Updated: Aug 14, 2019
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
“THE NATURAL: 35TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1984; PG for language; Streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes, Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube (4K)
Best extra: The Heart of “The Natural”
SONY PICTURES HITS this cinematic sports classic out of the ballpark with its 35th anniversary package of “The Natural.”
It features a new 4K master, scanned from the original camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio), with rich and painterly visuals from director Barry Levinson (“The Diner,” “Rain Man”) and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (“The Right Stuff,” “The Patriot”). Sony also upgraded the audio with a multi-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which perfectly highlights Randy Newman’s Oscar-nominated score that, at times, resembles an Aaron Copland composition.
Levinson and Sony decided to include two versions – his preferred Director’s Cut, which is a complete redux of the first act. “It’s much closer to our intention,” says Levinson during a short introduction included on the 4K disc. He and editors Stu Linder and uncredited Christopher Holmes could never assemble the movie the way they wanted for its theatrical release just before Memorial weekend in 1984. “We just ran out of time and couldn’t sort it out,” Levinson says.
The new edit includes nearly 20-minutes of new footage, although its overall running time is only six minutes longer. It has a tighter feel while including more elements, as Levinson presents what he calls, “A darker and more troubled Roy Hobbs” entering Knights Field for the first time. The movie’s curveball ending, which varies from what author Bernard Malamud wrote in his 1952 novel, is still intact.
“Going down the tower stairs, he fought his overwhelming self-hatred… He thought I never did learn anything out of my past life. Now I have to suffer again.” – from Bernard Malamud's “The Natural”
Personally, I prefer the rhythm of the theatrical cut, which is also seamlessly included on the 4K disc.
During the featurette, “Pre-Game: A Novelist Steps Up to the Plate,” Prof. Richard Breyer, of the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University, says Malamud’s novel examines the "dark side of baseball and maybe the dark side of America." Screenwriter Phil Dusenberry says it reflects real life. The naming of the baseball bat was based on Shoeless Joe Jackson’s bat ‘Black Betsy’ and the attempt to bribe Hobbs was a nod to the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, when eight members of the Chicago White Sox took payoffs from gamblers to throw the World Series. Jackson who played left field and was considered one of the game’s greatest fielders, was on the take.
Legendary actor Robert Redford (47-years-old at the time) plays Roy Hobbs, a middle-aged ballplayer with a mysterious past, who has an extraordinary comeback for the New York Knights, using his magical bat, “Wonderboy,” carved from a tree struck by lightning. Before Redford signed on, Jon Voight, Michael Douglas, and Nick Nolte had expressed interested in the role.
Levinson fell in love with Buffalo, N.Y., the location for the majority of the production, including New York War Memorial Stadium, a 1930s New Deal project which just fit the bill for the Depression-era storyline.
The wonderful supporting cast includes Glenn Close (nominated for Best Supporting Actress), as Iris, Hobbs’ teenaged sweetheart; Barbara Hershey as Harriet Bird, the femme fatale who sidelines Hobbs for over a decade; character actors Wilfred Brimley as Pop Fisher, the team’s manager; Richard Farnsworth as Fisher’s sidekick; and Robert Duvall as the pesky sports columnist.
The enclosed Blu-ray, which is a complete carryover from 2009, only includes the theatrical version, while containing nearly two hours of documentaries. “When Lightning Strikes: Creating ‘The Natural’” highlights Malamud’s novel and life, the true story of baseball player Eddie Waitkus, the Phillie’s first baseman who was shot by a female fan in 1949; and interviews with Redford, who mimicked the baseball swing of Ted Williams, considered the greatest pure hitter who ever lived. Also included are a 45-minute retrospective documentary with baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripkin Jr., about how his life corresponds with Malamud’s fiction; and additional interviews with the director, cinematographer, and current major league players, as well as sports broadcasters Bob Costas, who first read the book as a teenager, and Charley Steiner, now the play-by-play announcer for the L.A. Dodgers.
The 4K imagery is substantially sharper with close-ups and wide-shots than the old and tired 2K master featured on the Blu-ray. Natural film grain is prevalent throughout for a cinematic feel.
The HDR toning and expanded color palette is full of warm and golden tones, which dominate Levinson and Deschanel’s photography. Many of the finer moments were captured during “magic hour,” shortly after sunrise and before sunset, as Hobbs strikes out “The Whammer,” (Joe Don Baker) based on Babe Ruth, at a 1920s carnival setup along a railroad stop. Glenn Close notes that many days the production fell behind schedule while Deschanel spent hours setting up his perfect shots. The super bright highlights are on display during Hobbs’ crashing finale home run that hits the stadium lights, while deeper and darker shadows are defined and detailed, as Hobbs visits the front office to see “The Judge,” (Robert Prosky) owner of the Knights.
Surprisingly, the 8-channel Atmos track, sourced from the original 6-channel mix to the height speakers, were more active than expected. Effects and music cues elevate the soundstage.
This “Natural” is a home run!
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer