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The Natural (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 29, 2010 by  



A film that is truly inspiring and wonderful… Robert Redford is fantastic!  “The Natural” is one of the greatest baseball films of all time and is now on Blu-ray!

© 1984 TriStar Pictures, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Natural

DURATION: 136 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), Audio: English, French (Par), Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

COMPANY: Tri Star/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG

RELEASE DATE: April 6, 2010

Based on a novel by Bernard Malamud

Directed by Barry Levinson

Written by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry

Executive Producer: Philip M. Breen, Roger Towne

Producer: Mark Johnson

Associate Producer: Robert F. Colesberry

Music by Randy Newman

Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel

Edited by Christopher Holmes, Stu Linder

Casting by Ellen Chenoweth

Production Design by Mel Bourne and Angelo P. Graham

Set Decoration by John Sweeney, Bruce Weintraub

Costume Design by Gloria Gresham, Bernie Pollack

Starring:

Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs

Glenn Close as Iris Gaines

Kim Basinger as Memo Paris

Wilford Brimley as Pop Fisher

Barbara Hershey as Harriet Bird

Robert Prosky as the Judge

Darren McGavin as Gus Sands

Richard Farnsworth as Red Blow

Robert Duvall as Max Mercy

Joe Don Baker as The Whammer

John Finnegan as Sam Simpson

Alan Fudge as Ed Hobbs

Robert Rich III as Ted hobbs

Michael Madsen as Bartholomew “Bump” Bailey

John Van Ness as John Olsen

Mickey Treanor as Doc Dizzy

George Wilkosz as Bobby Savoy

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 pass and 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.

I can easily remember watching “The Natural” for the first time and for any kid who enjoyed baseball, the character of Roy Hobbs was truly inspirational!  Many people thought Roy Hobbs was a real fictional character and in some ways, he is.

“The Natural” is a film that is an adaptation of a 1952 baseball novel “The Natural” written by Bernard Malamud and was inspired by the real life shooting of Philadelphia Phillies baseball player Eddie Waitkus who was a promising young star until an obsessed teenager gunned down the baseball player and nearly killing him.  The novel is also inspired by Shoeless Joe Jackson (who was one of the eight Chicago White Sox players accused of throwing their games against the Cincinnati Reds during the 1919 World Series) but the film adaptation while loyal to Hobbs as a player is completely different from the novel, as Roy Hobb in the film version is a hero and a character that continues to inspire many kids wanting to play baseball today.

“The Natural” is directed by Barry Levinson (“Sleepers”, “Wag the Dog”, “Bugsy”, “Rain Man”) and a screenplay written by Roger Towne (“Hawaii Five-O”) and Phil Dusenberry.  The film features cinematography by Caleb Deschanel (“National Treasure”, “The Spiderwick Chronicles”, “The Passion of Christ”, “The Patriot”) and music by world renown musician Randy Newman (“Toy Story” films, “”Cars”, “Monsters, Inc.”, “Meet the Parents” films).  The film has been released previously as a single disc DVD, a Director’s Cut DVD and a gift set.  Now, “The Natural” makes its debut on HD via Blu-ray in April 2010.  This version is the theatrical 136-minute cut not the 144-minute director’s cut.

The film is about a promising young baseball player named Roy Hobbs.  Taught by his father at a young age to play baseball and to be a precision pitcher, Hobbs would practice and show amazing talent.   One day, when his father died of a heart attack while cutting wood, young Hobbs would look at the tree which would get struck by lightning and split by two.  Hobbs would then take the wood and build his own baseball bat from the wood and with a soldering gun, engrave the words “wonder boy” and a lightning bolt on it.  The bat would be taken everywhere he went and become his baseball bat.

As a teenager, Roy Hobbs (played by Robert Redford) was a great baseball player in high school and eventually was scouted to become a pro baseball player.  His girlfriend at the time Iris (played by Glenn Close) was happy about Roy and his goal to become the best baseball player ever.

