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.
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Roy Hobbs is a boy who is a skilled baseball player, often playing catch with his father Ed (Alan Fudge). 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 fashions the heart of the tree's trunk into a bat, which he dubs "Wonderboy", carving a lightning bolt into it.
In 1923, a 19-year-old Hobbs (Robert Redford) is a promising pitcher. He informs his girlfriend, Iris (Glenn Close), that he has been asked to try-out with the Chicago Cubs, which they celebrate by spending the night together. On the way to Chicago with his manager Sam Simpson (John Finnegan), the train stops at a carnival and Hobbs is challenged to strike out "The Whammer" (Joe Don Baker), the top hitter in the Majors. Hobbs proceeds to do so. Sportswriter Max Mercy (Robert Duvall), travelling with Whammer, acts as the umpire and later draws a cartoon of the event.
Hobbs also encounters Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey) on the train. A mysterious and alluring woman, Harriet becomes fixated on Roy after he strikes out Whammer. Hobbs spends the evening with her drinking and discussing Roy's plans to be the best baseball player ever. After reaching Chicago, Bird lures Hobbs to her hotel room, asks him if he will be the 'best that ever was', to which he replies yes. She shoots him in the abdomen, and then jumps from the hotel window. It is later revealed that Bird, a serial killer, kills rising athletes with a silver bullet. Hobbs' wounds puts an apparent end to his promising baseball career.
Sixteen years later, a 35-year-old Hobbs re-emerges and is signed to the New York Knights as a hard-hitting right fielder, much 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. After the team's slump continues for several weeks, Pop finally allows Hobbs to take batting practice. There, Hobbs shows his hitting ability, hitting every pitch into the Knights Field stands.
During the next game, the team's star player, right fielder "Bump" Bailey (Michael Madsen) angers Pop. Pop sends Hobbs in to pinch hit for Bump, telling him to "knock the cover off the ball". Hobbs literally does just that, winning the game just as lightning strikes in the sky above the stadium. The next day, Iris, living in Chicago, learns of Roy's rise to prominence from a movie newsreel. Now sharing the spotlight with the team's newest star, a galvanized Bump dies after crashing through an outfield fence. Hobbs then becomes the league's sensation by turning the Knights' fortunes around.
Hobbs is summoned to a meeting with the principal owner of the team, the Judge (Robert Prosky), who 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. If they win, Pop can buy his and the Judge's shares back. To ensure the team loses, the Judge had the team's roster stocked with unknown players like Hobbs. When Hobbs refuses a bribe to throw the season, gambler Gus Sands (Darren McGavin) and the Judge plan to manipulate him though Memo Paris (Kim Basinger), a mesmerising blonde and also Pop's niece as well as Bump's girlfriend until his death.
At practice, Hobbs displays the talent that once made him an incredible pitching prospect, to the surprise of his teammates. Mercy witnesses this, and finally remembers meeting Hobbs years earlier. Mercy reveals his discovery to Hobbs, and also introduces Hobbs to Gus and Memo. Hobbs begins a relationship with Memo and soon falls into a slump, despite Pop's warnings that Memo is "bad luck".
In Chicago, Hobbs comes to bat having already struck out twice in the game. During his third at-bat, Iris stands in the crowd, attracting Hobbs' attention. Hobbs promptly hits the game-winning home run, shattering the scoreboard clock. Hobbs meets Iris after the game and they reminisce. He pleads for her to come to the next day's game, but she is noncommittal. The press dubs Iris "The Lady in White" and lands her picture on the front page of the paper along with Hobbs, prompting panic from Gus and Memo. After the game the following day, Iris is waiting. Hobbs confides to her about the shooting and how he lost his way in life. In her apartment, Hobbs sees a glove and ball, and Iris reveals that she has a son whose 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. During a party at Memo's apartment, she feeds him tainted food which causes him to collapse and be rushed to the hospital. When he awakens, the Knights have lost their last three games, forcing them to a one-game playoff against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The doctor informs him that the silver bullet from the shooting has been eating away the lining of his stomach, which could burst at any time and kill him instantly. Memo visits and tries to convince him to miss the game, accept Gus's offer, and run away with her. The Judge visits as well and offers Hobbs $20,000 to throw the game. Hobbs declines, and the Judge attempts to blackmail him with crime scene photos of the shooting. The Judge also reveals that he has paid off another player, and that no matter what Hobbs does, the Knights will lose.
Before the playoff game, Hobbs visits the Judge in his office to return the bribe, much to the Judge's disbelief. In anger, Memo fires the Judge's gun at Hobbs' feet, while revealing that she hates him.
After realizing the Knights' starting pitcher is the player the Judge has bribed, Hobbs confronts him on the mound, telling him not to throw the game. Iris, in the stands with her son, asks an usher to deliver a note to Hobbs. It finally conveys what Iris has been struggling to tell Hobbs since they reconnected: that her son is his from the night they spent together. Hobbs reads the notes and is shocked by this revelation.
The Knights trail 2–0 in the bottom of the 9th and Hobbs comes up to bat with two outs and runners on first and third. After opening with two balls, the Pirates bring in a young left-handed pitcher who, like Hobbs had been in his youth, is a highly touted prospect with a blazing fastball. Down to his last strike and with lightning striking in the distance, Hobbs hits a foul ball that splinters Wonderboy. Hobbs turns to the bat boy and asks him to "pick him out a winner". He returns with the bat that Hobbs helped him make. Hobbs proceeds to hit the next pitch into the lights on top of the right field stands, winning the game and the pennant. As he runs the bases under the showering lights, his team rejoices.
Some time later, Hobbs plays catch with his son on Iris' farm, as she looks on.
- 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 Bartholomew "Bump" Bailey
- John Finnegan as Sam Simpson
- Alan Fudge as Ed Hobbs
- Ken Grassano as Al Fowler
- Mike Starr as Boone
- Mickey Treanor as Doc Dizzy
- Jon Van Ness as John Olsen
- Anthony J. Ferrara as Coach Wilson
- 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."
The soundtrack album was released May 11, 1984 on the Warner Bros. label, with the logo for Tri-Star Pictures also appearing on the label to commemorate this as their first production. All music was composed by Randy Newman.
- "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: 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; Kevin Walsh (September 1, 1995). "The Invisible Randy Newman" 21 (18). Goldmine. Archived from the original on August 17, 2007. 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.
- Ansen, David (May 28, 1984). "The Natural". Newsweek.
- "The Natural (1984 Film) [SOUNDTRACK]". Amazon.com. Retrieved January 20, 2008.