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Sandlot: 20th Anniversary Edition, The

Fox // PG // March 26, 2013
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 5, 2013 | E-mail the Author
Whenever the calendar ticks down to the final days of the year, it's gotten to be a ritual that families huddle around the TV and watch A Christmas Story. What's the fun in only doing that once
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a year, though? So, here's a new tradition for you to consider: grab the kids (y'know, if you have any) and ring in summer with The Sandlot.

It's the summer of 1962, and Scott Smalls (Tom Guiry) is still trying to figure all this stuff out. New town. New house. New stepfather. No friends. Smalls whiles away the early days of summer tinkering around with erector sets in his bedroom and occasionally working up the nerve to ask his newly-minted dad (Denis Leary) to teach him to play catch. Smalls isn't exactly what you'd call a natural at the game, and when he meekly winds up throwing the ball with the kids at the sandlot, they practically laugh him off the field. For them, baseball's not just a game. Heck, they don't have a full team, they don't keep score, and every morning, they pick up wherever they left off the day before. They don't have time for an L-7 weenie who can't throw! Well, Benny (Mike Vitar) makes time. Far and away the most talented player on the...errr, team, if you want to call them that, Benny takes Smalls under his wing, and just in time for the adventure of their lives too.

If you've never had the pleasure of catching The Sandlot before, it really does play a lot like a boys-of-summer version of A Christmas Story. The period backdrops -- the summer of '62 in The Sandlot's case -- help ensure that they age well. Both movies look back on the past through the prism of a child's eyes, so everything that happens is huge and exciting and important. The Sandlot and A Christmas Story both have narration that's kind of like a warm glass of milk, all comfortable and inviting. Their senses of humor are family-friendly but still have teeth. Neither movie really bothers with the usual three-act structure, instead
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stringing together a bunch of little vignettes.

If you haven't seen The Sandlot in a while, you might be thinking that the pickle Smalls gets himself and his pals in -- knocking a baseball autographed by some lady named Baby Ruth or whatever over the fence and into the domain of a 400 lb. hellhound known as The Beast, and the Rube-Goldberg-esque lengths they take to get it back -- is a bigger part of the movie than it really is. Sure, sure, that's important and all, but that chunk of the story is introduced a lot later than you might think. That's completely fine too. The Sandlot doesn't need some dastardly villain to conquer or a championship game to win. That's not what the movie's about. Heck, it's not even about baseball. The Sandlot is really about how our friends and our family enrich our lives -- about taking risks and overcoming your fears -- although it's handled in a smart, charming, endearing way that's not nearly as schmaltzy as I'm probably making it sound. These are kids I would've loved to have palled around with when I was their age. The Sandlot's not a slave to plotting because it's a blast just hanging out with the nine of 'em, and if the movie feels like tearing off on a tangent where geeky Squints engineers a scheme to make out with a too-cute lifeguard or the gang realizes that chewing tobacco and the Tilt-o-whirl at the county fair are a recipe for disaster, that's all part of the fun.

The Sandlot's just one of those movies. I have nothing even a little bit critical to poke and prod at it. Even when a line reading creaks and groans, and even when there's a hokey thumbs-up or whatever, everything about the movie is too sincere to scoff at. So many family movies anymore feel so coldly calculated and deliberately constructed, but no matter how many times I see it, I just find myself hopelessly escaping into The Sandlot, making me feel like I'm in 6th grade all over again. With all that ridiculously quotable dialogue, an endless amount of fun, and an appeal that hasn't dimmed in the slightest twenty years later, it's a 35mm bear hug. The Sandlot is one of my all-time favorites, and for those of us who missed this Blu-ray disc the first time around, it's a thrill to be able to catch up with it again in a slightly spiffed-up 20th anniversary edition. Very Highly Recommended.

Geez! Talk about an upgrade. That DVD from all the way back in 2002 really hasn't aged well, looking harshly digital and awfully fuzzy these days. Take a peek at these screenshot comparisons. (Click on any of these grabs to open 'em up to full-size.) For one, the DVD looks kind of zoomed in by comparison, with the high-def presentation exposing a good bit more information on the top, left, and right of the frame while only losing a little something on the bottom. The cooler colors on this Blu-ray disc look so much more natural and lovely, and as far as clarity, definition, and detail stack up...? Not even close.
Blu-ray on the top; DVD on the bottom
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Yeah, yeah, this next comparison's not quite as dramatic, but it gives you a sense of what The Sandlot looks like when the camera's closed in a little more tightly. The DVD is so soft by comparison that it practically looks out of focus, there's such a richer sense of detail and texture, and...well, you have two eyes, so why do you need me to keep going on about it?!

Blu-ray on the top; DVD on the bottom
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If that star rating over there were just supposed to reflect how much of an improvement this Blu-ray disc is over the musty old DVD, The Sandlot would score five stars all the way. On the other hand, there is some of the softness and distortion that occasionally creep in with anamorphic photography, the image expectedly degrades whenever there are opticals and wipes and stuff, and contrast can be kind of flat at times. Ooooh, but when The Sandlot is at its best, it looks really, really fantastic. This Blu-ray disc is an essential upgrade, especially with such a low sticker price.

Guess I'm not doing a comparison for this one.
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The Sandlot slides onto Blu-ray with a single layer disc, an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and an AVC encode.

I seem to
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remember there being a little controversy about The Sandlot's initial Blu-ray release, with arguments flying back and forth about whether or not it featured lossless audio. No need to fret here, though; as advertised, you're lookin' at 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio.

For a twenty year old family catalog title, The Sandlot sounds pretty great too! The key effects are wonderfully clean and clear, especially the crack of the bat against the ball, the thud of feet hitting the bases, and the low-frequency snarl of The Beast that threatens to rattle everything in the room, even if it is on the boxy side. The surrounds are subtle but effective, sounding so lush and organic that they really bring the 1962 backdrop to life. The period-influenced score sounds terrific, and The Sandlot's dialogue is generally reproduced very nicely too. Definitely a notch or two better than expected.

Along for the ride are lossy stereo tracks in English, Spanish, and French. Subtitles are served up in English (SDH) and Spanish.

Despite being a "20th Anniversary Edition!" and all, The Sandlot delivers disappointingly little in the way of extras. What few bells and whistles are on the disc are all holdovers from the DVD that came out more than a decade ago. Fox did throw in a few other goodies for you, though:

There's a set of baseball cards, a coupon for PF Flyers (!), an anniversary slipcover, and a DVD. Oh, and that DVD is a flipper just like the one from all the way back in 2002. As far as the rest of it goes...
  • Featurette (6 min.; SD): This promotional featurette from 1993 showcases a little behind-the-scenes footage and chats up the cast. Mostly, though, it recaps
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    the plot and lobs out lots and lots of excerpts from the movie. Kind of neat as a curiosity, but it's basically trying to sell you on watching The Sandlot, so keep your expectations low.

  • Trailer and TV Spots (6 min.; SD): The only other extras on the disc are a standard-def trailer and a set of seven commercials.

The Final Word
The Sandlot has yet to score the sort of special edition I've been waiting for, but it's still one of the warmest, funniest, and most enduring family movies of the past quarter-century, and that's really all that matters. This high-def spit-and-polish is an enormous upgrade over that DVD you've had on the shelf for the past ten years, and with it retailing for $9 or $10 all over the place...oooohhh, I guess I'm corny enough to say that The Sandlot is a home run. Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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