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Baseball season gets off to a rocky start when the Durham Bulls' new catcher, "Crash" Davis, punches out the cocky young pitcher, "Nuke" LaLoosh, he's just been hired to train. Then sexy Annie Savoy informs both men that each season she chooses one player to share her bed - and Nuke and Crash are this year's "draft picks." After Crash passes on the offer, Nuke eagerly enlists as Annie's summer fling… until Crash jealously takes over and convinces Nuke that sex with Annie will jinx the Bulls' newfound winning streak!
For more about Bull Durham and the Bull Durham Blu-ray release, see Bull Durham Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on August 9, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Trey Wilson, Robert Wuhl, William O'Leary
Director: Ron Shelton
» See full cast & crew
Bull Durham Blu-ray Review
I believe in the Church of Baseball.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, August 9, 2010
"Baseball is life," the saying goes, but it could easily be "baseball is love," or even "baseball is sex." I mean, after all, we say I got to third base and headed for home, not I sunk a shot from the foul line, or, I knocked one between the goal posts, even though those—waka waka—make for much better innuendos. There's something about baseball that makes it relatable to nearly every aspect of human existence. It's Zen-like, the philosopher's sport, the poet's game. Unsurprisingly, then, there have been a number of films that feature baseball as a metaphor for the learning of various life lessons. What is surprising, and somewhat bizarre, is that Kevin Costner stars in so many of them. Well, three of the heaviest hitters, anyways—Field of Dreams, For the Love of the Game, and Bull Durham. I'll admit to getting choked up over Field of Dreams, a hokey-in-retrospect feel-good film that's nonetheless loveable, but Bull Durham is probably a better—if not the best—baseball movie. It's funny, sexy, poignant, and— unlike so many sports films—it seems to authentically capture what it's like to play the game day in and day out.
Chalk this up to writer/director Ron Shelton, who actually spent nine years playing minor league baseball on farm teams for the Baltimore Orioles. More than anything, Shelton's first-hand intimacy with run-down locker rooms, dingy dive bars, and small-town stadiums comes through in Bull Durham, a film that carefully side-skirts nearly all of the expected sports movie clichés. There's no buildup to "the big game" here, no underdogs fighting for a shot at the championship. In the minor leagues, everyone is an underdog. It's not about making it to the big game, it's about advancing to the big leagues, pro ball, or, as the players put it, The Show. But for many of these players, The Show—where, as Kevin Costner tells us, "you hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains"—is a pipe dream, a near impossibility. They play because they love the game, because they'd rather shag fly balls and crack a bat for low pay than to work at Sears selling Lady Kenmores. Shelton's film, then, isn't really about the game—although plenty of ball gets played— it's about the life of baseball, the daily eating, breathing, sleeping and, yes, screwing in the context of America's past-time.
In fact, Bull Durham is just as much about sex as it is about baseball. Or, at least, it's about sex as a metaphor for baseball, and vice versa. Susan Sarandon plays Annie, a local English professor who chooses, each spring, one up-and-coming player from the Durham Bulls to be her lover. "There's never been a ball player slept with me who didn't have the best season of his career," she says. "Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate." Beyond offering her body as a kind of practice area for skills the players also need to utilize out on the diamond, Annie imparts culture and life lessons, reading Walt Whitman aloud as foreplay and giving her annual young bucks the confidence to aim for the majors. In return, they make her "feel safe, and pretty." It's not exactly a fair trade, "but," she says, "bad trades are a part of baseball." Annie is a bit of a kook, a cougar before there was such a term, and Sarandon—who was 43 at the time of filming—plays the part perfectly. She's odd one minute, lighting candles at a shrine to baseball that she's erected in her living room, and sexy the next, letting her stocking-clad legs splay loosely like a venus fly trap.
This year she has two candidates for her bedroom bullpen, rookie pitcher Ebby LaLoosh (Tim Robbins)—a wild man-child with a million dollar arm but zero accuracy—and career minor leaguer "Crash" Davis (Kevin Costner), a catcher who gets transferred to the Bulls to teach LaLoosh a thing or two about pro ball. Annie chooses LaLoosh, whom she nicknames "Nuke," and begins to instruct him on the, shall we say, ins and outs of the game. A love triangle ensues, but Crash nevertheless becomes a been-there-before mentor to his sexual rival, teaching Nuke not to think so much about what he's doing on the mound. When Nuke gets called up to the majors, Crash is forced to face his own inadequacies as a ball player and a person.
