Bull Durham Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
No religion matches baseball, and there is no church as holy as that as the church of baseball. Buddha, Allah and Vishnu, after all, could never hit above .250, let alone earn a spot on a minor league team.
The Durham Bulls are a single-A team that has just acquired Ebby Calvin LaLoosh (Tim Robbins, FIVE CORNERS), a pitcher whose highlight reel is a unique mixture of strikesouts and wild pitches. He needs discipline, and so the managers call in veteran catcher “Crash” Davis (Kevin Costner, THE UNTOUCHABLES; the following year he would star in another all-time great baseball film, FIELD OF DREAMS) to make him more focused on the mound. It’s a hopeless cause for Crash, who sees LaLoosh (later dubbed “Nuke”) couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.
Enter baseball groupie Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK), who, in her opening narration, notes just how important of a game baseball can be, and just how it fits with sex. Every year, Annie selects one player as her bedfellow, finding through many seasons of experience that that player will have the best 142 games of their career.
BULL DURHAM is written and directed by Ron Shelton, who himself played minor league baseball in the ‘60s and ‘70s. (Shelton’s filmography mostly highlights sports movies, with WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP, COBB and TIN CUP among them.) Shelton’s experiences brings a welcome natural element, which finds its way into every scene, whether on the field or in the bedroom. These people feel real, their emotions and needs true.
Each of the primary cast members–Costner, Robbins, Sarandon–knows exactly who their characters are and what there is to risk and gain. Their frustrations and desires, their wins and losses, appear to be able to extend past just what will be seen in the movie’s runtime. This cast is one of the more appealing small ensembles of the time.
They help take BULL DURHAM into a realm that is seldom matched. Certainly there is something of a rundown between whether BULL DURHAM is a sports movie, a comedy or a romance (or even, as more of a compliment, which it’s a better one of). It leans towards neither, really, and ends up being a stellar mixture, perhaps the finest combinations of all three in film history.
One of the finest aspects of the film is the screenplay. The highly-quotable script offers sharp exchanges, tuned musings and monologues that sink into the mind after viewing. Costner’s “believe” speech still ranks as one of the movies’ most memorable musings that, at its finest, represents just how well BULL DURHAM meshes the three aforementioned genres. Shelton earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay but lost to RAIN MAN.
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “Supervised by director Ron Shelton, this new digital transfer was created in 10-bit 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, and small dirt.”
BULL DURHAM looks great here, with strong details, healthy colors and an overall natural image throughout, making this the finest it has looked on home video.
Audio: English 2.0 Surround; English 5.1 Surround. “The 2.0 surround soundtrack was remastered from the original 35 mm magnetic Dolby A track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX. Please be sure to enable Dolby Pro Logic decoding on your receiver to properly play the Dolby 2.0 surround soundtrack.”
The audio transfer is also commendable, with crisp dialogue, a strong soundtrack and organic background sounds (especially during the scenes at the ballpark).
Audio commentary featuring Ron Shelton: In this 1998 track, Shelton offers a thorough track that covers both his career as a minor league baseball player and the making of his debut.
Audio commentary featuring Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins: This 2001 track features the duo reflecting on the production. There are bouts of silence throughout where Costner and Robbins are just watching the movie, but the nice, friendly conversation makes the track worth checking out.
Going to the Show (18:55): This new conversation between Shelton and film critic Michael Sragow features the writer/director reflecting on his approach to sports movies, the production of BULL DURHAM and more.
Between the Lines: The Making of “Bull Durham” (29:18): This 2001 piece covers the making of BULL DURHAM, with interviews with Shelton, Costner, Robbins, and Susan Sarandon.
The Great Short on Dirt (19:23): This 2008 program features numerous interviewees–baseball figures, sports film fans, Shelton–offering their reflections on and appreciation for BULL DURHAM and its legacy.
Today (3:49): This excerpt from a 1991 episode offers a profile of the great Mat Patkin, the Clown Prince of Baseball, who is featured in the movie.
NBC Nightly News (2:39): This 1993 report looks at the last season of the Durham Athletic Park, where much of BULL DURHAM is set.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release: excerpts from a 1989 piece by longtime New Yorker baseball writer Roger Angell, with new comments from the author.