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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Bull Durham (Blu-ray)
Bull Durham (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // R // July 10, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted July 20, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

I'm going to presume that Bull Durham introduced a certain cynicism to baseball, nay, to sport, that people may not have been familiar with before. If you've ever spent time in a professional sports locker room, it can tend to be a drab, jocular and juvenile spot. And this carries over to the field sometimes too . That's something that writer/director Ron Shelton's (White Men Can't Jump) story gets down pat well. It's what Shelton lets his characters do against that backdrop that helps seal the bit.

The setting is the Class A Durham Bulls in North Carolina. Annie Savory (Susan Sarandon, Tammy), who helps shape the hearts, minds and souls of Bulls players through the years, and she's torn between two; the first is Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins, The Player), a young and dim pitcher whose talent is inevitably bound for the major leagues, and Crash Davis (Kevin Costner, 3 Days to Kill), a veteran of the minors, and serves as Nuke's mentor before LaLoosh's promotion, and is cynical of Annie's motivations and clashes styles frequently over the course of the Bulls' season.

More than the backdrop, we get into the backgrounds of each person quickly and discover that they are genuine in their premise. Nuke is just passing through, his fate determined and next stop sooner than later. But there is a complexity that is a commonality between Annie and Crash that is mature and evolved. Each are aware of their role in Nuke's life and career, Nuke doesn't have the veneer of congeniality that Annie does, nor does Crash wear garter belts as well as Annie…or Nuke for that matter. Both know what they are there for, and both fulfill that role as best they can.

It's when Nuke does get the call that things change. Crash shows some vulnerability through the movie and early on when his homerun record is something he refuses to tout, and his mission is fulfilled and he finds his future more uncertain than ever before. Annie is there to help, as she has with other players. This is touching and feels different for them both, and even if we don't see it play out all the way, it is certainly off to a wonderful start.

The film was and is known for laughs during large moments and it does deliver on those; the Bulls' manager and coach are Trey Wilson and Robert Wuhl, respectively, and they bring laughs to many of their moments onscreen. Wilson's ‘lollygag' rant still makes me smile, and Wuhl dispensing of a bullpen meeting and the difficult problems that are generated therein is wonderful. They may not feel completely straight from the Carolina League, but they don't have to for their roles to work, which they do.

While Bull Durham remains a fun jaunt through late 1980s minor league baseball, its more emotionally effective forefront is one where two older characters confront the next phases of their lives, nay their very existences, and do so together, with concern, with caution and, once they find true empathy within each other, enthusiasm. It's understated but present, and for all the words spent talking about its virtues as a baseball film, its story about characters may be one of the more underrated treats of the film. It's got a legacy as a baseball film but it's good because it's much more than that.

The Blu-ray:

The Video:

Criterion gives Bull Durham a 4K transfer in the AVC codec and having never seen the past ones before, I think things looked really good. Wood grain in bats was noticeable even in this film while balancing film grain nicely. The light royal blue of the Bulls' jersey lettering and numbering contrasting against the brown of dirt built into a uniform looks natural as does the painted and repainted walls of the stadium and grunge of the locker room. It felt good seeing this giving proper love by Criterion.

The Sound:

I was going back and forth between the DTS-HD two-channel track and the 5.1 channel one and both results are good on both. Dialogue is strong and well-balanced in the center, but the music during the montages sounds a little broader in the larger soundstage. There is a gently convincing layer of ambient sound in the six-channel track that makes it a fun listen but you can't go wrong with either.

The Extras:

Some extras from the original DVD release of Bull Durham are included in Criterion's version, starting with the two commentary tracks. The first from Shelton goes over his motivation for writing the film, and thoughts on the cast onscreen and some of the stories in the film which were lifted from his time as a minor league player. He mentions that Paul Abdul helped with Nuke's dancing scene (a stroke of genius) and the challenges in the shoot schedule. Scene breakdowns and explanations are also sharing and missing or unexplained backstories are brought up too. It's a very good track and complement to the film. The second track with Costner and Robbins is high on the laughs and has a little more silence than the first track, and includes some of the same trivia as Shelton's track. The Costner-Sarandon scenes include some awkwardness and nervous laughter too, and the track is nice enough, though a touch uninformative.

Next up, "Going to the Show" (18:55) is an interview with Shelton as he talks about the larger life themes in the film, some of the casting choices and inspirations in it. "Between the Lines" (29:18) looks at the film and includes interviews with Costner and Sarandon, and includes takes on the original story and scenes. The players are covered too and the signature moments in the feature recounted. Decent track, nothing special. "The Greatest Show on Dirt" (19:23) comes from the 2008 DVD re-release and covers much of the same ground as the other features and includes more on the player discussions from real-life minor league vets and on-screen Durham Bulls, and some on-set anecdotes that were amusing. A feature on Max Patkin, the "Clown Prince of Baseball" from the Today show is next (3:49) and a news segment on the closing of the Bulls' ballpark several years after the film was released is next (2:39). The trailer (2:48) completes things, along with a multipage foldout with some critical appreciation on it from Criterion.

Final Thoughts:

Bull Durham is a good baseball movie but I've transitioned from liking it for that to liking it as a film about people within baseball on the up and down slope of their careers. Technically it's another solid Criterion presentation, and the extras are OK, but if you have the Blu-ray now, you're double-dipping for the addition of a Shelton interview and a 4K transfer, so plan accordingly. Definitely worth seeing if you haven't, and worth revisiting if you can.

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