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Nothing was going to stop Roy Hobbs from fulfilling his boyhood dream of baseball superstardom. Robert Redford stars in this inspiring fable that begins when 14-year-old Hobbs (Redford) fashions a powerful bat from a fallen oak tree. He soon impresses major league scouts with his ability, fixing his extraordinary talent in the mind of sportswriter Max Mercy (Robert Duvall), who eventually becomesinstrumental in Hobb's career. But a meeting with a mysterious woman shatters his dream. Years passand an older Hobbs reappears as a rookie from The New York Knights. Overcoming physical pain and defying those who have a stake in seeing the Knights lose, Hobbs, with his boyhood bat, has his chanceto lead the Knights to the pennant and to finally fulfill his dream.
For more about The Natural and The Natural Blu-ray release, see The Natural Blu-ray Review
Starring: Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Michael Madsen
Director: Barry Levinson
» See full cast & crew
The Natural Blu-ray Review
For my dad.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, April 2, 2010
Go pick me out a winner, Bobby.
It seems the best sports movies aren't really about sports; they may be set on the football field, in the hockey rink, or on the baseball diamond, but movies like Rudy, Miracle, and The Natural are more about heart, determination, spirit, and overcoming the odds, and through the prism of sport providing both their on-film characters and in-theater audiences with a glimpse into what it means to truly be alive, to excel, to beat the odds, to live up to potential, to for one day realize the glory not of getting in the game, hoisting the trophy, or smacking the winning home run, but of fulfilling a destiny and proving that there's always room at the top for those armed not necessarily with the skill but rather with the true strength of the human condition to do the impossible. Director Barry Levinson's (Rain Man) The Natural is a classic story of a hero rising from the ashes of the long-since discarded pile of forgotten would-be's, the story not one that's absolutely about baseball but instead about the spirit of a man to set aside his past and rebuild his life, to prove not to others but to himself that life is always worth living and that there's a purpose in every action no matter the cost, the hardships, the sacrifices, the time lost, or the reward gained. It's about satisfying the soul, about destiny, about love, about right and wrong. The Natural is a picture that's far greater than even the sum of its parts, delivering a moving and timeless story of heroism and, indeed, of life itself wrapped in the wondrous guise of the most beautiful of games.
Young farm boy Roy Hobbs is taught the art of pitching by his father and Roy quickly proves a natural with his fireball of an arm. When Roy's father suddenly passes away, the grief-stricken boy crafts a baseball bat from the wood of the tree beneath which is father died and lightning soon thereafter split in two. Dubbing the bat "Wonderboy," the youngster continues on with his pitching, and at the young age of 19, Roy (Robert Redford, Out of Africa) is summoned to try out for the Chicago Cubs, leaving his sweetheart Iris (Glenn Close, Air Force One) behind. On the trip, Roy is introduced the great slugger "The Whammer" (Joe Don Baker, Cape Fear), whom Roy strikes out on three straight pitches while on a stop to Chicago. With Roy's confidence soaring, he meets the mysterious Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey, Hoosiers) who promptly shoots him and leaves him for dead in her Chicago hotel room. Sixteen years later, Roy Hobbs has fought his way back into baseball, this time as a slugger and with a freshly-inked contract to play right field for the slumping New York Knights. Club manager "Pop" Fisher (Wilford Brimley, The Thing) -- whose future both in the game and in the pocketbook are riding on the Knights' ability to capture the pennant -- is reluctant to play the aging rookie, but when Roy is finally given the opportunity to show off his power and star outfielder "Bump" Bailey (Michael Madsen, Reservoir Dogs) dies in a tragic accident on the field, Roy earns the opportunity to lead the Knights to a remarkable resurgence in the standings. Only the club's corrupt majority shareholder, known as "The Judge" (Robert Prosky); his underling and Pop's niece Memo Paris (Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential); and gambler Gus Sands (Darren McGavin); stand in the way of Roy's return to glory and the Knights' return to greatness.
