Thursday, March 15, 2007

BULL DURHAM (Orion 1988) MGM Home Video

Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham (1988) is a rather gritty comedic gem about the low shots and high curves in minor league baseball that develop into something more on the road to the hall of fame. Shelton, once a player for the Carolina league, came well versed to this project – a rather minor though engaging film that explores the troubled relationship between an over-the-hill minor leaguer, Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) and ravenous baseball groupie, Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon).

Annie simply adores her local Durham Bulls. She’s a delicious flirt and a devious cougar, but her heart is in the right place. Annie’s chief interest in the current season’s roster is newbie Ebby Calvin Nuke Laloosh (Tim Robbins). Ebby is all force and no content. He has a great right arm but zero control. Enticed to Annie’s home under the pretext that they are going to have sex, Ebby instead finds himself bound and stripped and being read poetry. The lesson is exasperating, though instrumental in teaching him about restraint.

Meanwhile Crash (Costner) is an old flame hoping to rekindle his romance with Annie anew. He doesn’t mind her methods of persuasion, but he’s mature enough to realize that life begins after all the bats and gloves have been put back in the dugout. Growing increasingly jealous of the relationship between Ebby and Annie – especially when it appears that her tutelage is actually getting his rival to focus on his game – Crash convinces Ebby that to actually have sex with his instructor would jinx the team’s current winning streak.

Bull Durham is rather empty-headed nonsense. The Shelton screenplay is uncommonly raunchy. Sarandon’s particularly engaging as the temptress of the outfield who feels it her duty to mold young talent into her kind of sport's hero. Robbins does a good job of playing the country bumpkin who is professionally 'matured' by the final fade out. In retrospect, Costner is the disappointment; laconic, brooding and wholly unlikable – even as he is practically non-existent in the role of would-be superstar. 

MGM Home Video’s Blu-ray is a disappointment. Utilizing the same tired elements from the DVD release merely bumped up to a 1080p signal, the image is predictably weak in all the anticipated areas. Contrast levels are so-so, colors are anemic, and film grain does not translate accurately. Yes, everything tightens up due to the higher bit rate, but marginally so at best.  Fox needs to get a clue. They've been slapping out substandard transfers on Blu-ray hoping the consumer will either look the other way or perhaps not notice the difference. Note to exec's at Fox: thanks fellas...but we're not that dumb! 

The audio remains 5.1 Dolby Digital, strident and lacking in base tonality. Extras are all imports from Fox/MGM's SE DVD and include individual audio commentaries from Shelton and Costner, a brief ‘making of’ featurette, photo gallery and trailers.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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