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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 11/7/98



Bull Durham
1988 (1998) - Orion (Image Entertainment)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

THX-certifiedEnhanced for 16x9 TVs

Film Rating: A
One of a small handful of truly good sports films, made all the more remarkable by its surprisingly engaging characters, and the refreshingly subtle humanity of the writing. Not to mention, it's just darned funny.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/B
The film transfer is solid, although the print could be better, and it's in anamorphic widescreen (a major plus). The audio is also good, if unremarkable, in 4.0 Dolby Digital Surround. Extras are minimal, but the new commentary track is quite satisfying.

Overall Rating: B+
An entirely worthy release from Image. Sure there could have been more extras - it's not exactly a blow-you-away DVD. But the thing is, this disc is just easy - easy to settle into and easy to enjoy. And in my book, that's what it's all about.

Specs and Features

108 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Snapper packaging, new audio commentary track by director Ron Shelton, cast and director filmographies, THX certified, animated film-themed menu screens with sound effects, scene access (21 chapters), languages: English (DD 4.0), subtitles & captions: English

Review

All right, I may be biased - I'm a sports fan. Football is my game of choice. But I have to confess a soft spot for baseball. There's nothing quite like a lazy afternoon at the ballpark with your friends - enjoying the rhythm of the game, perhaps savoring the guilty pleasure of a truly great hotdog. And anyone who's ever been to a minor league game, knows that it's special experience.

Minor league baseball has a unique flavor to it. It's a much more relaxed atmosphere than you'll find at a major league game. The ball park is usually well-worn and comfortable, like an old glove. Characters abound, from the owner of the dive bar next to the ball park that everyone knows, to the announcer calling the plays on low-power AM radio, to the groupies who never miss a game. For players at this level, baseball isn't about the big paycheck. It's about dreams, past and future, and the love of the game. There are rookies, hoping to make "the show", and former All-Stars clinging desperately to the glory days.

Bull Durham captures that atmosphere perfectly, then transcends it, to create a highly personal character story. Kevin Costner stars as Crash Davis, a 12th-year catcher who never quite stuck in the big leagues. His Triple-A contract has been purchased by the bush league Durham Bulls, so he can groom a hot new prospect - a spitballer with a wild but world-class arm, named "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). Nuke's on his way up, Crash is on his way down, and along the way are a whole host of off-beat locals, among them Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), a local devotee of the game, who fancies herself as the team's unofficial trainer.

There isn't a bad performance in the bunch here. Bull Durham is nothing if not perfectly cast. Costner shines as his character struggles with the knowledge that he's got plenty of smarts, but never had quite enough talent to make it big. Nuke is the quintessential goober, and Tim Robbins simply delights, playing off-kilter to Costner's irritable brood (strange to see how young Robbins looks here, particularly in that Motley Crue t-shirt). And Sarandon somehow grounds them both, weaving her unique brand of sex, baseball, and metaphysics.

Ron Shelton's directorial debut is well-crafted. He keeps things on a small scale, and interesting throughout. But Shelton's real gift lies in his screenwriting. His dialogue manages to be funny at times, but always personal. The result is a very natural feel to each scene, and characters that are entirely engaging. Bull Durham is filled with great moments. There's a brief scene on the team bus, where Nuke (being an 'artistic' type), is strumming his guitar and singing. But he's getting all the words to the song wrong (haven't we ALL been there), and it's getting under Crash's skin. It's a very real, human moment, and you can't help but smile.

In terms of production quality, this DVD is quite solid (and is THX certified to boot). The new anamorphic widescreen transfer itself is very good. The colors (particularly the flesh tones) and contrast exhibited are generally excellent. Image clarity is good, and there are few compression artifacts visible. The only problem, is that the print itself is not of the best quality. Plenty of film grain is visible, as are occasional scratches and bits of dust. Overall, however, there's nothing here that distracts from the general viewing experience.

The audio, in 4.0 Dolby Digital Surround, is perfectly adequate, if somewhat lacking in spaciousness and directionality. I detected very little use of the surrounds, but the dialogue presentation is clear and very natural.

As for extras, well there aren't many. You will find filmographies on the director and major cast members. The animated menu screens (both main and scene selection) are a very nice touch - I'm glad to see this appearing on more and more of Image's DVDs. The real bonus here, however, is the newly-recorded audio commentary track by Shelton. This is good stuff, full of interesting insights. "Everybody has insecurity," he says at one point. "It's what you chose to do with that insecurity - what arrogance and ego you choose to assert in the face of fear and insecurity..." His unique perspective on what motivates people, and how he chooses to convey that on film, is surprisingly honest, and makes for rewarding listening.

Bottom line

Bull Durham is unique - a sports film about individuals, that doesn't fall into the usual plot pitfalls of 'chasing the pennant', or 'winning the big game'. Baseball is the environment, the atmosphere - not the focus. Bull Durham is deftly written, naturally engaging and completely satisfying. And on DVD, it's an entirely enjoyable experience.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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