The Natural -
Director's Cut (DVD-Video)
B Sound: B- Extras: B Film: A-
first film ever released by Tri-Star Pictures, The Natural was a moderate hit in theaters and
garnered four Academy Award nominations, winning none. But its
reputation and fan base has grown over the years, and it's now widely
considered to be one of the most beloved sports movies ever made. It
might not have won any Oscars, set any box-office records or made many critics Best-10
lists, but it certainly gets talked about more often than a lot
of other movies from 1984 that made more money or received
time for the beginning of the 2007 baseball season comes Barry Levinson's
director's cut of The
Natural. But to
tell you the truth, when compared to the theatrical cut of the movie, most of
the minor changes Levinson makes in the director's cut weren't necessary, and
the condensing of one great sequence is a mistake.
limits his alterations to the first 20 minutes or so, and too little is changed
to affect one's overall enjoyment of the film, but he shouldn't have shortened
the sequence where young baseball phenom Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) strikes
out a Babe Ruth-style figure called the Whammer (Joe Don Baker).
original cut, one of the best shots in the film takes place right after Hobbs
strikes out the Whammer during a picturesque sunset, and from a long shot,
we see the crowd of onlookers gather around Hobbs, who, for one shining
moment, has stolen the glory away from the Whammer. This is one
of the most memorable sequences in the movie, and Baker so perfectly embodies
the Babe that we come away wanting to see more of him, not less.
said before, I'm all for longer cuts of movies where a director goes back and
adds things he was forced to leave on the cutting-room floor, but when a
director starts removing anything from an already good original cut, it gets
back to the old adage of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
the 1952 book of the same name by Bernard Malamud, which ended on a much
darker note, The Natural
is a baseball fantasy/morality tale with roots in Greek mythology and
Arthurian legend. Roy Hobbs is the flawed hero anointed by the gods
to become "the best there ever was" if he travels down the
right path. But his Achilles' heel turns out to be women, and when he's
in the presence of a good woman, he succeeds, but when he succumbs to
the temptations of a bad woman, he fails.
magical sword, his Excalibur, is a homemade bat from childhood he calls
Wonderboy that he carved from the wood of the tree his father died
under which was split open by lightning later that night.
getting sidetracked for 16 years due to one of those bad women (Barbara
Hershey), Hobbs belatedly realizes his dream of reaching the major leagues
when he becomes a middle-aged rookie with the last place New York Knights in
helping the Knights reverse their fortunes from cellar-dwellers to contenders,
Hobbs encounters good men like Knights manager Pop Fisher (Wilford
Brimley) and assistant coach, Red (Richard Farnsworth), while being tested by
corrupt men like the principal owner of the Knights (Robert Prosky as The
Judge) and a professional gambler with a glass eye (an unbilled Darren McGavin
as Gus Sands).
will also be hounded by an egotistical reporter (Robert Duvall as Max
Mercy) determined to uncover the secret to the mystery slugger's past --
Mercy was there the day Hobbs struck out the Whammer.
will also fall under the opposing influences of two women, one good and one
bad. The bad girl is Pop's niece, Memo Paris (Kim Basinger), a blonde
bombshell hired by Gus and the Judge to distract our hero, while the good
girl is Hobbs' childhood sweetheart, Iris (Glenn Close), whose very presence
brings him good luck.
supporting cast is excellent across the board, right down to smaller roles like
the chubby batboy (George Wilkosz as Bobby Savoy) befriended by Hobbs, and
Michael Madsen as "Bump" Bailey, the Knights' prima donna star right-fielder
until Hobbs gets there.
don't buy into it, The Natural
can be corny, I suppose, but if accepted on the
terms of the ultimate baseball fantasy, it's unbeatable.
In fact, I think the film plays better now than it did in 1984
because it hearkens back to a more innocent time long before steroids and
outrageous salaries when the national pastime was still a
game, not the unfairly structured big business it's become.
the term "eye candy" sometimes used to describe the special
effects and CGI so prevalent in many of today's movies, but the term is being
misapplied. The term "eye candy" should only be used when
talking about a film as beautiful as The Natural," which is a masterpiece on a
technical level. The Natural,
not some CGI-created eye sore like 300, has the gorgeous look to which all movies should
is the star of The Natural
and Levinson the director, and while both are at the top of their game, I'll
bet even they would tell you that the most valuable players of this
project are the production design, set-decoration team of Mel Bourne,
Angelo Graham and Bruce Weintraub and costume designers Bernie Pollack and
Gloria Gresham, who combine to impeccably recreate 1920s and '30s America,
and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, whose lighting of these period sets makes
virtually every shot pretty enough to be on a postcard.
crucial component to the film's winning formula is the majestic
musical score by Randy Newman that's still heard today, often during
is a larger-than-life fantasy, but it's a mature, elegiac
fantasy done with feeling and sincerity that really captures the
mystique of old-time baseball. And I don't think any other actor could
embody Roy Hobbs better than Redford, whose laconic persona is a perfect fit
for the role. He's also a pretty good athlete to boot.
new 2-disc DVD comes with a new, high-definition digital transfer supervised by
cinematographer Deschanel that has the film looking the best it has since it
played in theaters. The sound is newly recorded in 5.1 Dolby Digital. On Disc
One, the film itself comes with a brief introduction by Levinson.
contains five new featurettes including cast and crew of the film,
sports broadcaster Bob Costas and former major leaguers such as Ryne
Sandberg. A sixth featurette with baseball great Cal Ripken Jr. talking
about different aspects of the game was recorded for the film's first DVD
release in 2001. The original theatrical trailer, which is on that 2001
DVD version, isn't included here, but should be. However, there's a very
interesting featurette about former major-league first
baseman Eddie Waitkus, who, similar to Roy Hobbs, was shot and
seriously wounded by a disturbed fan in 1949.
- Chuck O'Leary