Field of Dreams: Anniversary Edition
Film Length: 106 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English - Dolby Digital 5.1; English – DTS 5.1, French and Spanish – Dolby Surround
June 8th, 2004
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson – “Is this heaven?”
Ray Kinsella – “No. It’s Iowa.”
Although it contains some plot devices that could have easily become silly without careful treatment (e.g. time travel and ghosts), Field of Dreams turns out to be a magical and touching film about the realization of unfulfilled dreams. For the most part, this is because writer/director Phil Alden Robinson did a marvelous job of paring down W.P. Kinsella’s popular novel “Shoeless Joe”, by eliminating characters and condensing the story, but retaining every bit of the book’s heart and soul. He also manages to keep the story firmly grounded in reality, in spite of its elements of fantasy, and effortlessly guides the characters through this tale of redemption found on a magical baseball diamond cut into an Iowa cornfield.
To be more detailed, as the film opens, we are introduced to Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), an average farmer/family man who is compelled to plow into his cash crop and put the aforementioned ball field in its place when a voice tells him, “If you build it, he will come.” and he is shown a vision of a baseball diamond in his cornfield. After some discussion with his wife Annie (Amy Madigan), Ray comes to believe that the man mentioned by the voice is the infamous baseball player "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), his father’s idol.
Sadly, though a legendary talent, Jackson is probably remembered more for having been barred from Major League baseball for his part in the “Black Sox” scandal of 1919 than for his play. But for Ray Kinsella, the disgraced ballplayer was the cause of the end of the relationship with his father, after they argued over the man and never spoke again. Long years of regret having passed, Ray mulls the situation over, and decides that he must build the field. He only hopes that if he can somehow help Joe Jackson play ball again, he might be able to reconcile the broken relationship with his late father.
Most people think Ray is nuts, and not surprisingly (to them), after the field gets built, time passes without anything happening, putting Ray and his family to the test. Specifically, since Ray tore down some of his corn to build it, the Kinsella’s income is dramatically reduced. Worried that the farm might be foreclosed on, Ray even begins to second-guess his decision, until late one evening, Joe Jackson’s ghost finally appears on the field. Shortly thereafter, the voice is heard again, urging Ray to “Ease his pain.” After circumstances suggest the voice may be referring to an author named Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), Ray heads eastward to try and get in touch with him.
Upon finally meeting and getting off on the wrong foot with Mr. Mann, Ray finally convinces him to attend a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, home of the famous “Green Monster”. While at the game, they have an experience that causes Terence to come along on Ray’s unbelievable journey, giving Ray hope that he can both come to terms with the troubled past between he and his father and determine whose pain he must help ease. The remainder of this simple quest is just as convincing and involving as the first part, and the remaining twists and turns effectively build up the film’s memorable, tear inducing finale.
In addition to its simple but engaging plot, and its excellent pacing, the performances of the remarkable cast play a large role in making this story work as well as it does. With a couple of exceptions, notably Dances With Wolves and Tin Cup, I cannot say I am a huge fan of Kevin Costner’s work, but his rather bland, everyman qualities are just what the doctor ordered for Field of Dreams. It is very obvious to me exactly how committed to the material Costner was (he ignored others’ advice not to do another “baseball film” in taking the role), and I really liked the way he was able to evoke the emotions required by each scene, especially during the film’s climax.
Incredibly, the star-studded supporting cast is every bit as wonderful as Kevin Costner, if not more so. This is especially true of James Earl Jones, who delivers an inspired and powerful performance as Terence Mann, the radical writer who becomes a source of guidance and stability for Ray Kinsella. The showcase speech he gives about baseball towards the end of the film sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it, and is worth the price of admission all on its own!
Amy Madigan is also brilliant as Annie Kinsella, who provides endless support to her husband’s seemingly insane ideas, and is quick to chastise townsfolk who would speak unfavorably of him. Her character is feisty, lovable, and perfectly matched to that of Ray. Although her utter willingness to go along with whatever Ray had been told to do by the voice was a little unrealistic (and my only quibble with the film), the rest of this character’s qualities were very endearing.