Much like the astounding Field of Dreams, The Natural plays as baseball-as-fantasy, but also like Field of Dreams, there's an underlying element that examines a deeper philosophical purpose beyond the diamond. In The Natural, the story is unlikely, but never at all to the detriment of the film or its meanings. Roy Hobbs' heroics are expected and even welcome, not because they light up the screen and allow the crowd to cheer, but because they necessarily reinforce the deeper thematic elements to be found behind the exciting but nevertheless superficial scenes featuring a cover literally knocked off a baseball, a shattered stadium clock, or that sparkling trip around the bases. It is, therefore, Hobbs' courage and ultimate embracing of right even in the face of temptation and wrong off the field that proves just as crucial to the meaning of the story as his heroics on it. A man with mistakes in his past that would have cost lesser individuals their very existences, Roy Hobbs chose instead to embrace his fate and regain his standing as an honorable and successful man, even if it meant readjusting his entire baseball repertoire to succeed as a hitter rather than as a pitcher. His success with the Knights stem from both his naturally God-given talents as a baseball player and also from his strength of spirit to tackle life's most challenging hurdles both on the biggest of stages and in the smallest recesses of his heart.
Though it's made of some darker elements, The Natural nevertheless proves a wholesome and even timeless motion picture that uses baseball as a metaphor for success in life. The movie's conflict stems not only from one man's remarkable recovery to find the glory that was taken from him through no fault of his own save for his innocent and na´ve hubris, but also through his ability to rediscover and embrace the good things in his life and put the well-being of others before his own. Though tempted, threatened, and rejected throughout, Roy Hobbs finds success not just through his powerful swing but through the integrity of his soul that ultimately makes for a story that's as much a triumph of the human spirit as it is a victory on the scoreboard. It's a movie that only gets better with every viewing, with age, with one's greater understanding of how the world works around them. The Natural works as Fantasy, as a Baseball movie, as a Drama, making it a rare picture that offers a bit of something for everyone, baseball fan or not. The story of a man coming full circle -- beginning a journey on the fields of nowhere, USA and experiencing most everything life has to offer and culminating with successes both on the field and in life -- make it a movie that speaks to audiences in search not of guidance or purpose but rather reassurance that fate and destiny sometimes have a funny way of taking someone wherever it is they need to be, whether somewhere in the big city, on the baseball field, or in the arms and heart of true love.
One of the more thematically purposeful, heartfelt, and entertaining movies -- sports or otherwise -- of its or any time also proves a wonderfully constructed picture from a technical perspective. Director Barry Levinson and Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel give the movie a magical and mystical quality not only through the startlingly absorbing and heroic baseball scenes, but through their ability to both capture the small details of the period and display many perfectly-framed shots that visually convey the nuances, purpose, and meaning of the story as much as, if not more so than, the dialogue. Still, the honest performances from what is still today one of the best casts in recent memory reflect what the movie's all about both on its surface and beneath the layers of baseball. Robert Redford's sincere take on Roy Hobbs -- a hero who is quiet and unassuming, professional, mature even beyond his character's somewhat advanced years, but nevertheless struggling even years after the fateful shooting to find exactly who he is and what wrongs need be made right -- is a thing of constant wonder as he graciously goes about his business on the field but also stands up for himself, his manager, and his principles as he fights to save his own soul as well as the team from both the bottom of the standings and the pocket of a unscrupulous owner. Likewise, Glenn Close delivers a memorable and Oscar-nominated effort as a homely and loving woman who hasn't betrayed Roy's place in her heart and serves as a reminder to him of all that was once -- and could again be -- good in his life as he fights to beat the odds and recapture both the glory that would have been on the field and his soul off of it. Beyond Redford and Close is a terrific ensemble collection of name and character actors, including Robert Duvall, Joe Don Baker, Kim Bassinger, Barbara Hershey, Wilford Brimley, Richard Farnsworth, Michael Madsen, Robert Prosky, and Darren McGavin, all of whom in some way define what the movie is all about, whether through their impeccable period look and acting or their characters' traits, motivations, and place in this wonderful story of a career -- and more importantly a man -- reborn. Finally, no review of The Natural would be complete without mention of what is easily one of the finest scores in movie history courtesy of the legendary Randy Newman (Seabiscuit). Triumphant and rousing, there's just nothing like Newman's heroic score blaring from the sound system as Roy Hobbs circles the bases, surrounded by darkness and fiery sparks, the music an absolute perfect companion that not only reinforces the awe-inspiring visuals of the film but musically captures every thematic nuance as finely as Levinson and Deschanel do visually; Newman's score is as iconic, fitting, memorable, and recognizable as any of the great movie scores, including John Williams' Star Wars and Superman and James Horner's Glory.