One day while riding on a train to visit a baseball team, he meets sports writer Max Mercy (played by Robert Duvall) and home run king “The Whammer” (played by Joe Don Baker).  Also, on the train he meets a woman named Harriet Byrd (played by Barbara Hershey) who catches his attention.  When “The Whammer” and Max Mercy are on a stop and visit a carnival, one of Hobb’s friends challenges “The Whammer” that he can be struck out by Roy Hobbs, which Hobbs eventually does.  Mercy draws an illustration of what took place and calls Roy Hobbs…”The Natural”.

A promising start for a young baseball player who is a precision pitcher, he eventually gets closer to Harriet Byrd.  But one day while returning to his hotel room, he finds Byrd waiting for him at his hotel wearing black.  When she asks him about baseball, Hobbs tells her that he wants to be the best there is.  And next thing you know, Harriet Byrd shoots Roy Hobbs.

Fast forward 16 years later, the New York Knights are the worst team in professional baseball and team manager and Knights co-owner Pops Fisher (played by Wilford Brimley) receives a new player on the team and it’s a middle-aged Roy Hobbs.  Fisher thinks its a joke that his new rookie an older man and is reluctant to play him at all.  But Roy tells him that he was a baseball player in high school and got sidetracked and now decided to play professional ball.  Of course, with an older player, no one takes Hobbs seriously.  Even his teammates who wonder why an older player is even on their team.

But one person that is willing to give him a chance is Pops assistant coach Red Blow (played by Richard Farnsworth) who tells Hobbs that Pops Fisher is a good coach but if the Knights fail to win a National League pennant, he must sell his shares to Knights principal owner The Judge (played by Robert Prosky).  But Hobbs is confident that he can be a great player and that the team can win and when Pops gives Roy a chance to hit some balls at the batting cage, Hobbs wows everyone on the team by consistently hitting the ball out to the stands for a homerun.

Then one day, Pops decides to let Roy play in the game and sure enough, Roy wins the game with his batting and hits the ball so hard that the material inside the baseball came spewing out.  The media begins to recognize the oldest man playing baseball and the Knights begin to win games.

But the Judge knows that in order for him to take control of the Knights, the team must lose and with the help of the gambler Gus Sands (played by Darren McGavin) and Pop’s niece and Gus’s girlfriend Memo Paris (played by Kim Basinger), they immediately start to work on Hobbs and try to keep his mind outside of baseball.

Can “The Natural” overcome all odds and help the New York Knights win a National League pennant?

VIDEO:

“The Natural” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1).  The film definitely looks very good on Blu-ray considering it’s 26-years-old.  The film goes through various moments where you see present time and also some scenes making the film look a bit aged (intentional).  But overall, the film looks very good.  Colors are actually very good because previous Sony Pictures Home Entertainment films from the early ’80s on Blu-rays in the past looked a bit DNR’d (digital noise reduction) and had this cloudy and waxy look to it.  But this time, the film includes the grain and probably very close to the original source.  The film looks fantastic as skin tones are natural, blacks are nice and deep.

“The Natural” looks better than any of its previous DVD counterparts!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Natural” is presented in English, French and Portuguese DTS-HD MA and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.  Although the film is primarily dialogue and music driven through the center and front channels, there are scenes that utilize the surround channels such as an oncoming train, lightning rumbles, the crack of a baseball when the bat connects to crowd ambiance.  So, there is a good use of the surround channels throughout the film.

But if anything will stay in your mind from this film, it’s Randy Newman’s musical score (which is a recognizable score) and the final moments of the film (yes, the ultimate scene from the film ala sparks and all) which sounds fantastic via lossless.

Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Natural” comes with the following special features in standard definition, English stereo and subtitles in Portuguese and Spanish:

