PG Dir: Barry Levinson | Sony | 138 min.
Plot: What’s it about?
Few players have the kind of raw, natural talent that Roy Hobbs (Robert Reford) has; a man born to play baseball and be known as one of the greatest to ever take the field. He even has the love of his life in his corner, so when he heads to Chicago to take the sport by storm, success seems to be a given. But things don’t go as planned and Hobbs discovers he does have weaknesses, ones he never imagined. While some would accept defeat if faced with what Hobbs faced, he pushes on and sixteen years later, he is given another chance. He has tried his best those sixteen years, but until now, the door to the big leagues was closed and even now, he is with the New York Knights. The Knights are the basement dwellers of the majors, but to Hobbs that isn’t a concern, he just wants a shot at proving himself. He was brought in to further sink the Knights and allow The Judge to take control of the team, but with his special bat in hand, Hobbs is prepared to create miracles. But to take his place in history and be the player he dreams he can be, he will have to overcome what stunted him sixteen years back. As Hobbs stands on the threshold of legends, will he seize greatness, or endure another implosion?
The Natural is often called one of the greatest sports films ever produced, but director Barry Levinson has tinkered with his movie and given us this new Director’s Cut. If you just glance at the running times, this version only runs a handful of minutes longer, but this isn’t just some added footage. Some scenes have excised, new ones added, and some respun, to combine for a decent amount of new stuff. Levinson hasn’t reinvented the wheel however, The Natural still looks and feels like the same movie, just with some things more fleshed out. So some characters get a little more time, a few arcs are given more room to shine, and the Roy Hobbs character comes off as more isolationist than before. I can see why fans would be split as to which version is the best, but I suspect most will stick with the original theatrical edition. Sony has piled on some substantial extras to tempt the doubters however, so there is some value here even beyond the new cut of the movie. The Natural is indeed one of the best sports movies around, so whether you choose this new Director’s Cut or the original, the movie is worth a look.
Video: How does it look?
This Blu-ray is essentially a rehash of the previous two disc Director’s Cut of the film. No matter, I still enjoy watching the film over and over so I was intrigued to see how the image looked in High Definition. As it turns out, the 1.85:1 AVC HD transfer looked pretty darn good. The film, now over twenty five years old, has held up well and though there are a few scenes that look a bit muddy, by and large the image is clean and clear throughout. If you’re a fan of watching baseball games in HD, then you’ll be let down here. “The Natural” doesn’t have those emerald green infields that we’ve become so accustomed to looking at, the uniforms are a dirty off white, the grass a dingy brownish hue but that’s what it’s supposed to look like. This is the best “The Natural” has ever looked, for sure, so fans will want to experience the HD image first hand.
Audio: How does it sound?
The new DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is a nice addition to this Blu-ray, but it’s essentially the same mix found on the previous DVD. The surround use is by no means powerful or even that noticeable, but I think that is good in this case. The sound just kind of sneaks out there and immerses the audience, creating solid atmosphere throughout. This is the kind of presence you know is there, but don’t really think about, it just helps pull you into the experience. The music sounds good too, no real problems to mention. I found no concerns with dialogue either, just clean and clear vocals at all times. So while this won’t make the viewing experience that much more in-depth, it does have a few unexpected moments, to say the least.?
Supplements: What are the extras?
If you own the two-disc DVD then you’ll be happy to learn that all of the same supplements are included here. “When Lightning Strikes” is a three part documentary that runs about fifty minutes, which each section focused on a different stage of creation. The first is about the book that inspired the film, the second is about the book’s journey to the screen, while the third is the actual production of the picture. I wouldn’t call this the most in depth piece I’ve seen, but you’ll find a lot of great interviews and insights into the material. More deleted footage can be found in the “Extra Innings” section, with the rest of the supplements as brief, but mostly worthwhile featurettes. You’ll hear about Eddie Waitkus, an obvious parallel for The Natural, listen to stories about the love of baseball, a look at the more mythical elements in The Natural, and a piece on how The Natural inspired real life baseball players. We also get an introduction by Barry Levinson and Sony has included their “Movie IQ” on this disc as well which has some pretty interesting factoids about the movie, the shoot and the actors.