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Field of Dreams (HD DVD)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment / 1989 / 104 Minutes / Rated PG-13
Street Date: December 12, 2006
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Editor's Note: In our original review of this HD DVD edition of 'Field of Dreams,' we mistakenly referred to the 'Field of Dreams Scrapbook' supplement as a still-based feature, and not a documentary. We've since corrected that text, and apologize for the error.
I hated sports as a kid, probably because I wasn't very good at them. I was always the one in Little League baseball who, after stepping up to the plate to bat, saw the entire outfield walk forward ten paces, expecting me to hit the ball no farther past the pitcher's mound. Needless to say, being athletically-challenged didn't exactly put 'Field of Dreams' high on my list of must-see movies at the time. So how surprised was I to discover that 'Dreams' isn't really about baseball at all -- instead, it is perhaps the most uplifting, heartwarming and gleefully corny modern pop epic since the glory days of Frank Capra.
Kevin Costner stars as Ray Kinsella, an thirtysomething child of the '60s who is now as all-American as you can get. He's an Iowa corn farmer, loves baseball, and is married to his college sweetheart Annie (Amy Madigan) with a beautiful daughter (Gaby Hoffman). But when Ray begins to hear a voice calling to him from the fields -- "If you build it, he will come" -- it ignites a spiritual journey that borders on the unfathomable. Despite potential financial ruin, the voice inspires Ray to build a baseball diamond in his backyard, which is soon populated by the ghostly apparitions of baseball players past, although only Ray and his family can see them. That will lead to a quest to "Ease his pain," which comes to involve famous '60s literary firebrand Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) and another mysterious spectre, legendary baseball vet "Moonlight" Graham (Burt Lancaster). Still, the voice persists in guiding Ray to "build it," and despite much criticism from many of his friends and family, his destiny will ultimately be fulfilled in ways no one could have ever possibly imagined.
'Field of Dreams' was based on the novel "Shoeless Joe" by W.P. Kinsella, and adapted for the screen and directed by Phil Alden Robinson. As I said, it is not really a "sports" movie. Instead, it's more of a wish-fulfillment fantasy -- a paean to the importance of reconnecting with the things we feel we've lost, whether they be idealism, child-like wonder, or an estranged family member. Baseball itself is incidental, as Ray's journey is clearly meant to serve as a metaphor. His story is one man's personal quest to reclaim his core beliefs and values. It's also a universal parable about America's need to remain progressive without losing sight of the fundamentals that make this country the land of the free. That the film uses baseball, a heartland milieu, and a baby boomer icon like Terence Mann to tell its story is quite cunning. Sure, it's a bit manipulative, but as the number of grown men who left the theater weeping stand testament to, 'Field of Dreams' is a tale of affirmation, not confrontation.
Like 'Forrest Gump,' 'Field of Dreams' has come under fire by some as a conservative-leaning film. I don't personally agree. It is traditional, certainly, but not conservative -- at least in the political or regressive sense. If anything, Ray and Annie Kinsella represent the ultimate New Liberals (really, would Ann Coulter be out there in the cornfields building a baseball diamond for Terence Mann?). The Kinsellas are passionate, populist and (apparently) non-denominational -- and they sure aren't gonna put up with any book burnings down at their local town hall, as Madigan proves in the film's most fiery, politically-oriented scene. Meanwhile, with its supernatural themes, and its prove-the-non-believers-wrong plot points the film does have some fairly obvious spiritual ovevertones, which explains why some received 'Field of Dreams' with an almost religious fervor, while others damned it with equal vigor.
But if 'Field of Dreams' has any cinematic legacy, it is probably as the greatest Father's Day card ever put on film. Without spoiling any of the film's surprises, Ray's ultimate journey is inward. The end moments of 'Field of Dreams' are highly affecting, with the film ultimately standing as a testament to forgiveness and reconciliation. 'Field of Dreams' seems to argue that salvation is free to every man, if he only knows where to look. "Is this heaven?" a character asks at one point in the film. "No, it's Iowa." Well put.
Watching this film hot on the heels of 'Hulk' and 'Dune' (both very strong HD DVD releases from Universal), I admitedly had high hopes for 'Field of Dreams.' Unfortunately, while 'Dreams' is hardly a high-def nightmare, it also is not one of the studio's better catalog remasters.
Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and 1080p/VC-1, the source material shows its age. The film grain is fine (plays well with the film's nostalgic themes, actually), but there is also a bit of dirt here, making this something of a poor remaster. Video noise is also a problem -- a few shots are so fuzzy it was even noticeable to a friend who stopped by while I was watching the film (and this is someone who knows nothing about video). Colors have an oversaturated appearance, as if they were pumped up too much in an effort to make the picture look "newer." Fleshtones also veer towards the red at times, sometimes wildly, although in general the film maintains a solid orange-gold glow. Most disappointing is the lack of depth. 'Field of Dreams' just doesn't have that three-dimensional pop I've come to expect from great high-def. Soft, with some print wavering and decent (if unexceptional) contrast, in short, 'Field of Dreams' on HD DVD is rarely superior to the standard-def version.
The included Dolby Digital-Plus track on 'Field of Dreams' is also rather unexceptional. Encoded at 1.5mbps, even the high bitrate can't do much with ho-hum sound design.
