The Natural (Blu-ray)
There’s a lot going on in THE NATURAL. So much so that most critics spend their time talking about the greater message the film has about life and love and less time talking about the fact this is a baseball movie. As all sports can be a metaphor for something greater, this film uses baseball as the metaphor for any number of clichés; overcoming obstacles, doing what you love, never giving up, etc. It’s a dangerous game that director Barry Levinson plays very well and although the film explores some deep themes, it doesn’t take you completely away from the game of baseball. Robert Redford later tried to make a similar movie with THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE, which debuted to mixed results. The difference between the two films is that THE NATURAL doesn’t hit you over the head with the deeper meanings.
Robert Redford is Roy Hobbs, a young, hotshot baseball pitcher that’s on his way to try out for a major league team. The hope surrounding him is contagious and Levinson does a great job of getting the audience excited for him. Within a short time, we’re captivated by him and we’re fully invested in his plight. So when he gets shot, effectively ending his pitching career, we feel for him. This is a big accomplishment for the film and it carries us into the next chapter.
Another great decision by Levinson is to skip over the heartache and pain associated with the shooting. That’s not the story and a lesser director could have gotten lost in that dramatic event. Instead, we skip over and pick up with a much older, wiser Roy Hobbs, now an unknown outfielder for a struggling team. But in the back of our heads, we can’t help but feel sorry for him, despite his ability to succeed. We know what he could have been and until the extremely fulfilling ending, it’s hard to get over it. The way he handles the adversity and the setback is where the deeper meaning comes in. It’s there and I’m sure it means different things to different people. However, to me the film is always about chasing your dreams and putting your past behind you. But that’s just one of many messages the film has to offer.
Robert Redford doesn’t need anyone to point out his greatness or screen presence, but I can’t imagine anyone else carrying this film the way he did. Redford, more than any other actor, manages to say a lot without saying anything at all. A look, a sigh or a gesture from Redford can do more to develop a character than many actors can do with an entire monologue. That served him well in this as he didn’t really have a lot of dialogue. It didn’t hurt that he had some great supporting characters around him, most notably Wilford Brimley, whose turn as the washed-up coach is one of the most memorable in all sports movies. As a kid, I was disappointed when I found out my little league coach wasn’t the same guy peddling oatmeal.
There’s a reason THE NATURAL is one of the best sports movies of all time. It takes everything that’s good about sports and wraps it into an uplifting story about the human spirit. But even if you don’t care about the deeper themes, this is still an exciting baseball movie with one of the best endings in movie history.
Video: Even with Blu-ray, I don’t expect much when I put in an 80’s catalog title, but this one surprised me. The video was astonishing given the age of the film. I’ve seen this probably a dozen times and I never realized how much I was missing.
Audio: The audio quality was on part with the video in that it’s wonderful. THE NATURAL never sounded so incredible.
When Lightning Strikes (49:55): This is a great addition to the Blu-ray and covers just about everything you wanted to know about the film. It touches on several aspects and even goes through some baseball history to put the film into perspective. Anyone that enjoyed the film should check this out.
Clubhouse Conversations (15:24): This is a little on the fluff side, with several diverse people from different perspectives talking about the greatness of baseball. There are a few baseball players, announcers and crew members that show up to talk about their love for the game.
A Natural Gunned Down (17:06): Eddie Waitkus was actually a real life ball player that got gunned down by an obsessed fan. I found this to be fascinating, if only because I had never heard his story before.
Extra Innings (7:11): This is split into four parts, focusing on various, trivial aspects of the film. They give Ryne Sandberg (former Cubs player) a couple of minutes and discuss how he plays like Roy Hobbs. I didn’t really follow him as a player, but I wouldn’t call him “Roy Hobbs like”.
Knights in Shining Armor (9:17): Although a little on the cheesy side, this featurette compared the film to ancient mythology. I’m not sure I agreed with their assessments, but it was fun to watch.
The Heart of the Natural (44:06): Barry Levinson and Cal Ripken Jr. sit down and talk about the film and the greatness of baseball. By this time, I had heard everything before, so I found this to be a bit overkill.