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American Hercules: The Legend of Babe Ruth
Most any American growing up as a kid has heard of Babe Ruth, the early 20th century baseball player, but more importantly, they learned of Babe Ruth's legend before finding out some of his baseball exploits, though his baseball exploits were legendary in and of themselves. 714 home runs, a "called shot," the Murderer's Row lineup, what have you. And you have likely seen scores of historical retellings of Ruth's life and times of his 53 years on this mortal coil. American Hercules knows you have, and then tells a different story.
The filmmakers brought out a big gun in Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now) to handle the narration and, rather than use many authors and writers from the sports world as interview subjects, they used non-traditional ones like author Jane Leavy, who wrote similar books on Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax, or mythologist Phil Cousineau. Deadspin founder Will Leitch also appears in the film. And the film examines Ruth's life and how it went from the ordinary George Herman Ruth to the mythological Babe in a non-historical fashion. Rather than retell the events in Ruth's life, the interviewees talk about HOW the events shaped Ruth's life and perhaps his value system, and how he evolved through the years.
Keenly aware that the viewer is aware of much about Ruth's life, using this tact to take when handling (arguably) the most recognizable name in American sports brings newfound life into remembering Ruth, but instantly becomes fascinating to view. The hour long documentary not only shows a lot of the iconic Ruth images in color, but the colors are slightly subdued and accurate, in a way humanizing its subject. That's saying nothing for the contemporary production crew visiting some of Ruth's childhood homes and the St. Mary's school in Baltimore. They also superimposed moments in black and white against color backgrounds, notably Ruth's farewell appearance at Yankee Stadium against how the old Yankee Stadium looks now. It is additionally poignant.
While the film does mention some of Ruth's moments on the diamond, what is striking about it is how little of his baseball achievements are shown. The piece has no qualms with talking about how great a player he was, but the film is titled American Hercules to illustrate some parallels to the son of Zeus, and does a decent job of doing so. It does this while looking at the why's of some of the events rather in Ruth's life fairly effectively and makes for compelling viewing.
The understated part of American Hercules is that it takes a topic that many know about and breathes new life and discussion into it, and combined with the stylized touches, the overall product is one of the better sports films I've seen in recent memory that was not associated with ESPN's 30 for 30 label. It is a commendable accomplishment and helps shine a new light on an old topic.The Disc:
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, American Hercules juggles the vintage Ruth footage with the newly shot stuff just fine. Modern colors are vivid without oversaturating, and the older stuff looks about as good as its going to. Edge enhancement was nil, and haloing with minimal and not a problem. All in all this was a solidly produced, and presumed originally aired on television piece, which looks fine on DVD.The Sound:
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for the kids. There are any bones to pick with this, the audio is clear with little hissing (mostly in the vintage stuff but not prominent) and dropoffs. The soundtrack does not have that much to work with, mostly archival audio and the modern scenes have little dynamic range, though a late third act song sounds as clear as can be expected. Fine work, nothing special.Extras:
There is a making of piece about the film (8:13) which discusses the filmmakers intent and why they did what they did, and shares their favorite moments from it, along with landing Sheen for the voiceover. "Hall for Heroes" (5:10) shows us the legendary first class of the Baseball Hall of Fame when the building opened and parts of their induction ceremony, while "History of the Fall Classic" (10:02) I think is from another MLB video release but handles the Ruth-influenced 1920s World Series. "Inside the Moments" (6:08) is the last piece on the disc, hosted by Ray Liotta, and apparently is a recurring series on baseball moments and icons and this, obviously, is Ruth's.Final Thoughts:
Going past baseball fans or fans of sport, American Hercules should be seen by a lot of people because of one of the things the film mentions early on: Babe Ruth was and is such a loved and respected figure in American history, that to see this story told differently and capably to boot, it should garner attention from a lot of people for this new take. Technically, the disc looks and sounds okay and while the extras are a little scant, that they are here and you spend more than a minute on them makes for a nice package. If the MLB Network is airing this, please seek it out.