Nothing was going to stop Roy Hobbs from fulfilling his boyhood dream of baseball superstardom. Robert Redford stars in this inspiring fable that begins when 14-year-old Hobbs (Redford) fashions a powerful bat from a fallen oak tree. He soon impresses major league scouts with his ability, fixing his extraordinary talent in the mind of sportswriter Max Mercy (Duvall), who eventually becomes instrumental in Hobbs' career. But a meeting with a mysterious woman shatters his dream. Years pass and an older Hobbs reappears as a rookie for the New York Knights. Overcoming physical pain and defying those who have a stake in seeing the Knights lose, Hobbs, with his boyhood bat, has his chance to lead the Knights to the pennant and to finally fulfill his dream.
From the sun-dappled heartland, a young man (Robert Redford, in soft lighting) emerges as maybe the best baseball player anybody's ever seen. On his way to the majors, he is cut down by an enigmatic black widow (Barbara Hershey) and vanishes for many years. When he reemerges, a silent mystery, he lands a spot with the New York team and begins tearing up the league--he's still the natural. Fans of the Bernard Malamud novel will be dismayed at the pure mythical hokum of this film, but baseball fanatics have been known to watch and rewatch this one; after all, it's constructed as a kind of shrine to the national pastime. Barry Levinson (Rain Man) directs the movie with an unabashed devotion to the game, although the film could use more of the realities of chewing tobacco and pine tar. Redford is fine, and Kim Basinger and Oscar-nominated Glenn Close are effective as the women in his life. The crowning touch is the soaring, extraordinary music by Randy Newman, the singer-songwriter turned orchestral composer. --Robert Horton
Director Barry Levinson mentions in his video introduction the 1984 movie was rushed to theaters and this 2007 DVD is more the film he originally intended. This "director's cut" adds about 15 minutes of footage and deletes 5. It tightens the first third of the film, yet any fan of the lyrical prologue set in perfect synchronization with Randy Newman's score will be disappointed. Now the beginning is told in flashback as the elder Hobbs returns home. (It's also confusing to keep track of which Hobbs story you are watching when they are both on a train.) The changes do not improve the story or character; it simply packs in more information before Hobbs enters the Knight's dugout. After that, there are a few new scenes and many extensions, most involving Memo (Kim Basinger) and Red (Richard Farnsworth). None of the additions are exceptional. One could hope there is an Easter egg with the remastered original edition. What is on the second disc are above-average featurettes with interviews from most of the major talent. The best little ditties includes Newman's playful "lyrics" to his theme music and Levinson's divulgence that he is the radio play-by-play man. There's a good discussion on adapting (and changing) the novel, the allegorical myths, and the real-life inspirations including a heart-felt segment on Eddie Waitkus, a baseball player who was shot by an obsessed fan. A 5.1 Dolby soundtrack is now available and compliments an excellent video upgrade. --Doug Thomas
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