The mix is quite front heavy, although stereo separation is perfectly fine, with dialogue rooted firmly in the center channel and fairly intelligible. Some lower tones get lost in the mix, so hushed speech can be a bit muddy. Surround use is meager at best -- I could count the number of truly discrete sound effects on one hand, with most of the rears reserved for score bleed and minor ambience. The only truly effective sequences are the arrival of "Moonlight" Graham, and the initial late-night arrival of the players to the field (which benefit from nice and spooky atmosphere). No home run here in the sound department.
'Field of Dreams' has been released on LaserDisc and DVD several times, most recently in a special anniversary edition that was loaded with extras. To add to the confusion, there have been two separate standard-def DVD versions alone, both with shared and differing supplements. Thankfully, Universal has ported over all of the good stuff (aside from text-based extras) to this HD DVD, which certainly helps to enliven an otherwise bland disc release.
The centerpiece is "From Father to Son: Passing Along the Pastime." Despite the ungainly title, this 40-minute making-of is a notch above most -- I it found both comprehensive and entertaining. The lineup of interviewees is impressive, from the main creative team including director Phil Alden Robinson and co-producers Charles and Lawrence Gordon, to cast members Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta and Frank Whalley. Of course, the missing link is Kevin Costner, but there is enough production background and behind-the-scenes footage to pick up the slack. Granted, since this doc was originally produced for the laserdisc way back in the late '90s, the material is dated. Still, this is the kind of thorough documentary I love -- conception, development, production and release are all covered, and with great reverence. If you only watch one extra on the disc, make it this one.
Helping offset the Costner-less doc, the "Roundtable with Kevin Costner, Bret Saberhagen, George Brett and Johnny Bench" (aka "Kevin's Private Home Screening Event for Baseball Legends") is a 30-mintue discussion between the actor and three baseball legends. The talk is surprisingly far-ranging, talking less about the production of the movie than its impact, lasting appeal, and influence on the sport. Admittedly, I know no nothing about baseball so these names mean little to me, but I still found it a worthwhile watch.
Two more short featurettes add some interesting little asides to the 'Field of Dreams' phenomenon. "Galena, IL Pinch Hits for Chisholm, MN" is a 6-minute visit with Galena historian Steve Repp, who shows off the location used to represent the hometown of the film's "Moonlight" Graham. "The Diamond in the Husks" runs 13-minutes and is another nice location visit -- this time to the actual "Field of Dreams" currently ensconced in Dyersville, Iowa. Needless to say, the site is now quite the tourist attraction, and these people are really into it. Complete with homemade merchandising -- one heat-sensitive t-shirt even shows baseball players magically appearing in a bed of corn. Gotta love it.
Finally, the last making-of extra is the 46-minute Bravo television special "'Field of Dreams': From Page to Screen." I thought this was just going to be another regurgitation of the LaserDisc doc, but it is more tightly focused on the writing of the original W.P. Kinsella novel "Shoeless Joe," as well as Phil Alden Robinson's journey in bringing it to the screen. Though the special does veer back to production info near the end, which is a bit of overkill given what's already in the other disc, there is enough new detail to warrant a view, especially for you aspiring screenwriters.
Perhaps I made a mistake in leaving Phil Alden Robinson's audio commentary for last. Joined by director of photography John Lindley and originally recorded for the LaserDisc release, much of the information imparted mirrors the other making-of materials. Though I often prefer a straightforward commentary to a bunch of featurettes, in this case the production stories are more varied and interesting in the docs. Alden and Lindley also get a bit technical, particularly when they discuss of ILM's effects work (which is quite subtle) and the various challenges in shooting on a relatively low budget and in real locations. This one is for 'Field of Dreams' diehards only.
Next we have a collection of 13 Deleted Scenes, many which were newly unveiled for the anniversary DVD release. Robinson provides optional introductions to each scene, which are all fairly interesting but ultimately seem to add little to the film's narrative. The quality is fine, and like all of the video-based extras, the scenes are presented in 4:3 pillarboxed 1080i/MPEG-2 video (why not VC-1 like the main feature? You got me).
Last but not least, we have the "'Field of Dreams' Scrapbook." Essentially an overly-long EPK, it does run a whopping 90 minutes, so easily outpaces "Passing Along the Pastime" by nearly twice the length. However, I found the combination of the shorter doc and the director commentary to be a better combination that the "Scrapbook." Much of the same ground is covered in the newer extras, but it's a bit fresher. I also am not a huge fan of the more commercial-driven EPK-like format, which often feels like a hard sell. Still, it's great of Universal to include all of these extras.
The only major supplement missing on this set? The film's theatrical trailer. Sigh.
Nothing really exclusive here, only Universal's "My Scenes" interactive bookmark function and the usual bland Photoshop'd menu screens.
If you plant it, we will find it... On the main menu screen, select the "Extras" submenu. Then, press your remote's left arrow button twice. A baseball icon will appear below. Select and hit "Enter," and a short vignette about "The Voice" will follow. (Special thanks to Darren for the Egg!)
Found an egg? Please use our tips form to let us know, and we'll credit you with the find.
'Field of Dreams' is a modern classic to many, and a maudlin exercise in sentimentality to others. I still find it a sweet and well-meaning ode to Americana and the power of forgiveness. This HD DVD, however, doesn't quite do the film justice. The transfer is lacking and the soundtrack just average, though at least the extras are thorough and informative. Still, it is hard to recommend this to anyone who already owns the standard-def DVD as it doesn't offer much of an upgrade.
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