Then there's Ron Shelton's Bull Durham, the earliest and most down to earth of all three of Costner's baseball flicks. Instead of getting completely and perpetually wrapped up in the majesty of "the show", this comedic drama about the dusty hijinks in its Carolina minor league circuit keeps its fare amusingly light and humanized, but with a shimmer of magic in both the eyes of the players and those which they ... well, maybe not necessarily love, but those with which they have a "good time" with.
Like cattle at a market, Annie (Susan Sarandon) seductively sizes up the Durham Bulls ballclub each and every year. Without fail, she finds one lucky stud to be her lover, her sidekick, and, in ways, her pupil. She's got a streak going with these players; every one that she takes under her wing, and into her bed, ends up having the best season of their careers. From the start, she fixes her hungry eyes on their new star pitcher, Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). LaLoosh is a hornball, completely high on himself, and extroadinarily wreckless. Yet, he can hurl a fastball like no tomorrow, which is a talent quite noticeable by his teammates and coaches alike. He's a slab of raw talent - "meat", if you will - prime for the guidance that Annie has to offer.
The Durham Bulls management, however, has another agenda on how to make a star out of him; in steps the classic, cocky veteran "Crash" Davis (Kevin Costner) on assignment to be the youngster's catcher. For those unfamiliar, there's a relationship that normally forges between a pitcher and his catcher that breeches on levels near borderline mind-reading. Instead of working together, however, Crash comes to the club to break this wild stallion of his jittery ways in an effort to concentrate his brimming talent. It;s only a matter of time before Crash Davis and the sensual Annie would meet eye to eye, one sexually charged veteran to another.
Bull Durham can best be summed us as the pragmatist yang to Field of Dreams' magical yin. It's all about America's favorite pastime as the center of the universe, but with Field of Dreams more like the distant stars and Bull Durham as the textured earth underneath your feet. Most sports flicks are all about adrenaline as the core team builds in talent towards a climactic 11th hour finish. Not Bull Durham; sure, as to be expected, the team improves with Crash and his hot shot pupil around. In comes the more earthy and human nature of Shelton's comedic portrait; playing in this dusty minor league circuit becomes all about sex, booze, and having a blast while enjoying the sport that these guys love. Ambition is, of course, ever-present with the Bulls, but it becomes more about "the show" being kind of like a heaven that they sacrifice themselves for instead of a suppressive, or energizing, power source.
Keeping Bull Durham somewhat practical makes the characters, especially the two weathered veterans to the game, much more identifiable and likable. Crash Davis, as explained before, is just another variation of Kevin Costner's demeanor with a snarly, jaded tongue and a realistic grasp on his love for the game. He matches wits and tongues well with Sarandon's earthy and intelligent Annie, showing a mirror image of their worn down, albeit devout, personalities. After all, they both have been worshipping to the same Gods in the same church, the "Church of Baseball", for the greater portions of their lives. Costner and Sarandon both give their aged characters a sly gravity above the other little peon players doing nothing more than playing in the dirt. When they start to bicker and show their sparks, they toss some great lines back and forth that gravitate on the fabric of the world, the inspirations of true men, and the advantages they have being as windswept as they are.
It's a classic and funny sports comedy that lives in the moment, but with a nice glimmer of ambitious drive in the eyes of Tim Robbins' character - "Meat", "Nuke", whatever. When Annie and Crash aren't clumsily waltzing in circles around each other, they offer some of the funnier moments in Bull Durham as they coach their pupil with a straight edge and a sense of urgency. Whether educating on garters and poetry or the proper times to shake your catcher's signal, even at times criss-crossing the two, Robbins' character becomes the blunt of most of the funnier jokes in the film.
The cocktail of slapstick antics and dry humor both hits and misses at times, no pun intended, but overall the goofiness around the rising star gives enough personality to Bull Durham to keep the more wry attempts at spoofing the culture in the ballpark of enjoyment. Shelton's portrayal of the Carolina league's downhome nature, from passing notes between the scorekeeper's booth and the dugout to the sly plotting needed in plunking a mascot upside the head with a wayward pitch, helps it round the bases with an amiable, albeit taxed, energy. Rich with more of a blue-collar player's exasperated and contemplative admiration for America's pastime, Bull Durham makes light and sparks a few chuckles at the thought of both those entrenched in "the show", as well as those who remain satisfied in the nightly routine of staying out of the spotlight.
