The Natural (1984)

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Released 21-Aug-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-The Heart Of The Natural
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-The Way We Were
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1984
Running Time 132:12
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (83:59) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Barry Levinson
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Robert Redford
Robert Duvall
Glenn Close
Kim Basinger
Wilford Brimley
Barbara Hershey
Robert Prosky
Richard Farnsworth
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $24.95 Music Randy Newman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 4.0 L-C-R-S (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
German
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Arabic
Bulgarian
Czech
Danish
Finnish
Greek
Hebrew
Hindi
Hungarian
Icelandic
Norwegian
Polish
Portuguese
Swedish
Turkish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    There have been few really decent movies over the last 50 years devoted to sport, and rarely has one been as enjoyable or simplistic in its presentation, yet as profound in its emotional appeal as The Natural. Sports can and does offer a wide variety of emotional highs and lows, both for those that participate and those that watch, but it is rare that a movie happens to capture that essence.

    Director Barry Levinson, along with writers Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry, supported by a magnificently uplifting score composed by Randy Newman, succeed in presenting a movie that captures both the sublime beauty of the sport and the intangible magic that most of us seek but rarely find. The Natural isn't a true story, but a concoction of what might be, what might have been and what is, ensconced in its often flawed, but always human, characterisations. To this mix add a superb cast who engender the movie with much of its appeal, and you have a classically elegant movie with wholly believable characters wrapped up into a fantasy of epic proportions.

    Robert Redford stars as Roy Hobbs, a farmer's son, steeped by his father in the traditions of the sport of baseball, who gets a chance to try-out for a Chicago-based major league club. Leaving his first, true love behind (later played by Glenn Close) to journey to Chicago for the try-out, he meets two people on the train who are to have a profound effect on his life, Max Mercy (Robert Duvall) a journalist travelling with 'The Whammer' (Joe Don Baker), a new player for the Chicago franchise and Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey), who unbeknownst to everyone is a psychotic with a death wish, a woman attracted to people who claim they are the best at what they do.

    During the journey she is attracted to 'The Whammer' who considers himself to be the best hitter in the country, but during a scheduled train stop, where a local circus is in town, the Whammer and Hobbs become embroiled in a contest of skill which Hobbs wins and hence becomes the new focus of Harriet's attention. After arriving in Chicago, Hobbs is invited to Harriet's room where she shoots him and then throws herself to her death from the balcony, leaving Hobbs lying on the floor, for all intent and purposes his ambitions, dreams and desires bleeding out of him as he lies motionless.

    Cut to 16 years in the future and Roy Hobbs, now in his mid 30s is picked up by a talent scout for a no-hope team called the New York Knights, a team struggling through a major slump and managed by Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley). Treated with some contempt because of his age, he is befriended by Pop's assistant Red Blow (Richard Farnsworth) and after an interminable period of inactivity he is given his chance to prove himself.

    As I said earlier, there are some excellent cameos (some already noted) including Kim Basinger as Memo Paris, a bad luck charm to anyone she's with (and who is attracted to Hobbs), Michael Masden as Bump Bailey with whom Memo is going steady, the right fielder who ends up giving his life for the game, Robert Prosky as the Judge, Pop's partner, who wants the team to lose so that he can take over at the end of the season and an uncredited Darren McGavin as Gus Sands, the millionaire bookie who is in league with the Judge and manipulates everyone to his own advantage.

    The movie shouldn't be truly seen as a pure baseball movie, but a movie about hope and last chances. Okay, you need to suspend your disbelief at times (Redford as an 18 year old with a 45 year old face? Hmm) but you also need to look on this as a fable and enjoy it for what it is - pure entertainment.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Generally older movies aren't given a good run when it comes to transfer to DVD. The Natural is a bit of an exception. A very good quality print was used as source material, with a very decent transfer - not exceptional, but above par certainly.

    The original aspect of the movie is listed at 1.85:1 and this disc is presented at 1.78:1 with 16x9 enhancement.

    There is a lot of edge enhancement on offer in this movie, lessening the overall sharpness. From around 58 minutes onwards, the whole movie appears to blur slightly. It is only marginal, but overall sharpness dropped from this point on. Shadow detail for exterior shots is exemplary with splendid fine detail on offer during most outdoor scenes. Interior shots depend a lot on the lighting, with deliberately low-lit scenes offering little fine detail, but this was an artistic decision, not a transfer issue. Grain is very suitably low, showing that a superior quality print was used for the transfer with no low level noise on offer. Overall, the quality was exceptionally good considering the age of the movie.

