Saturday, March 24, 2012

A review of the Director's Cut, two disc set of The Natural with Robert Redford.

I’m not a big fan of sports’ movies; yet, there are three of them on my top-ten list of favorite movies. Two deal with baseball (Field of Dreams and The Natural), while the third one centers around football (Rudy). This review is about The Natural, specifically the Director’s Cut version that’s in a two-disc set.

I first saw The Natural in May of 1984, while I was visiting the university town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I was from Beaufort, which is on the east coast about 150 miles away. I was thinking about moving to Chapel Hill and wanted to check out the apartments and what the rent was like. As I was walking down the center of the downtown section, I noticed The Natural playing at one of the main theaters. This was before movie multiplexes. I hadn’t heard anything about The Natural or seen the previews of it, but I noticed Robert Redford was billed on the marquee. When I examined the poster out front, I saw Glenn Close was it. I’d become a big fan of Glenn Close since seeing her in The World According To Garp two years before. Truth be told, she looked quite a bit like a woman I’d been in love with so I made it a point to see anything she was in. I bought a ticket to the movie and spent the rest of the afternoon watching a baseball movie, instead of looking at apartments.

Well, The Natural blew me away.

Though I was the only one in the theater at that time of day, I stood up and cheered at the end. I mean it has the type of ending where you have to cheer because the hero does what is right and wins. Most heroes don’t win in real life. The character of Roy Hobbs certainly didn’t win in Bernard Malamud’s novel of The Natural. The movie ending was great to me. It was what I needed. All so, I got to see a beautiful Glenn Close, and in my mind, I felt the woman I’d known in real life would do for me what Glenn’s character did for Roy Hobbs—give him the will to succeed against all odds!

Later, I bought the VHS of The Natural when it came out, and then the DVD. A week or so ago, I noticed that a Director’s Cut of the movie was out. In fact, it had been released in 2007, five years ago. I wondered how I’d missed it. I then remembered I didn’t have much memory of a lot of things before the fall of 2009, when I went into the hospital for a month. I burned up a lot of brain cells during that stay. When I got out, I had so many bills I had to sell my DVD collections to help pay them. So, I could have had the Director’s Cut in that collection and just not remembered it. I’ve already read three-or-four novels I couldn’t remember reading before the hospital, but which I evidently did. Anyway, I found a great price on a new copy of The Natural in the Director’s Cut and ordered it. I watched half of it on Thursday night, the other half on Friday, and then the special features today.

After almost thirty years this movies still gives me goose bumps on the arms.

Now, what the director, Barry Levinson, did was add over twenty minutes of new material to the film. This is footage that had to be dropped because of time restraints. Levinson also compressed other scenes into shorter flashbacks, so this version of the movie is only six minutes longer than the theatrical one. I’m not sure the new footage added to the movie as a whole. Most of it is in the first half of the film. Still, the movie works and there is more detail or history in the telling of the story.

The story itself deals with Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford). He had a natural gift for playing baseball as a boy that was developed with the help of his father before he passed away. As a young man, he’s drafted into the game and has to leave the farm where he grew up and his best friend, Iris (Glenn Close), who he’s in love with. Riding the train to the big city, he encounters a mysterious woman who’s played by Barbara Hershey. When he strikes out a baseball player known as the Whammer, she sets her eyes on him and soon shoots him before committing suicide.

Hobbs then disappears for sixteen years.

When he finally returns to baseball, he’s been drafted to the major leagues, but to a down-and-out team called the New York Knights. Hobbs is at the age when most players are retiring, and the manager, Pops Fisher, doesn’t like having him shoved down his throat. It’s a while before Hobbs is even allowed to hit a ball at batting practice. When he does, he knocks it out of the park. That begins a series of wins for the Knights.

The co-owner of the baseball team, however, doesn’t want them to win because he’ll have to sell his share of the team back to Pops. To divert Hobbs’ attention, the Judge, gets the beautiful Kim Basinger to date Hobbs. Pops is her uncle and considers her bad luck for Hobbs and the team. When a man thinks with his small head instead of his big one, he usually gets himself in trouble. Hobbs does just that and the teams starts losing again.

Enter Glenn Close, the girl from his past.

She knows the playing ability Roy Hobbs has and doesn’t want to see him lose. She goes to the game when the team is playing in Chicago and steps up in the crowd of people when Hobbs is at bat. He catches a glimpse of her and naturally hits a home run, knocking the ball into a tall clock tower and shattering the glass. The question is who will have the strongest pull on Hobbs—Glenn Close or Kim Basinger? Will Hobbs get his winning streak back? Will the Knights win the pennant? Will Pops Fisher lose the team to the Judge?

This is a feel-good movie about a man down on his luck, who rises to become a hero against all the obstacles placed in front of him. This is a movie that makes you cheer the goodness in humanity and the sheer will to succeed against those who would have it otherwise.

The film has an unbelievable cast that includes: Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Robert Prosky, Richard Farnsworth, Robert Duvall, Darren McGavin, Joe Don Baker, Michael Madsen, and Mike Starr. It’s not often a cast of this caliber is pulled together for a sports movie. Here’s a bit of movie trivia. Robert Prosky who plays the Judge also starred in Rudy and played the former dean of Notre Dame, a Catholic priest who helps Rudy along the way.

The music in The Natural by Randy Newman raises the level of the film from a really good movie to a great one. You’ll be humming the theme for days once you’ve seen it. I remember buying the soundtrack when the movie originally came out.

The second disc in this set has over three hours of behind-the-scenes featurettes with at least an hour devoted to the making of the movie. There’s a lot of stuff here on baseball and many of the true incidents that inspired the writing of the novel. This makes the DVD set a great one in my opinion.

If you like Field of Dreams and Rudy, you’ll love this movie. You don’t even have to be a baseball fan to enjoy it…just someone who likes to see the underdog finally win.

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