Judge Patrick Bromley has dodged a few inside fastballs in his day, but he wishes he could have dodged this tepid baseball documentary.
When "Dem Bums" were kings.
Before discussing The Story of the Brooklyn Dodgers, it's important to make something known: I am, at best, only a casual baseball fan in the most extreme sense of the phrase. If my hometown Chicago Cubs are having a good season (prior to their requisite yearly choke), I'll pay attention. If the Boston Red Sox are about to come back from a 3-0 lead against the evil Goliath New York Yankees, I'll get excited for the Red Sox. If they go on to sweep their first World Series in over 80 years, I'll jump on the bandwagon and celebrate with the rest of the country. Fair weather fan? Sure. I've never claimed to be anything else.
Given my overwhelmingly passive participation in the world of baseball fandom, it doesn't fit that I should be a huge fan of baseball movies—but I am. To be fair, I love just about any kind of sports movie (despite the fact that I don't particularly show any interest in sports), but baseball is my favorite. From Major League to Eight Men Out, from Bull Durham to A League of Their Own, the baseball diamond makes a great setting for a story. So shouldn't a collection about a team as beloved and rich in history as the Brooklyn Dodgers tell an even better story than those fictionalized Hollywood flicks? Whether it's the triumph of Jackie Robinson or the heartache of continuous defeat at the hands of that other New York team (not to mention the eventual relocation of the club to Los Angeles), the Brooklyn Dodgers have some great stories to tell. So why is this documentary so disappointing?
The Story of the Brooklyn Dodgers is made up of seven individual programs (there is no "play all" option), spread out over two discs. They break down as follows:
The decision to divide the program up into seven different installments is its major downfall. If the idea is to tell the "story" of the Brooklyn Dodgers, why not actually make it into a story? Instead, it plays like a fragmented highlight reel, offering clips and archival footage without constructing any kind of arc between them. The programs haven't even been arranged chronologically on the disc, meaning the viewer is skipping all around the Dodgers' history and trying to form some sort of connection between it all in his or her head. No effort has been made to create a sense of time or place. What's worse, the so-called "story" isn't given any sort of context—it's little more than the reading of some statistics (coupled with what amounts to the occasional trivia fact) set to old black and white shots of the Dodgers. Why no historical perspective? Why no comments from some of the players (the living ones, anyway)? Why no interviews with those who saw the Dodgers play at Ebbets Field? There's no significance to this story—we don't understand what the Dodgers meant to anyone. Even the piece on Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in the major leagues, doesn't resonate as much as it should (although, along with the piece on Pee Wee Reese, it's one of the best in the set). While I generally try to always evaluate a work for what it is, The Story of the Brooklyn Dodgers is a case where I'm stuck on what it isn't—as a documentary, this one fails.
The two-disc set, released by BVS video, delivers all seven installments in a full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Because it's comprised entirely of archival footage, much of which is 80-odd years old, the picture doesn't always look outstanding; obviously, it's a source material issue and not the fault of the disc itself. Most of the footage has held up surprisingly well, and even the worst-looking of it is never so bad that it becomes unwatchable or distracting. The Dolby 2.0 audio track is fine as well, most likely because it never needs to handle anything more than an out-of-place musical score and some monotonously upbeat narration.
The chance to tell the tale of a legendary team has been squandered by this letdown of a documentary series. The Brooklyn Dodgers—not to mention fans of baseball—deserve better. Even a skip-the-sport, see-the-movie fan such as myself can tell when he's being gypped out of a great baseball story.
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