The Natural DVD: Review By Evan "Mushy" Jacobs

An uplifting movie that seems to have aged well over years since it's initial release in 1984.
  • OVERALL
    4.0
    GREAT
  • Feature
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
THE GOOD
An uplifting movie that seems to have aged well over years since it's initial release in 1984.
THE BAD
With all of the extras on this DVD one would have thought Barry Levinson would have found the time to do a commentary track.
THE FEATURE
Robert Redford plays Roy Hobbs in The Natural. As someone who seems destined for great things, Hobbs heads to the city to try his luck. Along the way he meets a woman named Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey) who, just before they are about to start getting down to business, shoots Hobbs for reasons that have yet to remain clear. The Natural doesn't remain ambiguous and Roy comes back older and seemingly wiser. Joining the New York Knights, Hobbs eventually proves that he still has it and he ends up having a liaisons with two women. In the end, Hobbs gets his denouement on the field where it seems like he has been placed back where he belongs.

An interesting thing about The Natural is that this movie is in some ways more of a character study than a baseball film. It is about a person finding out who they are by seemingly having their dreams dashed. Based on a novel by Bernard Malamud, this film seems to have a poetic, literary quality that engulfs it. I have heard that Director Barry Levinson deviated from that a bit in this movie, but all in all there is something about this film in it's setting, subject matter and characterizations that plays as a warmhearted winner.
THE EXTRAS
"Clubhouse Conversations", Video Introduction by

Barry Levinson
and "The Heart ofThe Natural"Featurettes

These three sections examine the making of The Natural from an anecdotal perspective. The Clubhouse Conversations feature the director and actors looking back on making the movie, but also how it has held up over the years. They discuss what attracted them to the story, what it was like putting the film together, and where the film stands as being part of a the baseball movie lexicon. The Video Introduction by Barry Levinson has the director explaining how and why this version of the movie has come into existence. He talks about what he added to the film, why he changed certain things around, and how ultimately he felt that the first version was compromised by how quickly the studio wanted to get it into the theater. Lastly, "The Heart ofThe Natural," looks at material upon which this film is best, and the special qualities that have helped both the movie and the book endure throughout cinema history.

"A Natural Gunned Down" The stalking of Eddie Waitkus Featurette

"Extra Innings" Featurettes and "Creating The Natural" Featurettes

Broken down into four segments, the "Extra Innings" Featurettes take a production perspective on this movie. The sections are "Slow Motion," "Uniform Color," "The Sandberg Game" and "The President's Question." Each of these examines an aspect of the production from how certain scenes were shot ("Slow Motion"), to the effect of certain scenes on the overall arc of the film ("The Sandberg Game") and the look of the movie, ("Uniform Color") etc.. At times I thought that these seemed to be a little redundant, but I can certainly see that the creators of this DVD wanted to pack it with as much content as they possible could, considering that this movie is over 20 years old.

In addition to this there are also the "Creating The Natural" featurettes. They have put three of these on here and they serve as a companion piece the supplemental footage that we have already seen. I enjoyed these, but by about this point in my DVD experience I was a little tired of hearing about every facet of this movie. Perhaps they should have maybe jettisoned some of the featurettes and simply let Levinson and members of the creative team sit back and discuss this movie on a commentary track?

The Mythology of The Natural

An interesting featurette that looks at the lore of this film. It examines the character of Roy Hobbs, the book, and the elements that seem to go into telling this very American of stories. Out of all the featurettes I think I liked this one the best simply because of the angle that it took when looking at this movie. We hear from people involved but we also hear from people who have studied these kinds of film, and we actually get some sense of how this movie relates to society in a greater way. If you are very short on time, I would say certainly check out this segment before the others.
THE VIDEO
Widescreen. This film has a charm about it that really captures the magic of playing America's Favorite Pastime. There is an almost ethereal quality to the way that Barry Levinson and the film's Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel have captured this film. This movie has a poetic feel to it and in some ways it reminded me of the work of Nestor Almendros on Days of Heaven. All the scenes are very strongly composed but Deschanel never seems to focus on any color areas for too long. There are great deal of browns, blues, and greens and these do nothing but add an almost doc*mentary-like quality to this film. All in all, this movie looked very sharp on this release and I only wish I had seen it before so I could compare and contrast just how different this version is.
THE AUDIO
Dolby - English, Japanese and French. Subtitled in English, Japanese and French. The sound on this DVD was also quite good. I probably shouldn't have watched it on my tiny TV simply because I think some of this film's bigness was lost. As I have mentioned, there is an ethereal quality to this film but that doesn't really factor in with the audio. This is a big movie and it seems to be heavily aided by Randy Newman's thoughtful and contemplative score.
THE PACKAGE
A picture of Robert Redford getting ready to swing for the fences makes up the majority of this front cover. The back gives us a well written description of this film's story, some pictures, a special features list (breaking down what assets go on what discs), a cast list and system specs. They have packed this two disc set into a regular amaray case that has just about all the bells and whistles one could ask for on a movie like this.
THE FINAL WORD
I remember as a young boy coming in the end of this movie and not understanding what is was about. I think it was playing on HBO and the only thing I knew was that the main character had accomplished something. Having not seen The Natural since that time, I came to the film with a greater understanding of why I deduced what I did years ago. This movie is a very visual experience. Barry Levinson's movies usually are heavily dialogue inflected. They don't give themselves to images that easily. This is what makes this movie so unique is that it's precisely those images (especially the facial expressions that Robert Redford gives as Roy Hobbs), that convey the most meaning and messages throughout this film. That I could be dropped into this movie at the end, and even at that young age I was able to understand the weight of what was happening on screen, says a lot of about the use of film language here.

Filled with many extras, The Natural is the kind of movie that deserves this sort of big release on DVD as well as being called a cinema classic.

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