The Natural (film)
Promotional poster of The Natural
|Directed by||Barry Levinson|
|Produced by||Mark Johnson|
|Screenplay by||Roger Towne
|Music by||Randy Newman|
|Edited by||Stu Linder|
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
The Natural is a 1984 sports drama. It is a film adaptation of Bernard Malamud's 1952 baseball novel of the same name, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert Redford, Glenn Close, and Robert Duvall. The film, like the book, recounts the experiences of Roy Hobbs, an individual with great "natural" baseball talent, spanning decades of Roy's success and his suffering. It was the first film produced by TriStar Pictures.
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress (Glenn Close), and nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger). Many of the baseball scenes were filmed in Buffalo, New York's War Memorial Stadium, built in 1937 and demolished a few years after the film was produced. Buffalo's All-High Stadium stood in for Chicago's Wrigley Field in a key scene.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (January 2010)|
Roy Hobbs is a boy who is a skilled baseball player, often playing catch with his father. One day, his father suffers a fatal heart attack and drops dead near a tree on the family property. When the same tree is later struck by lightning, Hobbs considers this a sign and fashions a broken branch into a bat, which he dubs "Wonderboy".
In 1923, a 19-year-old Hobbs (Robert Redford) is on his way to Chicago to try out for the Chicago Cubs as a baseball pitcher. Along the way, the train stops at a carnival, and Hobbs is challenged to strike out "The Whammer" (Joe Don Baker), the top hitter in the Majors. Sportswriter Max Mercy (Robert Duvall), traveling with Whammer, draws a cartoon of the event.
Hobbs also encounters Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey), an alluring woman, who becomes fixated on him after he strikes out Whammer. Bird lures Hobbs to her hotel room, shoots him, then commits suicide. It is revealed that Bird kills rising athletes, having already murdered two others.
In 1939, a 35-year-old Hobbs is signed to the New York Knights, to the ire of the team's manager and co-owner, Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley). Pop is angered over being saddled with a "middle-aged" rookie and does not play him or even let him practice with the team. Eventually in desperation, the manager allows Hobbs to take batting practice, where Hobbs shows his hitting ability with the Wonderboy.
During the next game, the team's star player, "Bump" Bailey (Michael Madsen), angers Pop with his lackadaisical playing, and Pop sends Hobbs to pinch hit. Hobbs literally knocks the cover off the baseball, winning the game. When Bump later dies after crashing through an outfield fence, Hobbs becomes the league's sensation, turning the Knights' fortunes around, shown in vignettes of newspaper articles detailing the games.
Hobbs' success prompts Mercy to try to unearth Hobbs' background. Later, Hobbs is summoned to a meeting with the principal owner of the team, The Judge (Robert Prosky). The Judge has an agreement with Pop that if the Knights fail to win the pennant at the end of the season, Pop's share of the team reverts to the Judge. To ensure the team loses, the Judge had a scout stock the roster with unknown players like Hobbs.
When Hobbs refuses a bribe to throw the season, gambler Gus Sands (Darren McGavin) and the Judge devise a plan to manipulate him though Memo Paris (Kim Basinger), Pop's niece and Bump's former girlfriend. She will be sent to seduce Hobbs. Mercy finally remembers where he had seen Hobbs before. Later, Mercy introduces Hobbs to Gus and Memo. Pop warns Hobbs that Memo is "bad luck", but they begin a relationship and Hobbs soon falls into a playing slump.
At Wrigley Field in Chicago, Hobbs comes to bat. A woman dressed in white rises in the stands, and Hobbs, seeing her, promptly hits a game-winning home run. The woman is his childhood sweetheart, Iris (Glenn Close). They meet later and Hobbs asks her to come to the next game. The following day Iris is waiting for Hobbs after the game and they go for a walk. Hobbs confides to her about the shooting and how he lost his way in life. Iris tells him she has a 16-year-old son and says the boy's father lives in New York.
