I think there's only been one golf picture that I've really found quite entertaining, and that's Kevin Costner's "Tin Cup", an electric little comedy that offered one of the star's most engaging performances. Although "The Legend Of Bagger Vance" is a fine attempt by director Robert Redford to make a dramatic picture out of the game, it often goes through the story at such a relaxed pace as to make golf even slower than it usually appears on television games.
The story revolves around one Rannoulph Junuh(Matt Damon), a golfer who was formerly known as one of the best in the South. His former girlfriend Adele(Charlize Theron) has inherited not only a massive golf course but quite a heavy debt. Instead of selling off the course, she puts together a match between two of the greatest golfers Bobby Jones (Joel Gretsch) and Walter Hagen (Bruce McGill). Although Junuh is originally not going to play, scarred by the war, he finds a kind soul in Bagger Vance (Will Smith), a man who seems to appear out of the fields one night to help Junuh "find his swing" that he's lost. The town wants a local in the match, and eventually, he's convinced to join in.
There's a good deal to like about the film, but there's more than a few complaints about the picture that I had. The characters aren't terribly well written, and although I never have read the novel on which the film is based, the filmed version never really lets us get any real detail to the intentions and backgrounds of the characters. This is particularly apparent in Theron's Adele, and even somewhat in Damon's Junuh. The film needs more weight, a little more intensity and energy. I can certainly understand the whole "mystical" nature of golf, such as the mystical nature of baseball that was covered in "Field Of Dreams", but that "mystical" nature has to be lifted every so often.
With this film, the combination of not having a great deal of interest in the characters with the lack of spark to the some of the more important tournament scenes left "Bagger Vance" as a watchable film, but one that didn't really have me in its grip - I wasn't completely engaged and occasionally found my interest drifting.
The performances are generally good, but there aren't any real standouts. Theron and Damon at least do satisfying work, but they've been more memorable elsewhere, and have presented themselves in the form of more interesting characters in other films. The impressive effort here is a smaller one, as Will Smith does a wonderful little job in the more minor role of "Bagger Vance". The character offers much in the way of little spiritual bits of wisdom about golf and the universe and the way to swing. With another actor, these lines might have come across as rather unintentionally funny, but Smith brings them in perfectly between lightness and seriousness.
Coming as no suprise, the film is technically excellent. The always fantastic cinematographer Michael Ballhaus again contributes beautiful work here, with each shot often looking more beautiful than the last. Editing is also pretty solid - there are some spots where the film begins to drag on a bit, but at 127 minutes, I could see where this picture would have gone on even longer (I wonder how long the director's cut of this film is). I've often enjoyed composer Rachel Portman's work, but her score really doesn't contribute that much to the proceedings here.
"Bagger Vance" doesn't quite make it to the green (and certainly isn't a hole-in-one), but it's close. Rather than a film that simply doesn't work and isn't good, it's a film that's merely somewhat dissapointing and possibly, could have been brought to the screen in a somewhat smoother fashion.
VIDEO: "Legend Of Bagger Vance" is presented in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and like all Dreamworks titles, the presentation is anamorphic. Although there have been a couple of titles from the studio lately with image quality that is very slightly less than their usual fine form, their effort for "Legend Of Bagger Vance" certainly stands out as one of their finer achievements in terms of video quality in recent memory. Sharpness and detail are, well, let's say "appropriate" for the piece - this is, of course, one of those movies where scenes are often presented in a slightly "soft" focus. Michael Ballhaus ("Quiz Show", "Outbreak")'s cinematography remains very well-presented throughout, though.
Colors remain beautiful throughout the picture, from the almost impossibly rich greens of the fields to a golden sunset in chapter 2 to a wide palette of other colors that are put on nearly flawless display throughout the film. Speaking of nearly flawless, there's a very minimal amount of problems throughout the movie. There's literally no print flaws that I noticed during the film - no marks, no scratches, just completely clean and clear. A tiny bit of edge enhancement is the only problem that I noticed once or twice, but this was certainly no major distraction.
This is a great job from the studio, and "Legend Of Bagger Vance" looks nothing short of terrific here.
SOUND: "Legend Of Bagger Vance" is presented by Dreamworks in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio versions. The film, in terms of material, doesn't present a great deal of scenes that open up beyond being dialogue-driven. Yet, I did like some small touches that came up throughout the film's sound presentation. The outdoor scenes kept up a fine level of ambient sounds, such as birds and insects as well as the occasional breeze of wind. Although these subtle touches won't likely impress many, I found them to be pleasant and effective, really doing a fine job making the viewer feel as if they are outdoors with the character.
Several specific scenes offer some more active or agressive sound use, although these scenes are fairly few and far between. A couple of war flashbacks particularly make strong use of the surrounds, but these sequences are very quick. Occasionally during some of the golfing sequences, the clapping or noise of the crowd can be heard around the viewer. Even about halfway through the film, there's a light rainstorm that rolls in - the subtle sound of thunder in the distance and soft winds blowing in seemed particularly natural and convincing.
Audio quality seemed more than satisfying. Portman's score came across as clear, crisp and warm - completely comfortable to listen to. As previously mentioned, subtle touches such as the wind and other outdoor sounds came across clearly and crisply and all together added nicely to the viewing (or, more accurately, listening) experience. Dialogue also sounded strong, coming through naturally and clearly, with no issues. Both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 presentations offered very enjoyable sound experiences, with the differences between the two remaining very slight, as the DTS version seemed to add a minor amount of clarity to the ambient sounds and a little bit more enveloping feel to the sound as a whole. Again though, I felt the differences were minor at most.
MENUS:: As usual, Dreamworks does a fine job at making menus that are appropriate in tone for the movie and serve as a fine introduction for the film. Backgrounds for both the main and special features menus involve scenes from the movie that play in the background, and the scene selection menu even has clips for each chapter.
Theatrical Trailer: The film's theatrical trailer, presented in 1.85:1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.
Teaser Trailer: The film's teaser trailer, presented in 1.85:1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.
Robert Redford: Insight Into The Legend Of Bagger Vance: This is a short 4 1/2 minute featurette where images from the film pass by while director Redord discusses his feelings on the film. He goes through what in the story interested and inspired the film, as well as how he went about bring the film to the screen. The featurette is quick, but Redford is interesting and to the point with his thoughts, and his insights here are worth a listen.
Production Featurette: This is a 3 1/2 minute featurette that really doesn't tell the viewer anything that they don't already know after watching the film. Purely promotional in nature, it simply involves interviews with the cast who chat about the movie in-between clips from the movie.
Also: Production notes, cast & crew bios.
Final Thoughts: Dreamworks does a fine job with "Legend Of Bagger Vance". Although not a special edition, the DVD offers strong video and pleasing audio quality along with a couple of minor additional features. The film may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I thought it was mostly enjoyable and some (especially golfers) will probably find it an enjoyable rental. To those who are already fans of the film, the DVD is recommended, as the studio has done a strong job on the presentation.