The Natural Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Natural digs into Blu-ray and produces a 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer that's of a remarkably high quality. No, this isn't the most pristine eye candy out there, but the Blu-ray allows the picture to retain a classy, film-like texture that's bound to thrill longtime fans of the movie with its excellent detailing and coloring. From the film's opening moments of an elder Roy Hobbs awaiting his train to New York onward there's no question as to the quality of Sony's handiwork. The filmic texture of the shot and the detail around the train platform impresses, and subsequent flashback scenes returning to Roy's childhood are defined by a gorgeous color palette dominated by golden wheat fields and vibrant green grasses, the latter of which remains throughout the movie as seen in the many baseball sequences. Colors indeed impress throughout, whether the bright yellows of a city taxi cab or the wondrous blue skies hovering high above the ballparks. Likewise, fine object detail, while often striking, can fall by the wayside in some of the more bland scenes (particularly those at the maternity hospital later in the film), but viewers will more often than not note exceptional imagery throughout. Indeed, texturing and detailing are rarely in question with this image as evidenced by the wood grain structures on baseball bats; dirt, pebbles, and concrete both inside and about the periphery of the dugouts; and the period clothing with particular attention paid to the woolen baseball uniforms seen throughout the movie with the transfer displaying every stray thread and fray to perfection. Likewise, overhead and closeup shots of the infield dirt reveal the details of every footprint or the speckles of chalk that remain from the once-solid white foul lines. Flesh tones appear suitably accurate throughout and influenced primarily by various lighting conditions, while blacks remain stable and true in every dark scene. The transfer does exhibit a touch of banding and a sprinkling of artifacts, neither of which are cause for much concern and at most merit a passing comment. Still, The Natural retains a noticeably prominent layer of film grain that lends to and rounds out an image that's spectacularly film-like and sure to please longtime fans of the film.
The Natural Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Natural swings for the fences and smacks a home run of a lossless soundtrack; Sony's DTS-HD MA 5.1 presentation easily exceeds previous home video mixes and, perhaps most importantly, breathes extraordinary life into Randy Newman's classic Americana-style score. Indeed, it's beautifully realized in every scene in which it's used; listeners will enjoy the culmination of instruments but the clarity of the track seems to make it possible to pinpoint each one, whether horns, strings, or percussion, as the entire score is delivered with the utmost fidelity that only adds to its grand feel and stirs the soul all over again as Roy rounds the bases in a literal blaze of glory. As the film begins, the track strongly asserts itself in the sound effects department as Roy's train slowly rumbles from left to right across the soundstage with a generous back-channel immersive support structure and a rumbling of tight bass for good measure. Likewise, atmospherics are a strength of this mix. There's no shortage of immersive environmental sound effects, whether cheering crowds at the ballgames or the background ambience of buzzing insects and the din of a distant fairgrounds as Roy proceeds to strike out "The Whammer" on three pitches. Additionally, thunder booms with authority several times and subtly echoes about the listening area, and raindrops seem to fall and hit the ground all throughout the soundstage. Dialogue is also reproduced without a hitch in every scene. Like the video presentation, this isn't a high-powered or pristine affair, but it's an honest, satisfying, and wonderfully-realized presentation of a movie and its score that will thrill dedicated fans.
The Natural Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This Blu-ray release of The Natural trots out a lineup of All-Star extras. When Lightning Strikes: Creating 'The Natural' (480p, 49:56) is a three-part documentary that looks at Bernard Malamud's life and the novel of the same name that inspired the film, parallels between segments of the story and real-life baseball history, the story's journey from page to screen, the assemblage of the cast and crew, shooting locations, costume design, the look of the film, the challenge of putting together the baseball scenes, assembling the film's climax, Randy Newman's score and its importance to the film, and the movie's release and legacy. This is a well-produced, smart, and comprehensive piece that's a must-see for fans of The Natural. Next up is Extra Innings (480p, 7:12), a four-piece segment that looks more closely at several elements of the film and the world surrounding it: Slow Motion (1:05); Uniform Color (2:03); The Sandberg Game (1:50), a look at Major League Baseball star Ryne Sandberg's Roy Hobbs-style game; and The President's Question (2:12), the recollection of a question for Writer/Former Chairman of BBDO Noth America Phil Dusenberry from President Ronald Reagan about the film.
