WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Bull Durham is probably the most pure baseball film ever made—not because of its story, which is sometimes silly and a bit overwritten, but because of the authenticity of its details. The sweat, the banter, the shenanigans, the superstitions...they're all there, making you feel like you're privy to the daily grind of a genuine minor-league ballclub. The director, Ron Shelton, once played in the minor leagues, and his experiences add a ring of truth to the movie's atmosphere.
The film tells the story of Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), an aging catcher winding down a somewhat failed career, who signs on with the Durham Bulls to help "season" an almost hopelessly naïve rookie pitcher named "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). Bull Durham spends most of its time on the field and on the road, but a major subplot involves Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), a bedroom philosopher who turns the Crash/Nuke relationship into a romantic triangle.
More than anything else, this is a film that genuflects at the Church of Baseball. Shelton went to great pains to finally make a sports movie right, and he succeeded so thoroughly that baseball teams across the nation—from little league to the majors—quote the movie incessantly. Pay attention to the little details: Crash studying his batting stance in a store-window reflection; players murmuring to themselves in the field; coaches bantering on the dugout steps. Shelton doesn't believe in the "poetic mythology" (as he says in his commentary) of improbable baseball movies such as The Natural. He believes in the dirt on the field, the cursing, the exhaustion, the cynicism, the goofy joy.
Unfortunately, some of Bull Durham's writing threatens to pull you straight out of the film. Crash's soliloquy about what he believes in—"the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days"—is absurdly self-conscious and intrusive. In fact, there's a strange disparity between the movie's baseball realism and the outsized, corny nature of much of the writing. In the end though, that disparity is part of the movie's charm: Even if the goings-on are the stuff of comic fantasy, they're grounded in such reality that they're believable.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
On side 1 of this DVD, MGM presents Bull Durham in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, in anamorphic widescreen. Side 2 offers a fullframe version, just in case you want to betray the director's original framing intentions. The widescreen presentation is surprisingly fine, offering a more detailed image than I would have expected from this nearly 15-year-old movie. The print is gorgeously clean and comes across as very filmlike. I noticed only minor edge enhancement—nothing terribly distracting. The naturalistic color palette is rendered accurately and warmly.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
Bull Durham's new Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track that offers very little surround activity besides musical ambiance and crowd noise. The front soundstage is quite wide, offering rich music, natural-sounding dialog, and surprisingly intact fidelity. The soundtrack feels like an accurate representation of the original theatrical presentation.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The DVD offers some entertaining extras, and chief among them are two engaging audio commentaries. The first is from writer/director Ron Shelton, who talks about his baseball philosophies and how he's translated them to the screen. He's well-spoken and often entertaining, but he occasionally falls into the trap of narrating onscreen action. Nevertheless, this is a fine audio track that offers lots of behind-the-scenes anecdotes. The second commentary is from Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins, and it's very entertaining. These two actors have a great time reminiscing about the making of the film and even talk about the resulting romance and marriage of Robbins and Sarandon. Both actors are very forthcoming and are obviously quite fond and proud of the film. At a certain point, Robbins says it's hard to watch Costner's sex scenes with Sarandon. The only fault I found with this track is that the actors sometimes get caught up in the film and watch silently for fairly long stretches.
Next up are three documentaries. The first, "Between the Lines": The Making of Bull Durham, is a 30-minute anamorphic-widescreen piece that's new for this DVD. It's a nicely constructed series of interviews and recollections about baseball when it was once a fun sport to play and watch (rather than a business). One striking discovery is that—except for one on-set interview from 1987—Costner comes across here as a completely different person than the guy you listen to in the audio commentary. (I like the dude in the commentary better.) It's clear from this documentary that Bull Durham was a labor of love. The other two documentaries, Kevin Costner Profile and Sports Wrap, are short pieces from 1988.
You also get a Still Gallery, the film's theatrical teaser and trailer, and trailers for Rocky, When Harry Met Sally, and The Terminator.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
There's a certain amount of magic in this movie. It casts a spell over its audience, urging you to forgive its charming flaws and dwell instead on everything it gets right. This is a baseball flick that stands head and shoulders above the rest. I highly recommend it.