And what can I say about the legendary Burt Lancaster, who plays Archie "Moonlight" Graham? Graham, an elderly physician who flirted with his dream of playing Major League Baseball as a young adult, before finally settling into a more rewarding and attainable career, is one of the picture’s more interesting and charismatic characters, and Burt Lancaster plays him with gusto. Indeed, though he was only on-screen for a short time, Mr. Lancaster turned in a highly professional, utterly effortless performance, highlighted by a very moving monologue about the national pastime and unfulfilled dreams.
The emotional nature of the tale, and affecting portrayal’s of its characters are further supplemented by a beautiful score by composer James Horner and top notch camera work from John Lindley, who captures the gorgeous Iowa sunsets and the majesty of Ray Kinsella’s baseball field, which is sharply contrasted by the vast cornfields that border it. As I alluded to earlier, Phil Alden Robinson’s direction is marvelous as well, and he wisely chose not to try and explain the mystical events that happen after Ray finishes building his field, which leaves a lot more to viewers’ imaginations. There are no cheesy light shows or over-the-top special effects here, just subtle magic.
At the end of the day, Field of Dreams is a sensitive, thoughtful film about a man being given the second chance we all wish we could have. Indeed, although most people I know usually think of this as a “baseball movie” (and to an extent it is), Director Phil Alden Robinson has created a classic work that appeals to more than baseball fans and those with a penchant for crying at the movies. It is a dreamy tale about the undying bond between family members, and about people who have experienced the loss of a loved one doggedly clinging to the dream that they might get a chance to say the things that were left unspoken between them.
I am sure most of you reading this have seen this movie, probably several times over. But if for some reason you haven’t got around to it, grab a box of tissues (it is OK to cry – at some movies ), pop Field of Dreams into your DVD player, and let this modern classic take you out to the ball game! It wasn’t nominated for three Academy Awards ®, including Best Picture, for no reason.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
While the newly re-mastered anamorphic widescreen picture is not quite on par with the most visually enticing images found on DVD releases of newer films, it is a significant improvement over the non-anamorphic travesty that Universal issued the last time this film was released on DVD. To use baseball vernacular, the old transfer was like a weak check-swing grounder back to the mound, and the new transfer is like a game-winning three-run homerun.
There were a few specific things that irked me the about the image found on the previous disc. Most disturbing was the amount of specks and dirt on the print, the lack of detail, the murky black level, and finally, the distracting amounts of grain and noticeable digital compression artifacts. As a result of all these problems, to my eyes, the previous edition of Field of Dreams did not look very film-like at all.
So, what does this re-mastered version have to offer? The short answer is plenty, but let’s take a closer look. To begin with, colors and flesh tones are nicely saturated, and I did not notice any dot crawl, even with deep reds and bolder colors. Black level is equally impressive; with the night shots exhibiting plenty of sharp edges and excellent shadow detail. And those Iowa sunsets – they look just about as breathtaking on this disc as they must have been in person.
The image seems to be free of distracting edge enhancement halos and digital artifacts as well, and boasts substantially better fine detail than the previous DVD release, although some of the early scenes inside the Kinsella home look a bit soft. The print used was also very clean, with only a minimal amount of specks or non-intentional dirt visible (the opening home movies are the exception). Indeed, the only other minor distraction I noticed was a bit of noise in light colored backgrounds and skies.
Other than that, the presentation was very film-like, and nearly three dimensional on occasion. The opening to Chapter Three was particularly striking…I almost felt like I was out in the cornfield with Ray while he was performing bogus “farming techniques ! Therefore, on the whole, despite some minor imperfections (none of which are persistent), the retooled Field of Dreams looks smashing! Indeed, there is no comparison to the previous non-anamorphic train wreck of a transfer, so hopefully fans of this fabulous film can finally sit back and enjoy it without yelling obscenities about the image quality (I hope I am speaking for more than myself here! ).