Clubhouse Conversations (480p, 15:25) features Men at Work author George Will; Actor Robert Redford; Broadcaster Bob Costas; Writer Rob Edelman; Broadcaster Charley Steiner; and current and former Major League Baseball players Don Mattingly, Jason Giambi, and Ryne Sandberg speaking on the greatness of baseball, the challenges of the sport, the uniqueness of the sport's combination of team and individual play, its status as America's pastime, the current state of the game, and the allure and legacy of The Natural. Next on the lineup card is A Natural Gunned Down: The Stalking of Eddie Waitkus (480p, 17:08), an examination of the true-life baseball player whose career was sidelined when he was shot by an obsessed fan. Knights in Shining Armor: The Mythology of 'The Natural' (480p, 9:18) looks at the parallels between The Natural and the world of ancient mythology and heroes. Finally, The Heart of 'The Natural' (480p, 44:06) is a film by Charles Kiselyak that features Director Barry Levinson and baseball Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. sharing their extensive thoughts on baseball and the film and how they both parallel many of the challenging aspects of life. Also included is BD-Live functionality; Sony's MovieIQ connectivity; and 1080p trailers for Ghostbusters, A River Runs Through It, and Facing the Giants.
The Natural Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
An incredible movie of the power of the human spirit and with an honest and important message that says that it's never too late to realize one's dreams as long as the motives are good and the intentions true, The Natural stands proudly as one of the finest sports films of all time, and like the best of its genre, it uses sport as but a backdrop for the deeper meaning to be found. It's a rare combination indeed to find a movie that's so enthralling both superficially and thematically as this; The Natural holds up incredibly well to a multitude of viewings thanks to its ability to effortlessly combine baseball and life into one incredible tale of a man's return to glory both on the field and in his soul. Supported by astounding direction and cinematography, superb acting, and an unforgettable score, The Natural is a Hall-of-Famer and arguably the finest baseball movie of all time. Sony's has done right by this timeless classic, bestowing it with a remarkable film-like transfer, an equally splendid lossless soundtrack, and a comprehensive selection of extras. It might not have received perfect scores across the board, but the emotional depth of the movie, its replay value, incredible visuals and acting, status as an all-time classic, and this superb Blu-ray presentation earn The Natural my highest recommendation.
On a personal note, I'd like to dedicate this review to my dad who passed away in early March of this year. He was largely responsible for shaping my love of movies and encouraging me to become the best writer and reviewer I could be, and he was always eager to see what I would come up with for each of the many hundreds films I've reviewed over the past several years. He himself was a movie lover and was particularly fond of baseball movies; he always said, "there's no such thing as a bad baseball movie," and I have to agree. It seems only fitting to dedicate The Natural to him; the film and baseball both may be seen as metaphors for the journey that is life, including its ups and downs and the many innocently fleeting moments in between that seemed so unimportant then but, when faced with a loss of this magnitude, suddenly become cherished memories that shape the greater whole and add depth and understanding to the larger moments that until now seemed the only things to define who my dad was. On the day of his passing, I'll never forget telling a police officer on the scene that "he was my dad." Four words so small and simple yet saying so much; ultimately, for everything that he was and that made him into the man I remember, he was first, foremost, and always, my dad. He's had his turn at bat and has circled the bases of life, making everyone that knew him proud, cheering his name, remembering him for what he accomplished and might have still been. A writer himself with many words that have sadly gone unread, he was, like Roy Hobbs, a natural, not with the baseball bat but with the creative mind and utmost dedication and love to both the written word and to the happiness and well-being of his son that certainly made me proud to call him "dad." I miss you, dad, and I love you. As he used to sign off on each E-mail he'd send me, "that's all, folks!"
Martin Wayne Liebman, Sr., April 1, 1947-March 6, 2010.
"He was my dad."
The Natural Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Natural Blu-ray Announced - January 25, 2010
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has announced 'The Natural' for release on Blu-ray on April 6. This baseball movie, starring Robert Redford, was initially slated to come out three years ago, simultaneously with the director's cut DVD, but was pulled from the schedule. ...
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