"Ease his pain." Judge David Johnson thanks the site editors for heeding this ethereal mandate after his recent viewing of Mirror of Death.
"How about a catch?"
One of the best methods for making grown men sniffle has just been released in a special anniversary edition. Field of Dreams is on deck, fellas, so cue the sweeping music and the dematerialization into corn.
Facts of the Case
Question. If you owned a struggling farm in Iowa, where making the next month's mortgage payment was an ongoing struggle, what would you do? How about, say, building a big-ass baseball field in the middle of your corn crop?
Prompted by a mysterious, disembodied voice speaking in cryptic imperatives, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner, Waterworld) does just that. Unable to shake the enigmatic decrees (everyone, repeat after me: "If you build it, he will come!"), Roy eventually relents and, much to the befuddlement of his wife and the rest of the town, begins construction on the most superfluous ballpark in the country.
Or is it? Soon enough, the payoff of Ray's perceived madness corporealizes as a group of deceased ballplayers spill from the corn to play a little baseball. These slugging specters are led by the legendary "Shoeless Joe" Jackson (Ray Liotta, Narc), a member of the infamous "Black Sox" team.
As if having a bunch of undead athletes hanging around your back yard isn't cool enough, Ray is soon given more instructions from The Voice, one of which involves kidnapping James Earl Jones.
So, the ethereal administrator forces Ray to take diction, and figure out what the %&*$ these clues mean. Ray sets out on a cross-country adventure to solve the mystery, all the while doing his best to pay little heed to the impending foreclosure. Along the way he picks up the writer Terrence Mann (Jones) and a young hitchhiker, to bring them to titular field, and the growing number of baseball spirits occupying it.
Under increased pressure from his brother-in-law to sell the farm, Ray must now await to see where this incredible experience is leading him…though it won't be where he expects.
Jeez, who ever thought walking into corn could be so damn tear jerking? What is it about Field of Dreams that produces such an effect? In my opinion, two things: baseball and dads.
Baseball is a theme that is so rich in nostalgia, so loaded with fond (and maybe not so fond—don't remind me of my pathetic attempts at tee-ball) memories that most people bring barrels of emotions with them to a movie—whether it was the time you had seats behind home plate at a major league game or your first $6 hot dog or the homerun you hit in Little League or maybe when that fat, drunk guy broke his ankle scrambling for a foul ball.
Heck, I kind of think baseball is boring, unless I get to see a wily pitcher throwing a crazed, elderly manager to the ground. Apart from the lamentable tee-ball experience, I never engaged heavily in the sport. But I cannot discount its Americana.
Right off the bat (wink, wink), Field of Dreams has got something going for it: just looking at the cover, we know it's about baseball, it's set in a place with a bunch of corn, and it stars ultra-American Kevin Costner (the man, might I remind you, who stripped Robin Hood of all British ontology).
Mix in a feisty wife, a cute little daughter, James Earl Jones, strange voices from above, an omnipresent score, more James Earl Jones, and some quality time with Dad, and a can of Mace couldn't get men as choked up as effectively as this.
The movie has a certain antiquated timelessness to it; it feels dated, but only because, at least for me, it's rooted in so much nostalgia. Maybe there is a whole new generation jaded by the multitude of mystical sky-bound personae (you ever see that wacky sun-baby from Teletubbies?) that won't get as much of a kick out of seeing an Iowan farmer listen to voices.
But I remember it with a sense of joy, and was eager to check out this special edition.
First off, I viewed the full-screen edition, an aspect ratio I despise. But as there is a widescreen version out there as well, and I'm certain our fine readers here at The Verdict wouldn't dream of panning-and-scanning, I'll let this pass.
After finishing the movie, I realized two things: 1) this sucker is humongously cheesy, and 2) it didn't really matter. If anything deep-sixes the movies it's the overwrought, hugely saccharine, sticky-sweet, feel-good-a-rama that takes place near the end. I have to admit I couldn't suppress a chortle on the third walk-in-the-corn-and-fade-away-to-uplifting-music scene.
Hey, man who cares? This is Field of frickin' Dreams.
Universal, obviously proud, has laid it on thick with this release as far as supplementals. Dig it—feature commentary with director Phil Alden Robinson and director of photography John Lindley, a butt-load of deleted scenes, five featurettes, and some useless baseball trivia.
I kind of got the feeling that Universal has informally dubbed the movie "Greatest Inspirational Film of All Time." For example, here's the one sentence description of the "From Father to Son: Passing along the Pastime" featurette: The film's cast, director Phil Alden Robinson, producers Lawrence and Charles Gordon, current major league baseball players and more share special father-son memories and discuss how the film has impacted their lives and dreams. Uggh, that's a tad nauseating.
These sentiments are echoed in the roundtable segment, featuring Kevin Costner chatting with three baseball legends about how great the film was. Again, I've got to go with "Uggh" here. The movie's good, but I'm not ready to hail it as the savior that atoned for my transgressions.
Still, maybe there are some who revere the flick (and some who revile it) and the bounty of extras will satisfy you. We get to see the set for the field of dreams, still existing today, where tourists can visit and, I don't know, run around the bases I suppose. The deleted scenes are cool and a 48-minute Bravo documentary about transferring the book to the screen is…long.
Visually, I would have liked to see a crisper transfer. The movie looks 15 years old, sporting colors kind of on the drab side. The audio, on the other hand, is really effective. The movie brings two digital tracks—DTS and Dolby Digital—that sound clear and tight. Even the surrounds are put to surprisingly good use, especially with scenes on the field; the sounds of catching and hitting emanate quite well, and do a lot for the movie (the fact that surrounds seem rarely used to their fullest capacity in many digital mixes is just plain goofy).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This is possibly a movie that performs best when viewed infrequently. Like three bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch in a row, the sweetness may become gut wrenching.
Give it up for Field of Dreams. Maybe not the enduring national treasure Universal would make it out to be, it is a nice, harmless, goose-bumpy little flick, which gets a homerun DVD treatment.
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