Thursday, March 15, 2007

THE NATURAL: Blu-ray (TriStar 1984) Sony Home Entertainment

Barry Levinson’s The Natural (1984) is the rather fascinating fictionalized account of a 1949 incident involving Phillie’s first baseman, Eddie Waitkus; shot for a thrill by a mentally unstable typist. Borrowing only the sketchiest of details from this real life would-be assassination (Waitkus actually survived the attack) Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Bernard Malamud first published ‘The Natural’ in 1952.

By 1976, the film rights were acquired, but the project did not get off the ground until TriStar Pictures decided to take the gamble in the mid-80s. By then, the list of eligible stars had been narrowed down to one; flaxen haired pin-up, Robert Redford – who had not made a movie since his directorial debut, Ordinary People (1980).

Shot on location in Buffalo, the tale eventually fleshed out by screenwriters, Robert Towne and Phil Dusenberry concerns virtual unknown ball player, Roy Hobbs (Redford) who leaves behind quiet life on a farm and the girl of his dreams, Iris Gaines (Glenn Close) to pursue his dream of hitting the major leagues. Hobbs makes his mark early. But he is sideswiped by a rendezvous with Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey); a femme fatale who lures him to her hotel room with the proposition of sex, then inexplicably takes a potshot at Hobbs and nearly kills him.

Told that the bullet has damaged his heart and that he will never play ball again, Hobbs begins his own strong and silent journey to recovery. He emerges, ever the wiser, in try-outs a decade later, but with his best years seemingly behind him; at least that’s how Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley) first views Hobb’s return. But no one is more impressed than Pop’ when Hobbs proves that time has not diminished his capacity to throw a great curve of switch hit with the best. But will Hobb’s dream kill him?

Immaculately produced with all the glory and excitement for the sport of baseball derived from that bygone era, The Natural is exhilarating and emotionally satisfying entertainment. In hindsight, the single most refreshing aspect of the film is its laconic pacing. This is a relaxed viewing experience, with ample time given for the audience to understand our hero and his motivations. Redford delivers an understated performance as the man with a destiny he is determined to fulfill. Glenn Close's near cameo performance is equally memorable, especially her final reactions in the stands to the Roy's comeback game. Though undoubtedly its’ sports theme will appeal more to the athletically inclined, as pure entertainment The Natural knocks one out of the park every time – a must see experience!
Sony Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray definitely improves on its pathetic DVD offering from some years ago. We get a 1080p effort that captures Caleb Deschanel's evocative 'vintage' cinematography. The image is softly focused as it should be, and yields a rich palette of understated colors. Contrast levels are bang on. Fine details are accurately reproduced as is film grain.   

The audio is 5.1 DTS.  Dialogue never sounds natural and there is a considerable lack of bass tonality. We get a lot of extras - a comprehensive making of the movie divided into three parts, a retrospective on the real Eddie Waitkus, conversations from the dugout, a featurette on crafting the story, and vintage interviews with cast and crew. Bottom line: highly recommended!   

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



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