  • movieIQ+sync (logo) and BD-Live connect you to real-time information on the cast, music, trivia and more while watching the movie! – While watching the film, if one has a BD-Live enabled player and is hooked up on the Internet, they can grab real-time information of the cast, music and trivia for the film.
  • When Lightning Strikes: Creating the Natural –  Pt 1, Pre-Game: A Novelist Steps Up to the Plate – (9:48) A featurette about the book “The Natural” and the differences between the novel and the film.  Also, a featurette about novelist Bernard Malamud by his daughter Janna Malamud Smith giving us insight of his painful upbringing and working on the novel.
  • When Lightning Strikes: Creating the Natural – Pt 2, The Line-Up: Assembling the Moviemaking Team – (16:27) A featurette about the creation of “The Natural” and bringing the novel to film.  Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry talk about how they came upon writing the film.  Also, how the director, cinematographer and cast were hired and the challenges of production for the first Tri Star film.
  • When Lightning Strikes: Creating the Natural – Pt 3, Let’s Play Ball: Filming the Show – (23:38) Cast and crew talk about the filming of the movie and the memories they have on the set and creating the final scene.
  • Extra Innings – (7:12)  More featurettes that goes into parts of the film which include slow motion (how the film utilized a lot of slow motion), uniform color (inspirations of the colors of the uniforms), The Sandberg Game (a featurette about Ryan Sandberg’s memorable homerun and Bob Costas calling Ryan Sandberg “Natural” and Sandberg talking about how he was called “Kid Natural”) and The President’s Question (Screenwriter Phil Dusenberry asked by President Ronald Reagan of why Hobbs was shot).
  • Clubhouse Conversations – (15:25) Talk about the history of baseball and how baseball was a great conversation piece.  Robert Redford, pro baseball players and journalists talk about how they became passionate about the game of baseball.
  • A Natural Gunned Down: The Stalking of Eddie Waitkus – (17:08) A documentary on the baseball player Eddie Waitkus, the real life baseball player known as “The Natural” who was shot by an obsessed fan.
  • Knights in Shining Armor: The Mythology of “The Natural” – (9:18) The mythic place of baseball and why the film is beloved.   The story about Roy Hobbs who has this special gift and in this story, the challenges the hero must go through (of course, novel and film are quite different).
  • The Heart Of The Natural – (44:06) Cal Ripken Jr. talks about the film and how the film relates to his real life from him playing baseball with his father, challenges on field and more.

“The Natural” is the greatest baseball film of all time.

I’ve watched many baseball films from the silents to modern baseball films and yes, as many are fun to watch and inspirational in showing team dynamics and the underdogs rising to the top.  “The Natural” is just the best baseball film out there.  Sure, it has elements from other baseball films, but the fact that you have a character of Roy Hobbs, who was a promising baseball player and loses it all after he is shot by a crazy woman and then 16-years later, tries to make a comeback in his mid 30’s when most players have retired.  How inspirational is that?

I know that there are some who may be a bit upset that the film doesn’t follow Bernard Malamud’s original novel but personally, when you have a sports film that can literally show the worst that can happen in baseball or a film that can truly inspire, I am so glad that author Malamud gave Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry the thumbs up to do what they want (Malamud was well aware that novel to film adaptations were different) and in this case, making Roy Hobbs a hero and for some people, despite being a fictional character, the bond that Hobbs had with his father to the love for the game rings true for anyone who has played or loves baseball. (Note: For those who want to know facts and fiction of baseball in relation to the “The Natural” can find some interesting tidbits here).

But at the same time, there is something very cool about seeing people that many consider are past their prime but yet showing us that they can still be awesome and be the best out there.  From Brett Favre, Jerry Rice, Lance Armstrong, Cal Ripken Jr. and many others who many felt were old and should retire, they continued to play their A game better than most athletes in their 20’s.  “The Natural” is a film that no matter how man years have passed since the film was released in theaters, it will be a classic baseball film and the character of Roy Hobb, may he be a fictional character, but it’s a character that many athletes can relate to.  Very inspirational!

As for the Blu-ray release of “The Natural”, as mentioned earlier in my review, this is the original theatrical release and not the director’s cut.  It would have nice if those eight minutes of extra footage was included as deleted scenes on the Blu-ray but we are getting the special features that were included from the 2007 two-disc DVD release.  But the picture quality on Blu-ray and the lossless audio along with the numerous special features makes this version the definitive version to own for now.

Overall, “The Natural” is a wonderful and inspiring film for so many people who love the game of baseball.  It is truly one of the greatest, if not the greatest, baseball film out there.  Highly recommended!

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