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Ron Shelton
Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Trey Wilson, Robert Wuhl
Ron Shelton

It's all about sex and sport. What else is there?
Rated R.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0 Portuguese Monoraul
English, French, Spanish, Portuguese

Runtime: 108 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 4/2/2002

• Audio Commentary With Director Ron Shelton
• Audio Commentary Actors Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins
• “Between the Lines” Documentary
• “Kevin Costner Profile” Featurette
• “Sports Wrap” Featurette
• Photo Galleries
• Trailers
• Production Notes


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Bull Durham: Special Edition (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Although baseball movies generally have been regarded as box office poison throughout the years, the genre enjoyed a minor resurgence during the late 1980s. Within a year of each other, Bull Durham, Major League, and Field Of Dreams all came out and all did at least respectable business. Maybe the baseball movie actually did have some earning potential after all.

The problem with this inference is that of those three films, only Major League truly qualifies as a baseball movie. By that I mean that it was the only film that really was about baseball; it presented the subject in a fairly farcical manner, but it still focused on the sport itself.

For the other two films, baseball itself played an integral role but I don't think either movie used the sport as a focus. Field of Dreams held the weakest link to baseball of the bunch; it was more about relationships, especially in the way sports helps connect fathers and sons.

Bull Durham also really is a relationship movie. For the most part, it concerns a classic love triangle, with all the struggles and pitfalls that come along the way. Sure, the world of minor league baseball is used integrally as a backdrop, but in much the same way, An Officer and a Gentleman framed its picture with the reality of the modern-day military. No one thinks of An Officer and a Gentleman as being a film about the military, so why should Bull Durham be classified as a baseball movie?

I think that's largely why Bull Durham was successful; it was a sports movie that also appealed to a female audience, since the baseball aspects of the film were incidental to the relationships between the three leads. It also helped that the movie was funny, charming, and honest, and that it was executed with a great deal of class.

To me, the foremost reason why the film works as well as it does concerns the cast. Clearly a character-driven film such as this lives and dies with its actors, and from top to bottom, the performances are excellent. If the Kevin Costner of Bull Durham showed up more often, his career might not be in the toilet. Here he offered perhaps his most relaxed and self-assured performance. Watch Bull Durham and you can recall what made him a star in the first place.

Susan Sarandon does the miraculous with her role as Annie Savoy. With Costner's Crash Davis, there was some chance that he could come across as mean-spirited or harsh, but the script minimized these possibilities to a fair degree. However, as written, Savoy not only could have been but probably should have been absolutely insufferable. This woman, with all her pretensions and self-importance, seems completely unappealing in the abstract. However, such are Sarandon's gifts that she can take this genuinely obnoxious character and make her fairly charming and ingratiating. To be frank, I'm still not wild about Annie, but I certainly respect Sarandon's talent in avoiding what could have been.

Tim Robbins' character of simple-minded pitching phenom Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh seemed to be the easiest to portray of the three leads, if just because he's in the film the least and because the character is supposed to be more "one-note" and basic than the others. Nonetheless, Robbins infuses his performance with a genuineness that easily could have been lost along the way.

Bull Durham remains one of the best baseball-related flicks ever due to the vivid characters and the crisp and realistic portrayal of life in the minor leagues. It’s an entertaining and witty look at relationships that has aged very well and offers a consistently delightful piece of work.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B- / Bonus B-

Bull Durham appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen rendition on this DVD-14; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Both the widescreen version of the film and all its extras appear on one dual-layered side, while the fullscreen cut resides on the other side. Only the letterboxed edition was examined for this review. Bull Durham displayed no glaring concerns, but a mix of minor issues caused me to lower my rating.

Sharpness appeared fairly good most of the time. At times, I saw some slight softness, and the movie occasionally seemed less crisp than I expected. Still, most of the film came across as nicely distinct and accurate. I witnessed no examples of jagged edges, moiré effects, or edge enhancement. Print flaws also remained minor. Some periodic light grain was the most serious problem, and I also noticed a few specks. Otherwise, this was a clean and fresh image.

Colors generally looked good but unexceptional. For the most part, I felt they were adequately vivid and saturated, but I thought they seemed vaguely pale and flat at times. While usually fine, the hues simply lacked the warmth I expected. Some red lighting in nightclubs looked moderately heavy. Black levels also looked reasonably deep and dense but could be a little murky, while shadow detail seemed a smidgen muddy at times. Most low-light situations appeared fine, but a few - like some on the Bulls’ bus - were thicker than I’d like. Contrast also looked off at times, as the picture occasionally seemed slightly too bright.

So how did this compare to the image found on the original DVD release of Bull Durham? Though I gave both discs “B” ratings for picture, these were not identical transfers. Overall, I preferred the old one. It suffered from more print flaws and some edge enhancement, but every other element - sharpness, blacks, contrast and colors - seemed superior. The differences weren’t extreme, but if forced to choose, I’d take the prior disc in this regard.

Actually, I also preferred the audio of the old DVD. That one included a Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack, whereas the new one provides a Dolby Digital 5.1 affair. After I cover my opinions of the latter, I’ll discuss the differences I perceived.

For the most part, the two tracks seemed pretty similar. The soundfield mostly offered a forward bias, where it provided generally solid stereo imaging. Music showed acceptable spread and delineation, while effects also created a reasonably positive sense of atmosphere in the front. Most of those elements remained environmental, such as crowd noise at the ballpark or chatter in clubs.

Surround usage appeared very minor. The rear speakers provided a slight amount of reinforcement for music and effects, but they never offered much information. Overall, the mix stayed heavily focused on the front and rarely used the surrounds.

