Natural" on DVD
Barry Levinson's "The Natural" is nothing if not schmaltzy, but that
doesn't prevent it from being an excellent film nonetheless.
Robert Redford is Roy Hobbs who, from childhood, wants to be the best
baseball player there ever was. He gets his chance, leaving his home and
his sweetheart and boarding a train for an unknown but presumably exciting
future that starts with his major league tryout. Along the way he catches
the attention of a popular syndicated baseball columnist (Robert Duvall)
when, on a bet, he strikes out "the Whammer," a star of his day.
Then his life is unexpectedly shattered and the movie jumps ahead sixteen
years to a "middle aged" (for baseball, anyway) Roy Hobbs as he takes
his place as a rookie with the cellar dweller New York Knights. Over the
protestations and against the better judgement of the team manager (Wilford
Brimley), Hobbs eventually gets his change.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Or at least it would be if there was any justice - but this is a drama
first and so there must be conflict. In "The Natural" it comes from the
unscrupulous team owner partner and his bookie henchman, who have their
own reasons for the Knights to be a continual failure. Hobbs' outstanding
abilities, character, idealism, and leadership threaten that, so they
sic a beautiful blonde (Kim Basinger) on him to keep him occupied and
to ensure his mind isn't on the game.
Hobbs goes into a slump that threatens to put the Knights on the skids
once again - but as if by magic he comes out of it when a vision from
his long-dead past appears before him during a game in Chicago.
Hobbs is back on the right track, and the team starts winning again -
but this only causes his enemies to pull out all the stops to prevent
the inevitiable Hollywood ending from happening, and once more Hobbs'
and the team's futures are in doubt.
Redford is very good as the idealistic and talented Hobbs, and director
Levinson appears to take great pains to make him appear not as the goodlooking
matinee idol but as a handsome but all-too-human person. The whole ensemble
cast does outstanding work in the film, from Brimley and Duvall to Glenn
Close, Richard Farnsworth and Darren McGavin.
The film has a glowing, ghostly look in many places that lets you know
that this is really a fantasy, yet it manages to look gritty and believable
at the same time, while presenting the mythic quality of America's national
obsession with the Boys of Summer. In all, an excellent film.
The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and
despite the deliberate softness of the picture it looks great. The audio
is in 2 channel Dolby Surround and 4 channel "Discrete Surround;" we preferred
the discrete version, which envelopes the viewer in the atmosphere better
than the original.
Extras include a documentary featuring Cal Ripken Jr., talen files, production
notes, "original story source material" and of course theatircal trailers.
The Natural, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
138 min. widescreen (1.85:1) 16x9 compatible, Dolby Surround and Discrete
Starring Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford
Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Robert Prosky and Richard Farnsworth
Produced by Mark Johnson
Written by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry, Directed by Barry Levinson.
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