I remember when me and my friend, who worked at a movie theater at the time and whose last name was Disney (I swear) both saw Major League when it opened. We did a double bill, and it's safe to say that Major League was funny as hell and a lot better film than the first film we saw. What we did not expect was how revered its jocularity would be to this very day. I've got to think that the film's stars not only will never have to pay to get into a baseball game again, but they'll have to endure having the film's lines thrown at them as a result. But I think that might be a good thing.
Major League was written and directed by David S. Ward, and tells the tale of the Cleveland Indians. In an era where the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox have since ended decades-long curses, the Tribe as they're often called, had made it to the World Series twice in over 50 years, winning once way back in 1948. Through a series of calamitous errors in playing and front office judgment had never seriously contended for an American League pennant. The film is set in 1989, when Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton, The Secret of My Success), a former showgirl who assumed control of the team after her team owner husband died, wants to move the team out of Cleveland. She feels that, with a team of has-been's and never-will-be's, the team will be so bad no one will want to go to the games, hence the escape clause. So the front office acquires players. Worst of the worst, castoffs, ex-cons, geriatrics, no-talents. And they play. Bad. But when they eventually find out about the plan, they try their best to win for themselves and for Cleveland.
Looking back on the film now, it's a veritable Fast Times at Ridgemont High when it comes to casting choices of proven and raw talent. Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger were still enjoying the success that Platoon rewarded them with, and Corbin Bernsen was one of many hot properties on the show L.A. Law. Then you have the young talent who were fresh faces at the time. Wesley Snipes (Blade) played the guy who played like Mays, but ran like Hayes. Rene Russo (Lethal Weapon 3) played Berenger's love interest, a girl who was abandoned by her boyfriend's leering eye and hasn't looked back, despite his return into her life. As the fiery latin player who can't hit a curveball and believes in voodoo, Dennis Haysbert got laughs long before his role as the President in 24. They also turn in excellent and funny performances as well, it's like kismet was in abundant supply when Major League was being filmed.
Along with that, the film does a fine job of using the groundwork laid in Bad News Bears, along with any other sports film involving a group of rag-tag bunch trying to avoid incredible odds to win and make it to the top. They may curse up a storm and clash heads with one another from time to time, but they're unavoidably charming in doing so. Combining those with the clubhouse culture Ward manages to achieve, and Major League is baseball's version of Slap Shot or Caddyshack. Sheen, Berenger, Bernsen and Snipes have created characters that will live on far past themselves, and that might be the more lasting achievement.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Paramount presents Major League in 1.85:1 1080p high definition widescreen, and as presumably the norm, uses the AVC MPEG-4 with their catalog titles. The blacks aren't as deep as you'd expect, and the whites appear to be a little hot, but the Navy in the Indians' uniforms comes through quite nicely, and shots where light is coming in from an outside source (like the opening shot in the bar) looks good. Film grain is present, though occasionally distracts from the feature and the image as a whole tends to suffer from bouts of softness. Other times, the background picks up detail in buildings and the grass on the field that make you think this is a solid high definition feel. But to paraphrase the film, it's the pitching prospect who deals with arm problems when he's promoted to the big leagues.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is fine, but doesn't really impress. James Newton Howard's score sounds fine and occasionally pans, but a good chunk of the action occurs on the baseball diamond, and there's no real directional effects or activity, so you don't really feel like one of the players on the field. The overall soundtrack sounds canned and doesn't get a lot of help with TrueHD. In the non-sports scenes, things sound fine, dialogue wavers occasionally but isn't a large distraction. Considering how popular Major League is two decades after the fact, some care and attention could have been given to it.
I give Paramount credit for at least trying to put together a decent package of supplemental material, but things just felt too cheesy for my tastes. The material from the 2007 "Wild Thing Edition" was brought over for this Blu-ray release, starting with a commentary from Ward and producer Chris Chesser. They both recall the production fondly and still laugh at some of the jokes in the film, and even mention a trivia bit that I wasn't aware of (Jeremy Piven was in the film, but had to be edited out). I would have liked to have a cast member thrown in the mix, but oh well. Next is "My Kinda Team" (23:10), which is a retrospective featurette with new interviews from all of the film's stars, save Snipes. It's neat because they show a clip from the on-set interviews and then show the new stuff, which is a nice wrinkle on things, and they talk about how tough it was to get in player shape for the role, while Chesser and Ward cover the difficulties in getting the actors ready for the field. It was your usual nostalgia piece here. "A Major League Look at Major League" (14:27) features interviews with Cleveland Indians, or at least those on the roster back in 2006, as they talk about why they like it, what makes it true to life and what parts they quote now. "Just a Bit Outside" (12:43) looks at the life of Bob Uecker with interview footage from the Ueck, as he talks about his playing days before moving into the broadcast booth, and the piece tosses in some funny unused footage of Uecker from the film. It's a funny look at the guy whose seats are always "in the front row..." An alternate ending of the film with an introduction by Chesser is next (4:18), and it's easy to see why it was excised. Haysbert, is his Cerrano persona, shows a cameraman the fun stuff in his locker, including an intimate shot of Jobu. A stills gallery rounds out the disc.
Let's be honest here, the only reason to get Major League on Blu-ray is if you're a huge fan and want the best version available to the consumer. Honestly, I'd be OK with just having the standard definition version of the film, because technically it tries but doesn't succeed at trumping its predecessor. From an extras point of view everything's the same here also. So unless you don't have a copy of it on hand already, I wouldn't waste hard-earned time and money seeking this Blu-ray out.