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Much like the previous Field of Dreams DVD’s visual quality, the audio was nothing to write home about. Specifically, most of the 2-channel Dolby Digital soundtrack resided noticeably in the center of the listening space, and vocals sometimes sounded harsh and unrealistic. This latter issue was especially bothersome!
Thankfully, the re-mastered Dolby Digital and DTS tracks are about as much improved as the visuals are. Specifically, although this film’s soundtrack is not terribly loud or dynamic, the more expansive soundstage and even frequency response aid to the viewing experience much more that the previous offering. Dialogue, which most of the film’s audio information comprised of, is reproduced in a rich, natural, and hiss-free manner.
Though this is largely a front-heavy affair, the rear speakers also get to work a little bit, lending some support to the moody score and the sourced music in Chapters 15 and 19. The rears are also used to surround the listener with ambient noise, like the sound of crickets in Chapter 12, and to present the voice Ray Kinsella hears from different points within the sound field.
There is not a whole lot to speak of, in terms of bass response, but that is not necessarily a bad thing – it is just not in the source material. Basically, the sub will enhance the odd effect or sound here and there, but that is about it. Smaller details, however, like the crack of rawhide connecting with baseball bats, the crush of infield dirt underfoot, or the chirping of birds, are presented both clearly and with realistic timbres.
As usual, the DTS track is the one I spent the most time with, and once again, it boasted slightly more realistic vocal timbres and a little more convincing soundstage. To be sure, given the source material, the differences between the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks were more slight than usual, and both offer a commendable treatment of Field of Dreams soundtrack. More importantly, they put the previous DVD to shame! Thank you Universal!!!
Feature Length Commentary
Director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley have provided a feature-length commentary track for Field of Dreams, and though it is not new, it is still a good listen. In addition to being incredibly passionate about the film, both are easy to listen to, and they provide a wealth of information about the adaptation of this film from W.P. Kinsella’s book, the pre-production process, and the shoot itself. Highlights included:
--- Detailed discussions about how the filmmaking team overcame some of the challenges they encountered on the shoot – like the rapid growth of the corn that surrounded the baseball diamond, and how they worked around the severe drought Iowa was experiencing at the time.
--- An interesting discussion about the process of recording the voice that Ray hears in the film.
--- Insightful comments about the Terence Mann character, and how James Earl Jones actually had to be “prodded into playing some of his scenes a little more loudly”, since he is so soft-spoked.
--- Revealing comments about how the sequence where Ray and Terence attend a Red Sox game was put together.
Make sure to stick around during the closing credits for an interesting story about how this film came to be titled Field of Dreams!
From Father to Son: Passing Along the Pastime
Although its title suggests that this 38-minute featurette treats with the game of baseball, and how it is passed down through the generations, that is really not what this piece is all about. Instead, this very informative extra opens with comments by baseball notables like Dusty Baker and Mike Scioscia, who discuss their passion for both the game of baseball and the film. Subsequently, the cast and filmmakers responsible for bringing us Field of Dreams provide some more thoughts on the film, and on the importance of valuing the relationships we have with our loved ones.
Via their interviews, and archival footage, this latter group of individuals also talks about the concerted effort to do justice to W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe”, the contribution of the cast members to the finished project, and the powerful impact of the film’s final sequence. Fans will also want to pay attention for discussions about material that was altered during production, and some interesting anecdotes about Burt Lancaster.
All in all, this is a very fine tribute to Field of Dreams, and a nice companion to the Bravo Special. If you are a fan of the film, and have 38 minutes to spare, I think you will find it worthwhile!
There are a total of 13 “untitled” deleted scenes, with optional commentary by director Phil Alden Robinson. Each of the scenes, which are of marginal image quality, are offered in the Full Frame (1.33:1) format, with the total running time being 17 minutes with Robinson’s commentary and 11 minutes without. The following is a brief description of these lost scenes, most of which were light-hearted:
--- Ray getting his hearing checked after he hears the voice.
--- Ray and Annie chatting in their garden.
