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Field of Dreams (Blu-ray)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment / 1989 / 106 Minutes / Rated PG
Street Date: May 26, 2009
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Reviewed by David Krauss
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I'm as sentimental as the next guy; probably more so. I mean, it doesn't take much to make my throat swell or eyes well up, so you'd think I'd be a blubbering mess at the end of 'Field of Dreams,' the top man-cry movie of all time. But when the lights came on after I saw the film in 1989, I was one of the few guys in the theater who wasn't surreptitiously swatting away tears. And I must admit, it kind of bothered me. I always thought of myself as Mr. Sensitivity, but Phil Alden Robinson's syrupy ode to baseball, fatherhood, lost youth, and thwarted dreams didn't come close to penetrating my thin skin.
Now, before anyone starts spouting drugstore psychology, let me just say I have a perfectly good relationship with my father, we played catch in the backyard plenty of times during my boyhood, and though we don't always see eye-to-eye, we're usually able to work out our differences. One would think recalling such fond memories to the majestic strains of James Horner's Oscar-nominated score would surely turn on the waterworks, but there was nary an errant drip. Was I missing something? Did my heart all of a sudden turn to stone? Or did I just refuse to give in to the film's mawkish manipulations?
For years, I convinced myself it was the latter, but I needed to find out for sure, so two decades later, I decided to give 'Field of Dreams' another shot. (This time, I even parked a Kleenex box close at hand in case I needed to mop up after the film's emotional climax.) Since my last viewing, I've been blessed with three great kids – two of them boys – and "having a catch" in the summer twilight has often been a cherished activity during various periods of their lives. (Okay, okay, maybe not "cherished," but it was always a fun diversion, even if I did have to hoist myself over a six-foot cinderblock wall to retrieve countless balls from my neighbor's yard.) From this different, more mature, middle-aged perspective, would Kevin Costner and company finally get to me?
Was I surprised? Not really. I could tell early on my feelings toward 'Field of Dreams' weren’t going to change. In fact, everything that bothered me about the film way back when irked me even more this time around – the forced comedy, cheap sentiment, and golly-gee-whiz attitude. Though in many ways Costner embodies the perfect everyman – and he gives a laid-back, wide-eyed, nicely modulated performance here – I've never been able to identify with his character, or buy into the mysticism that drives Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer, to plow under his corn crop and construct a regulation baseball diamond simply because a disembodied voice tells him to. After Ray (Costner) hears those fateful words, "If you build it, he will come," he feels compelled to heed the command, and sinks his life savings into the field. (And, boy, does he do a nice job with it!) His supportive wife, Annie (Amy Madigan at her most annoying), indulges him, and both later find themselves awestruck – as well as deep in debt and facing foreclosure – when the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) and other members of the disgraced 1919 Chicago White Sox walk out of the cornfield one day and start playing ball.
The magic diamond allows these men – and, very soon, several others – a second chance to pursue their quashed dreams, re-experience something they loved, and reconnect with their innocence. If they walk outside the boundaries, they can never return, but if they remain within the sanctity of the chalky white lines, they're free to play, bond, and bask in the purity of smacking a baseball, fielding a grounder, and shagging a long fly. "Is this heaven?" Shoeless Joe plaintively asks. "No," Ray responds. "It's Iowa."
Though many people look at 'Field of Dreams' as a slice of heaven – a lovely fantasy where characters can make amends, atone for past sins, and live forever – I see it as, quite simply, Iowa corn. Look, I love baseball, I'm all for spiritual connections, and I'm a dyed-in-the-wool family man above anything else, but the film's voices don't speak to me. Heck, if actors as talented as James Earl Jones and Burt Lancaster can't make a believer out of me, no one can.
I can appreciate the merits of 'Field of Dreams' – good direction, lovely cinematography, fine music, sensitive portrayals – and I certainly respect its ideas and themes, as well as those viewers who are swept away and moved by them. Yet despite its attributes, popularity, and acclaim – it earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay – I can't embrace the film. Though I can lose myself in 'The Natural,' which explores similar themes of redemption through a mystical baseball framework but in a much darker manner, I always feel as if 'Field of Dreams' is trying to sell me a bill of goods. And I just ain't buyin'. Not 20 years ago, and not today.
'Field of Dreams' arrives on Blu-ray looking much the same as it did on HD-DVD. It's a good transfer, but not a great one. And that's too bad, because the cinematography is often striking, despite the challenges of shooting many scenes at dusk. Grain is noticeable most of the time, and a slight softness keeps the picture from attaining full vibrancy. Outdoor daylight scenes fare best; the greens of the baseball field and corn stalks come alive, and contrast is pitched at just the right degree. Interiors, however, look drab, and close-ups don't exhibit the clarity and fine detail levels the better transfers provide.
In certain scenes, fleshtones possess an orange tint, and hues often flirt with oversaturation. Blacks, however, are deep and inky, but some digital noise often creeps in to disrupt solid patches of color. Some bits of dirt and debris crop up occasionally, but don't seem as distracting as they did on the HD-DVD, and digital doctoring, though clearly evident, never overpowers the image.
If this is one of your favorite films, the slight improvement of this 1080p/VC-1 encode might warrant an upgrade from standard DVD, but others should think twice before double-dipping.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track also falls below expectations, offering well-balanced, clean sound that rarely rises above the mundane. The mix is largely front-centered and rather dull, though there's some nice stereo imaging when the players toss the ball back and forth. Accents such as ringing phones and chirping birds are crisp and distinct, and mild ambient effects bleed into the rears every so often. Dialogue is always easy to understand, and no distortion hampers the high end of the range scale. The subwoofer stays silent, however, and even James Horner's Oscar-nominated score never exhibits the enveloping power and fervent swells the emotional material demands.
