- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Director Barry Levinson’s legendary period drama about a tragic figure beating the odds and getting one last chance at glory debuts on 4K to satisfy baseball fans as well as home cinemaholics in The Natural: 35th Anniversary Edition (Sony Picture Home Entertainment, rated PG, 144 minutes, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, $30.99).

Inspired by Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel, the movie stars Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs, a promising young baseball player with herculean talent crushed by an unfortunate meeting with a mysterious female.

He comes back from the shadows in the twilight of his prime for one shot as the oldest rookie in the major leagues with the last place New York Knights and transforms into a legend.

The superb cast includes Wilfred Brimley as the curmudgeonly manager Pop Fisher; Darren McGavin as gambler Gus Sands; Robert Duvall as sports writer Max Mercy; Kim Basinger as a femme fatal named the exotic Memo Paris; and Glenn Close as Hobbs’ early love interest Iris Gaines (she was nominated for an Academy Award),

Also, play close attention for a super young Michael Madsen playing the ill-fated, rookie, star ballplayer Bartholomew “Bump” Bailey and Joe Don Baker as the Babe Ruth prototype “The Whammer.”



Infusing themes of the classic heroes down to even the comparisons to the mythic legends, Hobbs made his own bat using wood from a tree struck by lightning, the film is not only a love letter to baseball but a magical testament to the power of the human spirit.

Some may complain that the radical change to the ending from the book is way too vintage Hollywood happy, but moviegoers resoundingly disagreed and, hey, what’s wrong with a positive ending once in a while?

Owners get two versions of the movie — the original theatrical release and the director’s cut that adds about 6 minutes to the action.

In an introduction to that cut, Mr. Levinson explains he mainly reconfigured the first act to make Hobbs a darker character showing the loss of his youth.

4K in action: Both cuts of the movie have been restored and digitally remastered from the original camera negative, which was supervised and approved by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and Mr. Levinson, and both feature a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.

Mr. Deschanel’s work truly shines within the screen-filling presentation as he paints a visual landscape that, when focused on some of Hobbs’ women, displays an almost watercolor-like quality to the scenes.

Especially worth noting is Gaines, dressed in near pure white, in the baseball stands above the crowds and her white translucent hat set against the sea of humans that looks like an angel’s halo, or Hobbs and Paris meeting under a pier with a blue wash of light as waves pound the beach.

Color and clarity shine in moments such as an opening scene with a sharp green soybean field contrasted by Hobbs being dropped off from a red fuel truck; the green grass in a carnival setting as Hobbs faces a hitting legend as the glowing red sun sets; and a stunning scene of Hobbs rounding the bases as a shower of sparks from exploding park lights fall on and around him.

The later makes for the strongest case for upgrading and appreciating the 4K ultra HD visuals.

I’ll also mention that I noticed numerous instances of soft focus in scenes that actually detracted from the 2160 visual acuity. I’m not sure what was going on, but it’s slightly disappointing unless it was the creator’s vision.

Best extras: All the goodies about the film are found on the included Blu-ray disc, duplicated from the 2010 release. The Blu-ray also offers remastered versions of both films.

The best extra is a 49-minute overview of the film broken into three parts that most importantly covers the author of the novel; its polarizing ending; the historical baseball moments paralleled in the film; the capturing of the authenticity of the game; and Mr. Redford’s athletic ability (he hit many out of the park during the filming). Interviews with pretty much all key cast and crew make it the supplement.

I also enjoyed the 44-minute look at the movie through the eyes of veteran ballplayer Cal Riken Jr. He discusses baseball at the philosophical level, and how it relates to life and his relationship with his player/manager father. The extended featurette also contains plenty about baseball with Mr. Levinson.

Rounding out the voluminous extras is 17 minutes on 1950s baseball player Eddie Waitkus being stalked and shot by a female fan; and another 15 minutes on the greatness of baseball as relayed by George Will, sportscaster Bob Costas and players such as Ryne Sandberg, Don Mattingly and Jason Giambi.

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