Universal // 1989 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 26th, 2009
If you believe the impossible, the incredible can come true.
"Ray, people will come. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even
fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it.
They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of
course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person.
They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they
have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in
shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats
somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and
cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped
themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush
them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all
the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of
steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.
But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our
past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.
Oh...people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."
-- Terence Mann
Ray Kinsella (Kevin Coster, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) was a wild and crazy hippie once upon a time, but now he's just a normal guy trying to settle down and enjoy life. He's married to an energetic woman named Annie (Amy Madigan, Carnivale), he has a young daughter named Karen (Gaby Hoffman, Uncle Buck), and he recently purchased a great big farm in Iowa. One night when Ray is out tending the cornfields, he hears a strange voice: "If you build it, he will come." Ray is confused momentarily, wondering if he really heard what he thought he heard. Then the voice speaks again: "If you build it, he will come."
Ray continues to hear the voice in the following days, and soon he comes to the realization of what the voice is asking him to do. He's supposed to destroy a large portion of his corn crop and use that section of land to build a baseball field. The decision is a financially disastrous one and seems nothing short of absurd to all of Ray's neighbors, but Ray has the support of his loving wife. That's enough for him. When the field is finished, well...well, I'll leave that for you to discover for yourself. Suffice it to say that Ray's strange adventure is only just beginning.
From the time I was a young child to well into my teens, baseball was at the center of my life. I went to every Atlanta Braves game I could talk my dad into taking me to, played baseball every season in my local league, even collected baseball cards and memorized stats. Alas, that era eventually came to an end. There honestly aren't that many days when I miss it...there are too many interesting things going on in life right now for me to spend time moping about what once was. Even so, every single time I watch Field of Dreams, the craving hits me again. It's usually in that moment when Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta, Goodfellas) muses about his love for the game: "I've heard that old men wake up and scratch itchy legs that have been dust for over fifty years. That was me. I'd wake up at night with the smell of the ball park in my nose, the cool of the grass on my feet...the thrill of the grass."
Most of us who fondly remember the wonderful moments of our youth will not get to return to those moments again. We may think of them fondly, but we have moved on and put aside our youthful dreams for more sensible and practical options. Field of Dreams is a story about men getting a chance to fulfill that dream once again. It is the story of Joe Jackson and his teammates, banned from baseball after the infamous "black sox" scandal, getting to return and enjoy the game one last time in all of its untainted purity. It is a story of a brilliant, disillusioned writer (James Earl Jones, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins) finding a reason to give a damn for the first time in years. It is the story of a middle-aged man finally getting a chance to repair a broken relationship that has haunted him for a long time. All of these moving tales are filtered through the profound religious experience of baseball, held up here not as the corporate business endeavor that it has become but as the beautiful American ritual that it once was.
Like this film's portrayal of baseball, the film itself has a touching purity. Cynics may dismiss the film as a justification of men living out their irresponsible and absurd fantasies. Field of Dreams is indeed an impossible fantasy, but it allows us to vicariously experience something many of us desperately desire. We all have unfulfilled dreams. What if we were given the opportunity to make them come true? There is definitely an element of religious faith that plays a role here, as Ray is asked to believe in something that he cannot see or understand. The faith required is not faith in a god, but faith in the power of building a baseball field. Ray's unsuccessful attempts to convert his brother-in-law (Timothy Busfield, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) are akin to those of an evangelist handing out tracts. Blind faith is rewarded and doubt is mocked, which understandably may irritate viewers. The film is not concerned with being sensible, tossing aside such limitations and reaching impossible heights. The film is sort of a distant cousin to the Jimmy Stewart film Harvey (in which the star befriends an invisible 6-foot rabbit), which appears briefly on a television screen in the Kinsella kitchen. "That man is sick," Costner quips.
The performances throughout are excellent. Costner's acting was very hit-and-miss during this portion of his career, but in Field of Dreams he employs the sort of easygoing everyman quality that he has turned to more frequently in recent years. A pleasant surprise is the performance of Amy Madigan, who manages to avoid being simply "the wife" and creates a distinct, vivid character. That's particularly surprising in a film that focuses almost exclusively on the dreams of male characters. Madigan steps in the spotlight in a terrific scene in which she takes on a conservative prude at a school board meeting. My favorite performance comes from the great James Earl Jones, who steals every scene he is in as writer Terence Mann. One of my favorite portions of the film is the section in which Mann responds with hostility to Costner's weak attempts to draw him in to his seemingly crackpot conspiracy theory. There are also fine turns from Liotta as Shoeless Joe Jackson and Burt Lancaster (Birdman of Alcatraz) as an elderly doctor.
The film makes the jump to hi-def with acceptable if somewhat underwhelming results. There's a pretty significant level of natural grain here, and the level of detail is hardly as spectacular as one might hope. Darker scenes do look reasonably sharp as blacks are deep and shadows are well-defined, but in general the image here looks merely average. To be honest, the DVD release didn't look remarkable either, so you are getting a reasonable leap in quality here, but this film deserves better. Audio is stellar throughout, with James Horner's mostly synthetic score getting particularly excellent distribution. There were a couple of dialogue scenes that seemed just a tad quiet in contrast to some of the film's louder moments (not that there are many of those), but otherwise the track here is satisfactory.
Extras are merely repeated from the 15th Anniversary Special Edition. The supplements are frankly a little difficult to sit through, as these featurettes ranks among some of the most self-congratulatory bits of fluff I've seen. "From Father to Son: Passing Along the Pastime," "The Diamond in the Husks," "Field of Dreams: A Scrapbook," "Galena, IL Pinch Hits for Chisolm, MN," and "Bravo Special: From Page to Screen" all lack much in the way of substance, as does a roundtable discussion with Costner and several former pro baseball players. A commentary from director Phil Alden Robinson and DP John Lindley is reasonably interesting if a bit dull, and a few deleted scenes are worth a look.
Much as I love this film, it must be admitted that it occasionally becomes a tad too hokey for its own good. It certainly strains credibility at times.
This film may well be the best movie about baseball ever made, but this Blu-ray disc doesn't offer quite enough to warrant an upgrade for those who already own the special edition DVD set.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Roundtable Discussion