- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2002

ON THE SHELF / Scott Silverstein

Just call 2002 the Year of the Mulligan.
Whereas 2001 proved the year when many of the major home video companies began to bring their greatest hits to DVD ("The Godfather" trilogy, for instance), this year those companies have gone back and corrected some of the wrongs of the past the single-layer, bare-bones monstrosities that came out when the fledgling format was barely better than VHS.
That means some of the greatest sports movies, many of which initially arrived on disc three or four years ago, have been reissued as special editions packed with commentaries and deleted scenes and all the other goodies that make DVDs so great.
Here's a look at some of the choice releases of the past several months:

"Bull Durham"
Sometimes considered the best baseball movie of 'em all, "Bull Durham" tells the now-familiar story of stud pitcher Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) and fading catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) that for a while made the Durham (N.C.) Bulls the most popular minor league team in the country. The point of aggravation between them, of course, is Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon, who became Robbins' wife after meeting him during filming.
So why is this movie so loved? It's a baseball movie written and directed by a baseball player that's not completely about baseball. Director Ron Shelton got as high as Class AAA Rochester as a second baseman in the Baltimore Orioles' organization, playing alongside Bobby Grich and Don Baylor. After five years in the minors, he realized his dreams of the majors were done but put his experiences to good use.
Orion originally released the film in 1988, but that studio went under. The rights fell to MGM, which replaced the bland DVD released by Orion with one of its own earlier this year. MGM gave the film a new anamorphic transfer (meaning it's optimally enhanced for those newfangled widescreen TVs) and added a "making of" documentary and two commentaries, one with Shelton and another with Costner and Robbins.
The latter is the highlight here. The actors sometimes pause too long between comments, but when they are speaking, the banter is engaging. For instance, Robbins puts the movie in perspective at the end: "That's what's ingenious about this movie. It's a sports movie that doesn't depend on the final game. It's about finding your soulmate."
To which Costner responds, "It kind of debunks the theory about what a heroic movie's about."
There's plenty of good back-and-forth here, including during one of the scenes on the team bus.
Costner: "Ron always grounds a movie with a scene like that about the sacredness of what everybody is heading towards."
Robbins: "Yeah, it's all about the dreams of a minor leaguer. You can only know them if you've had those dreams yourself. And what those dreams are about, they're not necessarily about stardom. It's about room service, not carrying your own bag."
Costner: "Same thing about us as actors. There's a point of time when you'd have done anything and you would have done it for free. Then all of a sudden things start to go your way and you want a little more and a little more and a little more. Crash has this perspective of being there [in the majors] for 20 days and going back down. It isn't about the money; it's about some of that other stuff. It's about not having to room with a 19-year-old guy and you're in your 30s."
Robbins: "One of the things that I find really moving also about this story and 'For Love of the Game' is that retirement at age 30-something, what does that mean as far as the future and how difficult that must be for those guys and to have to face an entirely new life after only 37 years."
And so forth. The one thing missing here? Deleted scenes. Costner and Robbins reference several during their commentary, making their absence felt even greater.

"Jerry Maguire"
Another DVD from the do-over department, "Jerry Maguire" recently was named one of the top 100 romances of all time by the American Film Institute. Here, a sports agent (Tom Cruise) renounces his seedy ways in a mission statement that costs him his job, his finance basically his life as he knows it. On the path to finding himself, he falls in love with his assistant, Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), and brings riches to his only client, Arizona Cardinals receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr., who won an Oscar for the role).
Columbia/Tri-Star provides a new two-disc package with all the trimmings, including deleted scenes. The commentary, however, is the highlight. Cruise, Zellweger, Gooding and director Cameron Crowe all participate, and in a fairly unique move the second disc repeats it, only in video form. It's sort of like picture-in-picture, with the main screen showing the interactions of the actors and Crowe as they watch the movie and the smaller screen containing the film itself.

"Slap Shot," "Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice"
The movie many sports fans consider the best hockey film of all time gets its fresh repackaging on DVD for two reasons. First, 2002 marks the 25th anniversary of the Paul Newman vehicle, and second, Universal needed a way to promote the sequel.
Newman may be the star of the original, but the Hanson brothers played by Jeff and Steve Carlson and David Hanson, all players with the Johnstown Jets of the North American Hockey League clearly are the selling point even though their roles are relatively small. (Little known fact: David Hanson originally was supposed to play David "Killer" Carlson but became a Hanson brother when Jack Carlson was called up to play for the Edmonton Oilers.) The new DVD boasts a commentary by the trio, but they really have little of substance to say, mostly reminiscing with each other about who they liked and didn't like from the movie.
Of course, that's more substance than appears in the sequel. Stephen Baldwin replaces Paul Newman as the star, and the hockey appears much more in your face and modern (the original, for instance, dates itself because the players don't wear helmets). There is a plot here Baldwin's character attempts to redeem himself after being banned by the NHL for throwing a game, while the Charleston Chiefs are sold and become half of a barnstorming unit preaching family values but it gets lost in the poor acting and lame script.

"Ali," "Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World"
When "Ali" arrived in theaters last winter, it flopped, perhaps undeservedly. The movie covers only a 10-year period, from when Cassius Clay stopped Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight title in 1964 to Muhammad Ali's victory over George Foreman in 1974. Will Smith produces the performance of his career as the boxer but suffered with the Oscar voters because the script gave him little with which to work. "Ali" does a good job telling the story but has little depth, failing to show why Ali made the major decisions that influenced his life, such as his turn to Islam. The DVD transfer looks great, but there are no extras here beyond the trailer. Whereas Columbia/Tri-Star often releases a bare-bones disc, then follows up with a two-disc special edition less than six months later (all those "Black Hawk Down" buyers beware), don't expect a new version of this one anytime soon.
For those who want more insight into Ali, check out "Through the Eyes of the World," a brilliant documentary that uses testimony from observers, journalists, entertainers and family members and combines it with archival footage to tell the story of his entire life, not just the 10 years from "Ali." It does a much better job at explaining Ali's mindset.
For instance, the late Dick Schapp describes Ali as malleable around the time of the Liston fight, even joking that he thought he could have converted Clay to Judaism had he gotten a hold on him. Those interviewed include James Earl Jones, Billy Crystal, Rod Steiger and Tom Jones. The best quote, however, comes from journalist Hugh McIlvanney at the start of the documentary: "Here was a totally remarkable human being. Sports was his context, but his stage was humanity." Extras here include some additional interviews that didn't make the final cut and short documentaries from various cities around the globe about the former champ.

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