With Hobbs hitting again, the Knights surge into first place, needing just one more win to clinch the pennant. Hobbs again refuses a payoff from Gus to throw the game. During a party at Memo's, Hobbs collapses and awakens in a hospital a few days later, to be greeted by several of the Knights who joke about Hobbs' placement in a maternity ward due to overcrowding. Without Hobbs, the Knights have lost their last three games, setting up a one-game playoff against the Pittsburgh Pirates for the pennant. The doctor informs Hobbs that his stomach lining has been deteriorating due to his old gunshot injury. If he continues to play, the physical strain could kill him.
Memo encourages Hobbs to accept Gus' payoff, and The Judge later increases the amount. Hobbs refuses, but the Judge has a contingency plan, because he has bribed another key team member. Hobbs later tells Iris he still blames himself for failing to achieve his full potential, but she insists he is a great player. Before the final game, Pop tells Hobbs that he is the best hitter he ever saw. Hobbs realizes during the game that the Knights' starting pitcher, Fowler, is the player the Judge bribed. Hobbs confronts him on the mound, warning him not to throw the game. Fowler replies he will start pitching when Hobbs starts hitting. Iris, in the stands with her son, asks an usher to deliver a message to Hobbs saying she and her son are at the game and that Hobbs is the boy's father. Shocked, Hobbs peers out from the dugout but cannot see them.
The Knights are trailing and Hobbs comes up to bat. The Pirates bring in a young, hard-throwing, left-handed pitcher who sees that Hobbs is affected by his old injury. Down to his last strike, Hobbs hits a foul ball so hard it splinters the Wonderboy, shaking his confidence. Bobby, the bat boy, brings Hobbs the "Savoy Special", the bat that Hobbs helped Bobby to make. Hobbs hits the next pitch into the overhead lights, which not only counts as a home run that wins the pennant, it causes the lights to spark out akin to a fireworks show.
The screen fades to a wheat field, Hobbs playing catch with his son as Iris looks on, echoing the opening scene with Hobbs and his father.
- Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs
- Robert Duvall as Max Mercy
- Glenn Close as Iris Gaines
- Kim Basinger as Memo Paris
- Wilford Brimley as Pop Fisher
- Barbara Hershey as Harriet Bird
- Robert Prosky as The Judge
- Richard Farnsworth as Red Blow
- Joe Don Baker as "The Whammer"
- Darren McGavin as Gus Sands
- Michael Madsen as "Bump" Bailey
- George Wilkosz as Bobby Savoy
- Paul Sullivan Jr. as Young Roy
- Rachel Hall as Young Iris
The film's producers stated in the DVD extras that the film was not intended to be a literal adaptation of the novel, but was merely "based on" the novel. Malamud's daughter said on one of the DVD extras that her father had seen the film, and his take on it was that it had "legitimized him as a writer".
Darren McGavin was cast late in the process as gambler Gus Sands and was uncredited in the film. Due to a disagreement, he chose not to be credited, though later Levinson wanted to credit him and McGavin said no. Levinson stated on the DVD extras for the 2007 edition that because there had been too little time during post-production to find a professional announcer willing and able to provide voice-over services, Levinson recorded that part of the audio track himself.
"Two-thirds" of the scenes were filmed in Buffalo, New York, mostly at War Memorial Stadium, built in 1937 and demolished a few years after the film was produced. Buffalo's All-High Stadium, with post-production alterations, stood in for Chicago's Wrigley Field in a key scene in the film.
Variety called it an "impeccably made...fable about success and failure in America." James Berardinelli praised The Natural as "[a]rguably the best baseball movie ever made." ESPN's Page 2 selected it as the 6th best sports movie of all time, and sports writer Bill Simmons has argued, "Any 'Best Sports Movies' list that doesn't feature either Hoosiers or The Natural as the No. 1 pick shouldn't even count."
