DVD Review: The Natural (Director's Cut)
Release Date: April 3, 2007
Distributor: Sony Pictures
· Barry Levinson
· Robert Redford
· Glenn Close
· Kim Basinger
· Wilford Brimley
· Barbara Hershey
· IMDb: The Natural
by Paul Schultz
Published: April 4, 2007
The 1984 baseball fable "The Natural" gets a two-disc release with digitally
remastered audio and video, and 15 minutes of new footage restored for this
"Director's Cut" of the film. The running time for the movie has only increased by six minutes, but this discrepancy is explained by a video
introduction by director Barry Levinson. Time constraints to assure "The
Natural" made its assigned theatrical release date meant that Levinson's
original vision for the opening of the story was lost. Now edited as the
way it was intended, certain events were able to be compressed, thus accounting for the skewed mathematics as some elements have now been deleted from the initial cut of the film.
Adapted from the 1952 novel by Bernard Malamud, "The Natural" stays true to the written story while striking a different mood and turning its tragic ending on its ear. Farm boy Roy Hobbs (played by Paul Sullivan Jr.) proves to be athletically gifted and his father (Alan Fudge) instills in him a love for the game of baseball. He fashions a bat hewn from a tree struck by lightning -- naming it "Wonderboy" -- and you witness to first of many fantasy aspect to the tale. By the time he's 19, Hobbs is on a train and headed
for the big city, where he has ambitious plans to be a record-breaking ball
player. He tells of these aspirations to mysterious beauty Harriet Bird
(Barbara Hershey), who promptly guns him and his brash dreams down after luring him to a hotel room.
Sixteen years after showing up the (very Babe Ruth-like) Whammer (Joe Don Baker) at a carnival and revealing the natural talent that got him shot by
psycho Harriet, Hobbs (now Robert Redford) wanders into the New York Knights dugout to announce to manager Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley) and assistant Red Blow (Richard Farnsworth) that he's their new right fielder. Pop scoffs at a 35-year-old "rookie" and promptly sits him on the bench. Besides, popular Bump Bailey (Michael Madsen) already mans that position, though he's a lazy underachiever. And, the Judge (Robert Prosky) is an owner that's only trying to run the team into the ground to weasel Pop out as a shareholder. Still, the scouts must have seen something in this aged stranger, and he eventually gets his chance to play.
Hobbs gets his stroke back, as they say, and lights up the league with one home run after another, including a towering shot that takes out a clock atop the outfield scoreboard. His abilities quickly gain him attention, for
better or worse. Hobbs has mellowed in the intervening years, yet there's
one lesson he hasn't learned, and that's getting mixed up with dangerous women. Despite the appearance of dating Bump, Pop's niece Memo Paris (Kim Basinger) takes notice of the newcomer. Then, as fate would have it, Bump gets himself killed by running through the outfield wall chasing a fly ball, and Memo is suddenly free for the taking.
Hobbs does just that, but his on-field performance quickly tanks. Now,
he's being hounded by sports writer Max Mercy (Robert Duvall) who's insistently trying to dig into Roy's past. Great ball players don't come out of
nowhere is his thinking. Plus, Memo's mixed up with gambler Gus Sands (Darren McGavin), who's in cahoots with the Judge. Then, childhood sweetheart Iris Gaines (Glenn Close) shows up, and Hobbs will soon have to make some tough choices. Old injuries -- both physical and psychological -- flare up, threatening to derail Hobb's career on the cusp of ultimate success.
When Iris (Glenn Close) is in the stands,
Hobbs can do no wrong on the field.
Critically considered one of the best sports films of all time, the story
contains mythological elements that come across as, well... goofy.
Still, there's plenty to enjoy here, particularly the numerous parallels to
baseball history -- Ruth's called shot, the Judge mimicking the darker side of Branch Rickey, etc. It's just a beautiful film to watch, and Caleb Deschanel
earned a well-deserved Academy Award® nomination for his cinematography.
("The Natural" collected four in all -- Glenn Close for Best Supporting Actress,
Randy Newman for Best Original Score, and for Best Art Direction. Kim Basinger also earned a Golden Globe® nomination as Best Supporting Actress.) I initially bemoaned the absence of an audio commentary, but by the time you get through all the extras, that deficiency has been more than made up for.
When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural - This three-part “making of” featurette provides plenty of details on the formation of Bernard Malamud's novel from which the film is based, to the assembly of the cast, to the various locations chosen to shoot the story. My favorite anecdote is when director Barry Levinson talks about rewriting a scene on a roll of toilet paper because they couldn't find anything else to write on!
- Part 1 – Pre-Game: A Novelist Steps Up to the Plate
- Part 2 – The Line-up: Assembling the Moviemaking Team
- Part 3 – Let’s Play Ball: Filming the Show
Extra Innings - These are four very brief segments about aspects of the film that probably didn't logistically fit in the “making of” featurette.
- "Slow Motion" - How the use of slow motion photography made you notice things you wouldn't have at normal speed
- "Uniform Color" - How difficult it was to put authentic colors on uniforms
when the archive footage researched was all in black-and-white
- "The Sandberg Game" - Bob Costas works a reference to the movie into his play-by-play of a game featuring the Chicago Cubs' Ryne Sandberg
- "The President’s Question" - Plot points are explained to President Ronald Reagan when an unexpected question about the film comes up
A Natural Gunned Down: The Stalking of Eddie Waitkus - Engaging documentary of the real-life baseball player who was shot by an obsessed teenager in 1949, and whose story was an obvious inspiration for the Roy Hobbs character.
Clubhouse Conversations - A bunch of former ball players like Don Mattingly talk about the difficulty of the sport of baseball.
Knights in Shining Armor: The Mythology of The Natural - A
discussion about the mythical aspects of baseball -- and there are plenty of
The Heart of The Natural - In-depth discussion with retired Baltimore Orioles great Cal Ripken, Jr., talking about how the relationship between Roy Hobbs and his father mirrored that of Cal and his father, and the differences between naturally gifted athletes and those who must work hard to excel.