As a child, I loved playing baseball and never failed to have fun during my little league games. However, I've never had any patience for watching the game, as I find it unbearably slow. That's why I like baseball movies, as they take a 9-inning game and boil it down to its essence. The greatest of the baseball movies has to be Field of Dreams, as it uses the game as a springboard to explore many facets of life. This quintessential film has now been re-released on DVD in a new 15th Anniversary Edition.
Kevin Costner stars in Field of Dreams as Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who leads a fairly normal life with his wife, Annie (Amy Madigan), and daughter, Karin (Gaby Hoffman). One day, while working in the corn field, Ray hears a voice which say, "If you build it, he will come." Ray has no idea what this means, or where the voice is coming from, and he starts to question his own sanity. Things get worse for Ray when the voice is accompanied by a vision of a baseball diamond in the middle of the corn field. Tormented by these odd occurrences, Ray goes against the advice of his brother-in-law Mark (Timothy Busfield) and plows under his corn and builds a full-size baseball field. At first, nothing happens, and then suddenly, famed baseball player "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) appears on the field, which is odd as "Shoeless" Joe had been dead for many years. Ray realizes that the field is a magical place, which is apparently a conduit to another world, and as "Shoeless" Joe was a hero of his fathers, Ray assumes that his appearance has fulfilled the wishes of the voice. But, the voices and visions continue, pushing Ray into cross-country journey which will force him to face painful memories from his past.
It's very difficult to describe the power of Field of Dreams, and the movie's strength is proven by the fact that it's still moving after 15 years and multiple viewings. The film has a reputation for being a "baseball movie", because, well it does contain baseball, but it's also due to the fact that Costner went from Bull Durham right into Field of Dreams. But, the film is about so much more than baseball. Ray's love for baseball is simply a way for the...spirits?...or whatever the force behind the voice is to motivate him and place him on the path to his destiny. Thusly, a love or even knowledge of baseball isn't necessary to enjoy the movie. (Anything that one would need to know about "Shoeless" Joe Jackson is explained in the film's opening voiceover.) The film is really about redemption for past mistakes, love, and family -- as long as you have an understanding of those things, you will enjoy the film.
The thing that makes Field of Dreams really work is the way in which it balances its many facets. The baseball issue is obvious and easy to portray, but the movie also have a heavy emotional content, as well as themes of the supernatural. Writer/director Phil Alden Robinson manages to make all of this work by playing everything very straight and no over-emphasizing any one aspect of the film. The boldest part of this decision is that there is little to no explanation for the supernatural elements of the film. They simply happen -- the voices, the visions, the "ghosts" are all part of the story and if the viewer can't buy into those ideas, then they will be lost. Also, Robinson lets the emotions in the film play out on their own. This is no great melodrama; the movie, and most especially the ending (which is still a tear-jerker to this day), has a great emotional power, but Robinson doesn't feel the need to underscore this with heavy music or over-acting. Despite the fantastic nature of some of these scenes, they play out in a very natural way, and are thusly have a greater impact. Robinson gets a huge boost from his cast. This is by far Costner's best performance in a film, as his natural charm gives way to a sense of boyish wonder which makes the Ray character even more appealing. James Earl Jones is outstanding as the cantankerous author Terrence Mann who gets swept into Ray's journey. Field of Dreams has maintained its quality over the years not only because it's a great film, but because it's a truly unique film which can offer something for everyone.
Field of Dreams swings onto DVD courtesy of Universal Home Video. There are two separate releases of this DVD, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs, unlike Universal's previous DVD releases of this film. The image is sharp and clear for the most part, although there is some light grain during the daytime scenes. This transfer has two overt problems. The first is that many scenes are somewhat dark, although the action is always visible. Secondly, there are some noticeable shimmering artifact issues, most obvious during shots of the cornfield. The colors are good and green grass of the field looks fine against the blue Iowa sky. Overall, a fairly solid transfer.
The DVD contains both a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, as well as a DTS 5.1 track. Both tracks provide clear dialogue and sound effects, with no indication of hissing or distortion. While both of the tracks sound fine, neither is overwhelming. The DTS track is slightly louder, but otherwise they are identical. Both offer good stereo effects (check the music at the beginning of Chapter 19) and the surround sound effects during the Fenway Park visit are good, but these are exactly demo-quality tracks. Still, they serve the purposes of the movie.
This newly released 2-disc 15th Anniversary Edition of Field of Dreams is meant to replace the previous DVD release from Universal, whose content had been taken directly from an older laserdisc release. This new DVD contains an almost totally new package of extras. The only holdover from that first release is the audio commentary from writer/director Phil Alden Robinson and director of photography John Lindley, but that's OK, because this is a good commentary. This pair clearly worked very closely on the film and share many anecdotes about the movie's production. The mix technical stories (usually having to do with shooting things with just the right amount of light), with more straight-forward subjects, such as the story, the cast, and the experience of working on-location. Next up is "From Father to Son: Passing Along the Pastime" (39 minutes), which is an in-depth making-of featurette. This segment features comment from most everyone involved in the film, except for Kevin Costner. Robinson and producers Charles & Lawrence Gordon do most of the talking here, as we are treated to a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage and production stills. They discuss the origins of the film and give a great deal of detail about the film's production. This is followed by 13 deleted scenes from the movie, which can be viewed with or without introductions by Robinson. These scenes are interesting, especially if you're familiar with the movie, but they are very incidental.
The remainder of the extras can be found on Disc 2 of the set. "Roundtable with Kevin Costner, Bret Saberhagen, George Brett, and Johnny Bench" (30 minutes) is an unusual entry. The actual on-screen title for this piece is actually "Kevin's Private Home Screening Event for Baseball Legends". Here, Costner has these three legendary players into to his to watch Field of Dreams and then discuss it afterwards. The discussion often veers away from the film to be more about baseball in general. My question is, if they had these four guys together to watch the film, why didn't they just record a commentary? This piece essentially turns into an episode of "Cribs", as we get a good look at Costner's very impressive home. We get a tour of Galena, IL from town historian Steve Repp in "Galena, IL Pinch Hits for Chisholm, MN" (6 minutes). Repp shows off all of the famous locations which were used in the film to represent "Moonlight" Graham's hometown. "The Diamond in the Husks" (13 minutes) offers a modern-day look at the actual "Field of Dreams" in Dyersville, Iowa, and contains interviews with the property owners and several tourists who are visiting the famous site. But, what we really get is minutes of footage of people running around the field. Peter Gallagher hosts "Bravo Special: From Page to Screen" (46 minutes), which offers very detailed overview of the writing of W.P. Kinsella's novel "Shoeless Joe". We then see how Phil Alden Robinson wrote the screenplay and how he and the Gordons shopped it around Hollywood. The latter half of this piece is a "making of" which mirrors much of the featurette on the first disc. The extras are rounded out by "America's Stadium Trivia", which contains text descriptions of the most famous baseball parks in the U.S. On the whole, the extras on this DVD rival, if not surpass, those on the previous release, which contained a 90-minute "making of" featurette, and a still photo library which contained over 300 pictures. The advantage to this new disc is that the old text-only extras are now gone.
To this day, Field of Dreams is a wonderful film and is truly deserving of the special edition treatment. This DVD offers a great technical package and enough extras to keep you busy for days. It's definitely an improvement over Universal's older, out-of-print release and show's that this film is still a major league contender.