Audio quality appeared decent. Speech remained consistently intelligible, but dialogue sounded somewhat stiff and metallic much of the time. Effects came across as acceptably accurate and clean. Music also sounded clear and distinct as a whole. Bass response seemed modest but decent. The mix never featured any real deep or rich low-end audio, but it seemed acceptably broad most of the time.

I gave the 2.0 track a “B” and left the 5.1 affair with a “B-“. What prompted the change in grades? For one, the old 2.0 mix offered a noticeably broader soundstage. Front usage remained similar, but it opened up the surrounds to a greater degree. It still didn’t do a whole lot, but the ambience seemed more natural and lively. Bass response also appeared superior on the old disc. While the 2.0 version didn’t stomp on my subwoofer, it came across as moderately more vivid in that regard. Ultimately, both worked reasonably well for a dialogue-oriented flick from the Eighties, but I still preferred the 2.0 track to the 5.1 mix.

Where the new DVD wins - at least marginally - relates to its extras. This special edition release of Bull Durham mixes old and new supplements. In the latter category falls an audio commentary from director Ron Shelton. He taped this running, screen-specific piece back in 1998 for the original DVD. Shelton offered a consistently compelling discussion of the film that didn’t suffer from many empty spaces. He covered lots of different information, from the challenges that faced a first time director to changes from script to screen to working with the cast to deleted scenes to many other facets of the production. At times, Shelton came across as somewhat arrogant and full of himself, but those quibbles remained minor. As a whole, I found this to be a very good track.

In addition, the DVD includes a new audio commentary from actors Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins. They were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. I looked forward to this piece, as we don’t often find two major stars placed together for a session. However, it turned out to be a major disappointment. During much of the commentary, neither participant spoke; Costner’s giggles made up a lot of the piece. When they did talk, Costner dominated, and we mainly heard how much they liked the film and how great everyone was, with a particular emphasis on Shelton. Along the way, a few decent tidbits and funny moments emerge, but not many. This was a frustrating and generally boring commentary.

One unusual note about the audio commentaries: they can be heard only if you watch the widescreen version of the film. Oddly, they’re not available on the fullscreen side of the disc.

In the “Documentaries” area of the DVD, we find three different programs. Between the Lines runs 29 minutes and 10 seconds as it provides a new retrospective look at the film. It mixes a few film clips, a little footage from the set, and a lot of interviews with different folks. We hear from director Shelton, actors Costner, Sarandon, Robbins, Robert Wuhl, and Jenny Robertson, producer Thom Mount, former Bulls owner Miles Wolff, former Bulls players Theron Todd and Wes Currin, and former stadium manager and groundskeeper Bill Miller. All of these are new pieces, and we also see a little archival footage with Costner.

As a whole, “Lines” was a decent program but it didn’t provide anything terribly interesting. It offered a general overview of the film’s origins and the production, and the various participants gave us reasonably worthwhile comments about their experiences. To be sure, the program went by smoothly and seemed acceptably entertaining. However, it also appeared fairly fluffy and it lacked depth. It was a pleasant little ride that included enough good tidbits to merit a viewing, but don’t expect more than that.

Compared to the other two entries in the “Documentaries” domain, however, “Lines” was a classic. Both the other programs came from the era in which Durham was made. The Kevin Costner Profile gave us a two-minute and five-second puff piece in which we learn what a great star he is. Mostly it provided lots of movie clips and a couple of banal soundbites from Costner and Sarandon. The two-minute and 55-second Sports Wrap was no better. Essentially a trailer, this featurette showed many more movie snippets along with a few remarks from Shelton and former ballplayer Jay Johnstone. Both of these “documentaries” offered nothing worthwhile.

When we move to the Trailers section, we find a few ads. There are both the teaser and the standard theatrical trailer for Bull Durham, and we also get promos for MGM’s special edition DVDs of Rocky, When Harry Met Sally, and The Terminator.

Lastly, we get some short but nice Production Notes within the DVD’s booklet and Photo Galleries. The latter splits into “Director and Cast” (33 images), “Supporting Cast” (8 shots), “Behind the Scenes” (18 pictures) and “Posing for the Poster” (7 stills). None of these seemed terribly interesting, but it was a decent little collection of photos.

Does the new MGM special edition lose any features found on the old Image Entertainment release? Just one: Cast and Crew Filmographies. They’re not missed. However, I do feel cheesed that the new DVD fails to provide any deleted scenes. Shelton talks about a few in his commentary, so where are they?

I’ve always really liked Bull Durham as a film. It includes well-drawn and amusing characters who manage to avoid becoming stereotypes, and it lets them grow and progress in a naturalistic fashion. It also uses baseball as a believable backdrop for romantic comedy. Truly, this is the rare film of that genre that will appeal to male and female audiences.

The DVD offers moderately flawed but generally good picture and sound plus an erratic roster of extras. One of the two audio commentaries provides a lot of useful information, while the other’s a boring disappointment. The other supplements add very little to the package.

While I definitely think Bull Durham merits a spot in your collection, the question becomes which Durham to own. Frankly, you may have little choice in the matter; the old Image Entertainment release is long out of print and probably would be tough to locate. Unfortunately, it provides the mildly stronger picture and sound of the two. The differences aren’t so severe that it makes a huge impact, but I did prefer the audio and video of the original release.

Nonetheless, those parts of the special edition remain good enough for me to recommend it to those who own no DVD of Durham. What about the folks who do already possess the original disc? I think they should save their money. I didn’t think much of the new supplements, and I favor the look and sound of the old one. The continued absence of any deleted scenes makes this new DVD a further disappointment. While a decent release as a whole, the lack of substantial new extras means owners of the old set should probably stick with it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1315 Stars Number of Votes: 38
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