Though 'Field of Dreams' would never be classified as an audiophile's film, I expected more detail and nuance from this lossless track, and the lack of it is disappointing indeed.
Universal ports over all the supplements from the 2004 two-disc anniversary edition, and it's quite a hefty lineup of material. Unfortunately, all of it remains in standard definition.
- Audio Commentary – Director/writer Phil Alden Robinson and director of photography John Lindley provide an easygoing commentary that largely focuses on cinematography and its various elements – lighting, cameras, shot composition, and set-ups. It's clear from the scene-specific remarks that a collaborative spirit pervaded the set, and Robinson has no qualms about discussing how he worked out various problems or felt stumped by particular issues. The two relate several entertaining anecdotes and cite a number of serendipitous moments, and their relaxed rapport makes for an enjoyable enough listen. Much of the conversation, however, mirrors material that's covered on the disc's documentaries and featurettes, where it's presented with far more pizzazz, so casual fans should probably skip this track and focus on the video-based extras instead.
- Featurette: "From Father to Son: Passing Along the Pastime" (SD, 39 minutes) – I found this mini-documentary to be more emotionally affecting than 'Field of Dreams' itself. With honesty and sincerity, cast and crew members recall making the film, assess its impact, and share personal memories about their own fathers and children, and the precious time they spent with them. Costner is notably absent, but the film is so absorbing, he's rarely missed. Highlights include Robinson's frank talk about his inadequacies as a director; Dwier Brown's incredibly moving memories of his father, who died a month before shooting began; a heartfelt tribute to Burt Lancaster that includes the marvelous story of how the legendary star mistook actor Timothy Busfield for a gofer on the set; and a discussion of the film's final scene. Major league ballplayers and managers also weigh in with their perspective on the picture and its message in this essential piece.
- Featurette: "Roundtable with Kevin Costner, Bret Saberhagen, George Brett, and Johnny Bench (SD, 30 minutes) – Costner invites three baseball legends to his home for a private screening of 'Field of Dreams,' then the quartet retires to a tranquil gazebo to talk about the movie's themes, how the film affects them, playing catch with their kids, the importance of fathers, and their own childhood memories. The players also relate a few major league anecdotes in this relaxed, interesting discussion.
- Featurette: "The Diamond in the Husks" (SD, 18 minutes) – This engaging featurette takes us to Dyersville, Iowa, home of the revered field, which hosts tourists from around the globe on a daily basis. Visitors can play ball, run the bases, or just drink in the atmosphere free of charge, and this breezy piece explores why people come, how the owners were originally approached by the producers, and the legacy of the film's ghost players.
- Featurette: "Galena, IL Pinch-Hits for Chisholm, MN" (SD, 6 minutes) – A local historian takes us on a walking tour of the film's locations, pointing out town landmarks and spouting historical tidbits along the way. Easy to skip, especially if you're not a fan of homespun charm.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 17 minutes) – These can be played with or without introductions by Robinson, but I highly recommend the former option. The director sets the stage for each snippet, so we can view them in their proper context. There are 13 in all, and many have a comedic slant.
- Documentary: "'Field of Dreams': A Scrapbook" (SD, 90 minutes) – This 1996 feature-length documentary tells the 'Field of Dreams' story in minute detail, and though it treads some of the same territory as the disc's other featurettes, there's enough fresh material to make viewing worthwhile. All aspects of the production are covered, beginning with the "odd combination of ingredients" that makes W.P. Kinsella's original novel work so well. We also get a clearer picture of the 1919 White Sox scandal, an analysis of Shoeless Joe's character, and speculation on the extent of his wrongdoing. There's a lovely interview with Burt Lancaster; James Earl Jones offers up fascinating perceptions of his character; composer James Horner discusses his largely improvised score; Robinson talks about the mounting stress he felt during shooting; and all the participants recall the heat, humidity, and swarms of flies that plagued the production from beginning to end. This is a comprehensive piece that's well worth the investment of time despite its slick, impersonal feel.
- Documentary: "Page to Screen" (SD, 46 minutes) – Actor Peter Gallagher hosts this fascinating 2003 episode of the Bravo series that focuses on Robinson's adaptation of W.P. Kinsella's novel, 'Shoeless Joe.' We learn about the background of Kinsella, who shares his philosophy about writing and the discipline required to be successful, while Robinson chronicles his struggles to turn a book he loved into a film. With a sure hand, the documentary details the differences between the novel and script, Hollywood's initial disinterest in the project, casting, location scouting, the challenges of shooting during Iowa's worst drought in a generation, and the intense emotional reaction when the film was finally released.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) – Left off of the previous HD-DVD release, the movie's original theatrical trailer is included for the first time here.
The following items don't really qualify as "content," but they're nevertheless exclusive to the Blu-ray edition.
- My Scenes – A bookmarking and clip-making tool that enables viewers to easily access their favorite sequences.
- BD-Live – The latest previews and other bonus content are available through Universal's online portal with a Profile 2.0 player and an active internet connection.
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For many, 'Field of Dreams' hits a homerun, but for me, it goes down swinging. The pure, genuine tone that captivates the film's legion of fans feels forced to me, and I just can't surrender myself to either the story's mystical aspects or shameless sentimentality. Average video and audio transfers keep this Blu-ray mired in mediocrity, although the terrific supplemental package brightens up an otherwise dull disc. If you haven't yet seen 'Field of Dreams,' by all means, give it a try. While it doesn't work for me, you may find it magical. Just arm yourself with tissues.
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