    The palette in use is excellent for the most part. Exterior shots look clean, natural and vibrantly-coloured without oversaturation. Interior shots are often done in murky rooms or using stylised lighting that often make the colours appear drab and bland. They also have far more red in them, but not untowardly so. There is no evidence of any colour bleed or oversaturation with skin tones in both interior and exterior shots appearing very natural.

    There were no noticeable MPEG artefacts detected. There were a couple of notable wobbles at 18:34 and 27:32, and the usual array of slight flecks and blemishes on the print, most obviously at 31:32 and 32:17. There were a myriad of other, tiny ones but none worth mentioning - again, evidence of a superior quality print.

    There were the usual plethora of subtitles on offer for this movie. They were ideally situated at the bottom of the screen and highly visible from what I saw. In general, they followed the on-screen dialogue as closely as you can get without perfect symmetry of voice and word.

    The RSDL change occurs at 83:59 at the end of a scene and if you are lucky you may not even notice it. My player paused momentarily only and it was the best location change that I have come across so far that was visible.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    I originally saw this movie theatrically and came away with that 'uplifting' experience one gets when having sat through a thoroughly enjoyable movie with great sound. At 17 years of age, I wasn't too hopeful that the quality of the original would come through, even with a Dolby Digital 4.0 audio track on offer... mea culpa.

    There are 5 audio tracks on offer here. I merely sampled the French, Italian, German and Spanish offerings in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo (the German track is listed as surround but I didn't notice a real difference to be honest) at the reasonable bit rate of 192kb/s. They sounded fine to me but I stuck almost exclusively with the much more robust and decidedly better English offering of Dolby Digital 4.0 (L-C-R-S) at an excellent bitrate of 448 kilobits per second. This offered a really enveloping sound, with some excellent surround sound action and really kicked my speakers into high gear.

    The dialogue is very crisp, clean and precise. The audio sync was exemplary. There were no noted pops/click or dropouts noted.

    Randy Newman's soundtrack for this movie is just superb and is one of the most uplifting efforts I've heard in a long time. I find it hard to describe or analyse music since it's so personal to me, but his music in this movie moved me with its pure passion and subtle nuances. I believe I've only ever felt this sort of thing a couple of times in my life, the very first being in response to John Williams' soundtrack to Star Wars which just had me feeling great. This is similar effort and worthy of a separate audio-only addition if there's ever an Ultimate Edition of this DVD.

    The surround channel usage was quite impressive, all things considered. The surrounds received a lot of redirected music giving the sound a beautifully enveloping quality as well as some excellent special effects sounds. They are almost constantly in use, although often in a subtle manner, but really pound out the sound during those moments of high drama.

    No sub-woofers were harmed in the making of this movie (or even used for that matter).

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Featurette

    An interesting addition to the mix is this 44:08 minute documentary on the philosophy and motivation behind the adaptation of Bernard Malamud's novel. Cal Ripken, Jr., a former baseball player with a wealth of on-field experience offers his insight into the game and how it corresponds to many of the scenes within the movie and how Hobbs' character is drawn partially from reality and partially from our desire for greatness. Ripkin is reasonably articulate which is a bonus, as is the director Barry Levinson. The documentary uses a lot of footage from the movie (presented at 1.85:1  but not 16x9 enhanced) and there is a distinct hum in the audio whenever Ripkin appears on-screen. Overall, this is a fairly interesting extra with a decent enough running time to be informative as well as entertaining.

    Visually there is no visible noise, good colour, some slight edge enhancement and it is reasonably sharp.

Theatrical Trailer

    This has a running time of 1:27 and is displayed at 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced. There is a very visible wobble in the first few seconds of this with heavy artefacts on offer. Interestingly, subtitles are available for this trailer.

Trailer

    Similar to the movie trailer, with a running time of 2:25, in 1.85:1 but not 16x9 enhanced. This is more softly-focused with many visible scratches and flecks.

Biographies-Cast & Crew

    Standard fare with offerings on Barry Levinson, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger, Barbara Hershey and Wilford Brimley

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this DVD misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this DVD misses out on;

    I'd call this one about even, unless a booklet insert is essential to your viewing pleasure.

Summary

    The Natural is one of those movies that you don't think about, but whenever it is scheduled for TV broadcast or you get a chance to see it, you seem to find time to watch it. There is a timelessness about it which makes it still as interesting today as when it was made over 17 years ago.

    The video quality is probably as good as it will ever get, which is extremely good. You should have no complaints with this one!

    The audio is excellent, with solid work in the fronts and an appreciated surround channel inclusion.

    The extras include a documentary on the making of the movie which is decent added value compared to what many other movies of this era have received.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Carl Berry (read my bio)
Monday, August 20, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5006DD, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderRotel RSP-976. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationRotel RB 985 MkII
SpeakersJBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio LS fx di/bipole Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS350-LS Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer

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