(film portion of the review taken from review of prior DVD release.)
If one sport has consisently turned out great on the big screen, it would have to be baseball. "Field Of Dreams", "The Natural", "A League Of Their Own" and even the recent Kevin Costner picture "For Love of the Game" (ok, so "For Love" was only occasionally entertaining). There's something about the great American pastime that can really be visually satisfying and memorable - the deep greens of a newly cut field of grass, the crack of the bat, the cheers of the crowd. There's also the $30.00 tickets, $5.00 hot dog, $8.00 parking and $3.00 soda - but we won't go into that. Films like "The Natural" can remind us when the sport was good and pure, and didn't cost a ton of cash to watch.
Robert Redford stars as Roy Hobbs, a prime baseball talent mostly sidelined after a tragic incident. Years later, he finds himself back in the big-time looked over by an angry, losing coach (Wilford Brimley). With a bat made from a tree struck by lightning, the older gentleman who walked onto the field proceeds to take the major leagues by storm.
Although "The Natural" isn't without a few things I would have fixed (the film's 138 minute running time is about 15 minutes too long), there's such a great deal to enjoy. The film is set-up as a bit of a sports "fairy tale", but rarely takes it too far away from reality, keeping events inspiring and engaging as we follow Roy as he attempts to be the best that he can be no matter what the odds. Deschanel's golden cinematography is nothing short of fantastic, and is a shining example of how excellent his work is.
The two pieces of the puzzle that stand-out among everything else though, are both Redford's excellent performance as well as Randy Newman's triumphant score, as engaging when subtle as when at its most intense. It's not flawless, but even years later, "The Natural" still remains a winner.
Director Barry Levinson notes in the introduction on this DVD that he was not able to structure the first act to his satisfaction, due to time constraints in post-production. This "director's cut" of the movie is really a director's cut, as Levinson has sat down to finally make the movie the way that he originally saw it. The result is that some scenes have been compressed/re-edited and that about 20 minutes of new footage is added. However, the difference in running time is only 6 minutes longer this time around.
VIDEO: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment offers "The Natural" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is not simply a "re-use" of the prior DVD's transfer, but a new high-def transfer supervised by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. The result is a beautiful presentation of the film. While some scenes of the movie intentionally appear a bit softer than the rest, the majority of the film looked crisp, smooth and well-defined here.
While there were a few minor instances of artifacting and a couple of small instances of specks and marks on the print used, this was largely a crisp, clean and clear presentation. No edge enhancement was seen and the film's natural color palette looked nicely saturated and never smeary or otherwise problematic.
SOUND: The film is presented here in Dolby Digital 5.1. Understandably, the film's repurposed 5.1 presentation doesn't offer a whole lot in the way of surround activity, but the sound mix does at least put the rear speakers to use to provide some ambience, a few sound effects and reinforcement of Randy Newman's classic score. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and a surprisingly full and rick sounding score.
EXTRAS: The first disc only offers an intro from director Barry Levinson.
The second disc opens with "When Lightning Strikes", a 3-part documentary that runs nearly 50 minutes in all. The documentary covers a lot of ground, discussing the original novel by author Bernard Malamud, writing the script and differences between the novel and the film, the surprise of Redford's attachment, Levinson coming aboard and more. Baseball movies weren't exactly all the rage at the time, so the picture was considered something of a risk. The cast was built around Redford, and soon enough Levinson was able to pull talented crew - such as Deschanel - aboard. The first part of the documentary takes a look at the novel and the story, the second part takes a look at pulling the film together and the third chunk of the documentary looks into filming and stories from the set. The interviews with cast and crew throughout the documentary are newly recorded.
"Extra Innings" offers some very short interviews with star Ryne Sandberg, Deschanel and others. "Clubhouse Conversations" is a 15-minute interview featurette that has Bob Costas and others chatting about the sport. It's an enjoyable featurette, but really the kind of thing you only listen to once. The 17-minute featurette "A Natural Gunned Down: The Stalking of Eddie Waitkus", looks at how a female fan effected the life of player Eddie Waitkus and how it inspired part of "The Natural". This is known as one of the first cases of celebrity stalking.
We also get "The Heart of the Natural", a 44 minute documentary by Charles Kiselyak, who I also believe was the director of "Oliver Stone's America", the documentary included in the Oliver Stone DVD Collection. It's a terrific presentation, mostly starring famed baseball player (and very likely future Hall Of Famer himself) Cal Ripken, Jr. The baseball player talks in great detail about the film and how he feels about his life in baseball, as well. Director Barry Levinson contributes lightly to the proceedings, adding somewhat to the insights about the film. The majority of the documentary though is devoted to the thoughts of Ripken, Jr. and he's simply fascinating to listen to, bringing a great deal to the table as he speaks about his feelings on "The Natural" and the game in general. Absolutely worth a viewing. Finally, we get the short 9 minute featurette, "Knights in Shining Armor: The Mythology of The Natural".
Final Thoughts: "The Natural" still remains a fantastic effort from director Barry Levinson as well as a top-notch cast and crew. This new release is genuinely a nice new edition of the title, with a director's cut approved by Levinson, a new presentation of the film that looks and sounds great and some terrific bonus features (although a Levinson commentary would've been nice.) Recommended.
The Film A-