--- Ray and Annie taking about what the voice might mean.
--- Ray making a trip to the lumber yard, to buy materials for the field.
--- Ray shopping for balls, bats, and other baseball equipment at a sporting goods store.
--- Ray preparing for his search for Terence Mann.
--- The family says a final goodbye to Ray before he hits the road.
--- Ray and Terence drive the streets of Boston on their way to Fenway Park.
--- Ray offers to treat Terence to the ballgame.
--- Terence and Ray watch the Red Sox take batting practice while they talk.
--- Ray, Terence, and the boys talk about Archie’s performance in a ghostly ballgame.
--- Ray and Annie talk about the possibility that they will lose the farm.
--- Terence talks to Ray about the financial trouble he is in.
Roundtable With Kevin Costner, George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, and Johnny Bench
This 30-minute long discussion, presented in Full Frame (1.33:1), features the aforementioned baseball legends screening Field of Dreams at Kevin Costner’s house, and then talking about the film, baseball, and life. I love baseball, so I found it fascinating to hear what these guys had to say about the sport. What I thought was even more interesting, however, were their thoughtful comments about some of the themes of the film, namely the realization of unfulfilled dreams, and the importance of building and maintaining the relationships with family members.
Bravo Special: From Page to Screen
Hosted by Peter Gallagher, this entertaining, informative special (46 minutes long) from the Bravo network analyzes the “Shoeless Joe” novel by W.P. Kinsella, and the difficult process of adapting it for the silver screen. In addition to behind-the-scenes footage, and a discussion about W.P. Kinsella’s life and career, interviewees Phil Alden Robinson, W.P. Kinsella, Kevin Costner, among others, talk about casting the film, the drastic changes made from the book, and even how most studios passed on the project.
Easily one of my favorite value-added extras from this set, “From Page to Screen” is a revealing look at Ray Kinsella’s journey, and his construction of the little slice of heaven where unfulfilled dreams can become a reality.
Galena, Illinois Pinch Hits for Chisholm, Minnesota
Over the course of this 5-minute-plus featurette, Galena Historian Steve Repp quickly runs viewers through the town’s history, and points out some of the alterations made to the town during filming.
The Diamond in the Husks
Running for nearly 18 minutes, this overlong featurette takes viewers to the ball field used in Field of Dreams, which is located in Dyersville, Iowa. Apparently, once visitors arrive, those who own the land allow people to play on the field, walk through the corn, or just hang out. Subsequently, the filmmakers talk about building the field, and visitors throw out some reasons why it is such a special place to visit. The featurette winds itself down with a tour of the field’s gift shop.
America’s Stadium Trivia
This extra is split into two sections:
--- “Fascinating Baseball Trivia”
This section offers up some interesting and bizarre factoids that relate to the grand old game.
--- “The Ballparks of Major League Baseball”
General information (and a photo for most stadiums) is provided for thirty different Major League ballparks, including the illustrious Yankee Stadium, old favorites Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, and newbies like SBC Park and Petco Park.
NOTE: The disc kicks off with previews for the upcoming DVD releases of Along Came Polly and Reality Bites: 10th Anniversary Edition. Fortunately, like on the Along Came Polly disc, these can be skipped by pressing the “menu” button on your remote! No more “forced/semi-forced” trailers? I love it (and so does the fast-forward button on my remote)!!!
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Field of Dreams is a great movie, and it is high time that it received an appropriate treatment on DVD. To that end, Universal makes up for the problem-riddled video and lackluster audio track on the disgraceful previous release with a pleasing new anamorphic transfer and a number of quality 5.1 mixes, including DTS! This time out, there are also a host of worthwhile extras, including the audio commentary from the previous release, which should keep fans busy for hours.
In closing, I think that Universal has finally stepped up to the plate and delivered the true “special edition” treatment that the film deserves, and that its fans have been screaming for. Even if you already own it, the new transfer and surround mixes are well worth the upgrade all by themselves. The extras are just the icing on an already moist and delicious cake. Highly Recommended!