MGM presents Bull Durham in a standard keepcase presentation with very attractive coverart and, of course, fantastic discart on top that resembles a baseball. A bit should be said for the great menu presentation here, resembling a pile of ball cards featuring the film's characters. It clearly shows that a lot of work was put into this highly affordable disc.
MGM's older transfer for Bull Durham didn't look too shabby in the slightest. Its anamorphic 1.85:1 image looked dated and fairly digital, but for the time it looks rather good. It's only when you see both transfers here head to head that the faults of the other disc really stand out. Bull Durham, once again presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 image, looks a lot better than its predecessor. I noticed that the older image has a bit of a pinched or skew property to the edges of the negative; this newer edition, though it shows a hair less material on each side, eliminates this problem. Flesh tones appear more vibrant and truer to nature without seeming boosted. The new image might have a very slight red push, but if it does its only meagerly noticeable when directly compared to the older disc. The overall color palette holds a much truer tone in this transfer, as does the general level of detail discernible across the board. It's a significant upgrade and a quality visual presentation from MGM.
The Dolby 5.1 track, however, sounds about as robust and clear as the older disc. I enjoyed this mix, though it offers next to nothing in the surround department. Verbal clarity gets the job done, as no distortion could really be heard. The music and other ballpark sound effects cracked through the speakers well. Spanish and French language tracks are available, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
Considering this is an inexpensive single-disc presentation, Bull Durham is surprisingly packed with solid extras, both rehashed ones from older editions and newly invigorated pieces for this specific release.
Audio Commentary with Ron Shelton:
Available on the older standard edition, Ron Shelton's comments about his comedy keeps focus rather well. It's an enjoyable, insightful sit-through, though it can dance on the line of overkill about a top-down film. Even considering that, it's still interesting to hear his ex-minor league influence on the film.
Audio Commentary with Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner:
Also available on the original disc, this is a more entertaining and light-hearted commentary featuring Costner and Robbins having a great time talking about the film. They have moments where they act seriously, especially during a well photographed scene or aptly acted spots, but it's more of a lackadaisical and fun track.
The Greatest Show on Dirt:
Spliced together with clips from the film in, this 19-minute piece features interviews from a wide array of participants in Bull Durham about the pleasure of portraying the game. From director Shelton and his cast to the professional experts who help give the film a natural attitude, this piece helps to introduce a lot of the mannerisms and inspirations behind the film.
Diamonds in the Rough:
This 7-minute piece captures the truth behind the modern-day minor league culture. It illustrates marketing strategies, mascots, and community connections while showing how closely Bull Durham's manner adheres to such a fun-loving attitude.
Between the Lines: The Making of Bull Durham:
Here we have a more cookie-cutter making-of featurette that runs around 29 minutes in length. Here, Shelton discusses his feelings and inspirations to great depth. It also presents some strong archival footage that aids in the historical introspection on the film. Costner, Shelton, and the like share some new on-screen time with the camera as they strip down stuffy demeanors while also making the piece feel strongly competent. It glances at the pathway in landing the focus in Durham, NC, expressing the joys of integrating with the community. It's a great, focused watch.
Kevin Costner Profile:
This is 2-minutes of archival footage on Costner himself, featuring interviews with the man himself along with Susan Sarandon.
This aged 3-minute little piece doesn't differentiate much from the other parts in the bonus features, only adding a narration to spice things up. It feels kinda like a news piece that would show on ESPN or the like.
Witty, earnest, and passionate, Bull Durham is that "other" baseball movie that focuses on the realities and humors behind the dugout in its backwater minor league culture. Costner, Sarandon, and Robbins all keep the humor buoyant and erotically jazzy, while the snappy script delivers a lot of standard, yet enjoyable, dialogue. Bull Durham itself is heartily recommended; however, MGM's disc, as affordable as it is, delivers strong audio and video properties paired with a cluster of solid extras, both old and new. As such, this new collector's edition, with its loaded extras and sublime presentation underneath a very agreeable price tag, comes Highly Recommended.