Shelton fleshes out the otherwise skeletal plot with accumulated details from his own ball playing days—locker room camaraderie and batter's superstitions, hometown fans and long bus trips to away games. The film revels in the textures of the minor league life, and you can practically smell the popcorn, stale beer, and sweat. The authenticity of the details sells the actions of characters who sometimes straddle the line between believability and I'm not sure I buy it. And you do buy it. Sarandon purrs with a sexed-up southern drawl, but you can read the vulnerability in her eyes. Tim Robbins—who would fall in love with Sarandon for reals during the shoot—is boyish and funny, playing the sort of role that might be given to John C. Reilly today. (Actually, the two actors bare a strange resemblance to one another here, especially here with Robbins' mini 'fro.) And Kevin Costner gives an honest, broken-everyman performance, the kind that reminds you that he used to be a major Hollywood force and that, post-Waterworld, perhaps he hasn't been given a fair shake. The film's ninth inning goes on for a bit too long, with a few redundant conversations and a saxophone-accompanied lovemaking scene that takes its time rounding the bases, but otherwise Bull Durham is a brisk game, and a major league effort from all involved. Perhaps the greatest compliment you can give the film is that you don't have to be a baseball fan to enjoy it. If you are, though, Bull Durham is an out-of-the-park home run.
Bull Durham Blu-ray, Video Quality
MGM must've had this 1080p transfer in the bullpen for a long time, as it features the now-antiquated MPEG-2 encode that graced—some might say disgraced—many of Blu-ray's earliest releases. And like most of those out-of-the-gate titles, this one looks like it could use some improvements. While the image is appreciably high definition, there's really not much fine detail to be found here. There are fleeting moments of sharp texture, but generally the picture is soft and somewhat gauzy, and I wouldn't hesitate to call several shots outright blurry and indistinct. This can't all be attributed to the transfer—I'm sure the source print isn't the sharpest—but if you're on the fence about upgrading from the DVD edition, it's something to consider, as the leap in quality isn't as great here as it is in some other titles from the mid 1980s. Black levels are somewhat hazy, and during many of the darker scenes, you'll notice strong chroma noise peppering the image, along with heightened amounts of grain. Color is gentle and natural, however, with no artificial boosting, and skin tones seem right on. Aside from the noise, there are no overt compression problems, and both DNR and edge enhancement are nowhere in sight. As it stands, Bull Durham's Blu-ray transfer is acceptable, but if it were placed on a dual-layer disc and given a more up to date AVC or VC-1 encode, I'm sure the film could look at least marginally better.
Bull Durham Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There's less to say about the film's standard issue DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which carries the film's dialogue and score capably but doesn't offer much in the way of immersion or intricate sound design. And that's okay. Not every film has to blow the roof off and rattle the walls with booming LFE response and whippet-fast cross-channel sound effects. This is a noticeably front-heavy affair, with little besides music and extremely quiet ambience bled into the rear channels. You really have to crane your ears toward the surround speakers and intentionally listen to hear anything. Still, the audio that emerges from the front row is more than adequate. There's no LFE response to speak of, and not much cause for an extra-broad dynamic range, but the effects are crisp and the music has plenty of presence and clarity. There are a few instances when dialogue doesn't sound as clear as it possibly could, but it's nicely balanced in the mix and I didn't need to fiddle at all with my remote once I set my receiver to my usual listening level. English, Spanish, Korean, and Cantonese subtitles are available in easy-to-read lettering.
Bull Durham Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Like most of the recent MGM catalog releases, this Bull Durham Blu-ray is noticeably short on special features. In fact, the only extras you'll find on the disc are 1080p trailers for Bull Durham (2:49), Rocky (1:40), Hoosiers (2:38), and The Thomas Crown Affair (2:16).
What's inexplicable is that the included DVD copy of the film features two audio commentaries—one with the director, and one with Costner and Robbins—a 19-minute retrospective, a 16-minute featurette on minor league baseball, a 30-minute "making of" documentary, a profile of Kevin Costner, and a short EPK promo. What's keeping these from being ported over to the Blu-ray?
Bull Durham Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Bull Durham is one of the better films to use baseball as an allegory for life, and it's also a funny, sexy, smartly scripted comedy that defies most of the clichés and conventions of both rom- coms and sports movies. MGM hasn't done much with this release—the disc features a middling MPEG- 2 transfer and no special features—but this is still a title that's easy to recommend for baseball lovers, sports film fanatics, and anyone looking for an antidote to the glossy, brainless rom-coms that clog up theaters today. Recommended.
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