Director Barry Levinson said on MLB Network's "Costas at the Movies" in 2013 that while the movie is based in fantasy, "through the years, these things which are outlandish actually [happen]…like Kirk Gibson hitting the home run and limping around the bases…Curt Schilling with the blood on the sock in the World Series."
Leonard Maltin's annual Movie Guide in its 1985 edition called it "too long and inconsistent." Dan Craft, longtime critic for the Bloomington, Illinois paper, The Pantagraph, wrote, "The storybook ending is so preposterous you don't know whether to cheer or jeer." Frank Deford in Sports Illustrated, had faint praise for it: "The Natural almost manages to be a swell movie." John Simon of the National Review and Richard Schickel of Time were disappointed with the adaptation. Simon contrasted Malamud's story about the "failure of American innocence" with Levinson's "fable of success . . . [and] the ultimate triumph of semi-doltish purity," declaring "you have, not Malamud's novel, but a sorry illustration of its theme." Schickel lamented that "Malamud's intricate ending (it is a victory that looks like a defeat) is vulgarized (the victory is now an unambiguous triumph, fireworks included)," and that "watching this movie is all too often like reading about The Natural in the College Outline series."
Roger Ebert called it "idolatry on behalf of Robert Redford." Ebert's television collaborator Gene Siskel praised it, giving it four stars, also putting down other critics that he suggested might have just recently read the novel for the first time.
In a lengthy New Yorker article on baseball movies, Roger Angell pointed out that Malamud had intentionally treated Hobbs' story as a baseball version of the King Arthur legend, which came across in the film as a bit heavy-handed, "portentous and stuffy," and that the book's ending should have been kept. He also cited a number of excellent visuals and funny bits, and noted that Robert Redford had prepared so carefully for the role, modeling his swing on that of Ted Williams, that "you want to sign him up".
The Natural was nominated for four Academy Awards: Actress in a Supporting Role (Glenn Close), Cinematography (Caleb Deschanel), Art Direction (Mel Bourne, Angelo P. Graham, Bruce Weintraub), and Music (Randy Newman). Kim Basinger was also nominated for Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.
The initial DVD edition, with copyright year on the box reading "2001", contained the theatrical version of the film, along with a few specials and commentaries.
The "director's cut" was released on April 3, 2007. A two-disc edition, it contains the featurette "The Heart of the Natural," a 44-minute documentary featuring comments from Cal Ripken, Jr. and Levinson; it is the only extra released originally with the 2001 DVD. Sony added a number of other extras, however, including: "When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural," a 50-minute documentary discussing the origins of the original novel and the production of the film; "Knights in Shining Armor," which addresses the mythological parallels between The Natural, King Arthur and the Odyssey; and "A Natural Gunned Down" which tells the story of Eddie Waitkus, a baseball player who was shot by Ruth Ann Steinhagen, a female stalker, in an incident which inspired the fictionalized shooting of Roy Hobbs. The film itself has been re-edited, restoring deleted footage to the early chapters of the story. These scenes expand on the sadness of Hobbs, focusing on his visits to his childhood home as an adult and his childhood memories. The "gift set" version of the release also included some souvenirs: a baseball "signed" by Roy Hobbs; some baseball cards of Roy Hobbs and teammates; and a New York Knights cap.
The Natural was released on Blu-ray format on April 6, 2010. The special features from the two-disc DVD are included, but the film is the original theatrical cut, not the director's cut.
The film score of The Natural was composed and conducted by Randy Newman. The score has often been compared to the style of Aaron Copland and sometimes Elmer Bernstein. Scott Montgomery, writing for Goldmine music magazine, referenced the influence, and David Ansen, reviewing the film for Newsweek, called the score "Coplandesque." The score also has certain Wagnerian features of orchestration and use of Leitmotif. Adnan Tezer of Monsters and Critics noted the theme is often played for film and television previews and in "baseball stadiums when introducing home teams and players."
