball Hall of Fame vice president and chief curator Ted Spencer, National Baseball Hall of Fame Curator of History and Research John Odell, The Hero’s Journey author Phil Cousineau, broadcaster Bob Costas, Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball author George Will, writer/executive producer Roger Towne, former CAA agent Amy Bookman, producer Mark Johnson, production executive Patrick Markey, director of photography Caleb Deschanel, casting director Ellen Chenoweth, composer Randy Newman, Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Wilmington and actors Glenn Close, Robert Redford and Robert Prosky.

“Strikes” looks at author Bernard Malamud, the original novel, its real-life influences and its adaptation for the screen. From there it goes through bringing on a director, crew and cast, locations and shooting the baseball scenes. The rest of “Strikes” examines period elements, visual design, various memories of filming the picture, post-production and the movie’s reception

“Strikes” provides a very nice examination of the original novel and its adaptation, and it digs into many other issues in a positive way. We get many intriguing and/or amusing stories along the way, all of which flesh out our understanding of the production. “Strikes” is a top-notch little documentary.

Next come four featurettes under the banner of Extra Innings. These brief pieces include “Slow-Motion” (1:04), “Uniform Color” (2:03), “The Sandberg Game” (1:49) and “The President’s Question” (2:11). These feature Deschanel, Johnson, Spencer, Costas, Dusenberry, Towne, costume designer Bernie Pollack, and former Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg.

They cover the movie’s use of slow motion in one unexpected way, the look of the baseball uniforms, how Costas dubbed Sandberg “the real natural” in one big 1984 game, and former President Reagan’s query about the motives of a movie character. All these components are quite interesting, though I’m not sure why they weren’t simply incorporated into “Strikes”.

Clubhouse Conversations runs 15 minutes, 23 seconds. It features Will, Redford, Sandberg, Costas, Edelman, broadcaster Charley Steiner, WGM Management president Arn Tellem and ballplayers Don Mattingly and Jason Giambi. The participants discuss their personal histories with baseball and reflect on various aspects of the sport and what it means to them. They also chat a little about The Natural.

Mostly we get a lot of comments that wax euphoric about the beauty of baseball. While I adore the sport and like some of the players’ remarks, I could live without the usual pseudo-philosophical ramblings of Will and Costas. Still, the show entertains much of the time and merits a look.

For some history behind the movie’s story, we go to A Natural Gunned Down: The Stalking of Eddie Waitkus. In this 17-minute and six-second show, we hear from Baseball’s Natural: The Story of Eddie Waitkus author John Theodore and Waitkus’ son Ted. “Stalking” looks at the story that inspired the more violent aspect of The Natural. We learn about ballplayer Waitkus and how a psycho female fan affected his life and career. “Stalking” provides a tight exploration of the Waitkus story and proves very interesting for Natural fans.

Next comes the nine-minute and 17-second Knights in Shining Armor: The Mythology of The Natural. It offers notes from Dusenberry, Cousineau, Redford, Towne, Costas, Smith, Breyer, Deschanel, and National Baseball Hall of Game Senior Curator Tom Shieber. “Knights” views the movie through the prism of literature and prior mythological tales. It offers a nice little interpretation of the tale and deserves a look.

Finally, The Heart of The Natural lasts 44 minutes, four seconds, and features Levinson and ballplayer Cal Ripken Jr. “Heart” examines the movie’s themes and how they connect to real-life baseball as well as other reflections on the flick, its characters and situations.

I’ve been a Ripken fan ever since his rookie year, but I have to admit the man is not an interesting speaker. Earnest and genuine, he simply lacks much charisma. Since “Heart” features Ripken more than anyone else, that makes the show something of a dud. Ripken conveys general platitudes but never conveys much to pique our interest. “Heart” doesn’t deliver much stimulating content.

Under Previews, we find a mix of ads. We get clips for Ghostbusters, A River Runs Through It and Facing the Giants. No trailer for The Natural appears here.

Although I feared The Natural would become another of Barry Levinson’s sickly sentimental stinkers, it avoids the usual traps. Instead, it offers a stirring and engaging fantasy. The Blu-ray presents good picture and excellent audio along with a very good collection of supplements. Fans of the film should be pleased with this satisfying Blu-ray.

To rate this film, visit the Director's Cut review of THE NATURAL

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main