Levinson also described to Bob Costas in MLB Network's "Costas at the Movies" how he heard Randy Newman develop the movie’s iconic theme: "We were racing to try to get this movie out in time and we were in one room and then there was a wall and Randy's in the other room. One of the great thrilling moments is I heard him figuring out that theme…You could hear it through the wall as he was working out that theme and I'll never forget that."
- "Prologue 1915-1923" – 5:20
- "The Whammer Strikes Out" – 1:56
- "The Old Farm 1939" – 1:07
- "The Majors: The Mind Is a Strange Thing" – 2:14
- "'Knock the Cover Off the Ball'" – 2:17
- "Memo" – 2:02
- "The Natural" – 3:33 (track not used in the film)
- "Wrigley Field" – 2:13 (two separate tracks spliced)
- "Iris and Roy" – 0:58
- "Winning" – 1:00
- "A Father Makes a Difference" – 1:53
- "Penthouse Party" – 1:10
- "The Final Game / Take Me Out to the Ball Game" – 4:37 (three separate tracks spliced)
- "The End Title" – 3:22
- Janna Malamud Smith (daughter of Bernard Malamud) (April 3, 2007). When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural (Documentary). Sony Pictures Entertainment.
- Barry Levinson (director) (April 3, 2007). When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural (Documentary). Sony Pictures Entertainment.
- Heldenfels, Rich (June 14, 2012). "Mailbag: Why do TV shows run longer than scheduled?". Akron Beacon-Journal. Retrieved June 15, 2012.
- "Film Starring Redford To Be Shot in Buffalo". The New York Times. June 18, 1983. Retrieved October 31, 2008.
- http://www.buffalonews.com/entertainment/story/305911.html[dead link]
- "The Natural". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved June 12, 2009.
- "Page 2's Top 20 Sports Movies of All-Time". ESPN.com. Retrieved June 12, 2009.
- Simmons, Bill. "Holy trilogy of the 'Karate Kid'". ESPN.com. Retrieved June 12, 2009.
- Barry Levinson, Costas at the Movies, MLB Network, February 11, 2013
- (May 19, 1984)
- (May 21, 1984, p. 71)
- Simon, John (July 13, 1984). "The Natural" (36). National Review. pp. 51–2.
- Schickel, Richard (May 14, 1984). "The Natural". Time (123): 91.
- Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1984). "The Natural". rogerebert.com. Retrieved January 10, 2008.
- Siskel, Gene (May 11, 1984). "'The Natural': Redford scores in an uplifting celebration of the individual". Chicago Tribune. pp. D A1.
- Angell, Roger (July 31, 1989). "No, But I Saw The Game". The New Yorker: 41.
- "Academy Awards Database: The Natural (57th-1984)". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved January 20, 2008.
- "NY Times: The Natural". NY Times. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
- "DVD - The Natural (Director's Cut)". Monsters and Critics.com, WotR Ltd. Retrieved January 20, 2008.
- Tezer, Adnan (April 1, 2007). "DVD Review: The Natural (Director’s Cut)". Monsters and Critics.com, WotR Ltd. Retrieved January 20, 2008.
- Montgomery, Scott; Gary Norris and Kevin Walsh (September 1, 1995). "The Invisible Randy Newman" 21 (18). Goldmine. Retrieved January 20, 2008.
The Natural, a 1984 Robert Redford vehicle based on the classic Bernard Malamud novel about a baseball player, features some of Newman's most inspiring movie music — his first score to feature synthesizers prominently in string arrangements. Leaning gently on Copland, Berlin and his uncle Al, the dramatic title theme (which has been heard in virtually every baseball-related film trailer since the movie's release) earned Newman both an Academy Award nomination for best soundtrack and a 1985 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental.[dead link]
- Ansen, David (May 28, 1984). "The Natural". Newsweek.
- "The Natural (1984 Film) [SOUNDTRACK]". Amazon.com. Retrieved January 20, 2008.