"Field of Dreams" returns and this is now my third time reviewing the title for DVDTown.com. I began my videophile days as a LaserDisc person. Then one day a new little format called a Digital Versatile Disc was just released. In what now seems like a very strange twist of fate, my beloved Pioneer LaserDisc player died. I quickly went out to purchase a new unit, but much to my chagrin, only the new DVD Combo player was for sale. I decided to buy a pair of DVDs to go with the unit, figuring that since I had the capability I should at least try it out. Months later, I was enjoying what DVD had to offer and went out and bought "Field of Dreams." I don't remember the details, but I submitted a comparison review to DVDTown.com to help spread the word that DVD wasn't the crappy cousin of LaserDisc, but a viable replacement for a format I loved for a long time.
Years later I would revisit "Field of Dreams" on the now defunct HD-DVD format and I fondly revisited this classic picture starring Kevin Costner. I had spoken how DVD still had a number of years left and I find myself once again staring at a "Field of Dreams" video box, but this time in the form of Blu-ray. Now a dozen years old, the heir apparent of the beloved Digital Versatile Disc has been chosen and that format is Blu-ray. HD-DVD is dead and my own collection is slowly being replaced by the blue boxes. With 1080p resolution, the high definition format and the surviving Blu-ray format have more to offer for the home theater in the days of standard digital television and high definition. "Field of Dreams" is not a picture to try and convert a DVD phile, but it is a classic picture and always fun to revisit. Now a dozen years since I first reviewed the film, it's time to take another look with a mostly-new review.
Kevin Costner plays the title role of Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella. This is the type of role where Costner really shined when he was one of the more bankable stars in Hollywood. Since the days of "Field of Dreams," his own star has fallen and somebody will soon need to build Mr. Costner a field to play in as his roles are diminishing. He was best at playing the aging sports hero, or the typical American male. Here we have a taste of Kevin Costner playing a somewhat typical male who is impassioned about sports. Ray Liota and James Earl Jones provide very good supporting roles as well in the film and with Frank Whaley and Burt Lancaster adding a little more star-power to the film, "Field of Dreams" was hardly an ensemble piece, but there were many familiar faces.
The story begins when Ray is out taking care of his cornfields. He hears voices coming from somewhere in the cornfield. He cannot find the source of the voices at first, but after a few minutes he realizes that the voice is telling him "If you build it, they will come." Confused by the mysterious voices, he then inquires to others about whether or not they have heard voices in their fields and he becomes somewhat of the town joke. The town does not view him to be a very good farmer and now they start to wonder about his sanity. Eventually, he comes to a hypothesis of what the voices are telling him and he believes they are telling him to build a baseball field by plowing down a large portion of his cash crop.
With the support of his wife Annie (Amy Madigan), Ray begins to destroy his corn fields and invest his savings for the materials he needs to build a lighted baseball diamond in the middle of his property. This is his life's savings and with much of his corn removed, he will be unable to pay the mortgage to keep his farm. The town then begins to seriously doubt his sanity, and he becomes a joke to them. Soon, however, the ghost of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Liota) appears on his baseball diamond and wants to practice with Ray. Soon more ghostly players appear who want a chance to redeem themselves by once again playing the game they love.
After the players appear, Ray hears something new from the voices that send him on a cross-country journey to find a writer whose book was argued to be banned during a town Parent Teacher Association meeting, but Annie stood up to argue that the book by Terrence Mann (Jones) should not be removed from the school. After the meeting, Ray believes the purpose of this journey from the voice is to take the reclusive writer to a baseball game. However, at the game they witness an event that sends the two of them on a separate mission. Their new mission is to find a doctor that never had much of a chance in the major leagues. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham (Burt Lancaster) has unfortunately died, but Ray finds himself in 1972 and speaking with the dead baseball player. On the return trip they pick up a hitchhiker who introduces himself as Archie Graham (Frank Whaley) and bring him to Ray's baseball diamond.
Back home, the financial burden of the field and Ray's falling back on bills has caused a lot of stress and his brother-in-law Mark (Timothy Busfield) has bought the mortgage to Ray's property and need Ray to sign off to sell the farm. Ray refuses after Mann tells Ray that people will come and pay to see the baseball diamond. This sets Mark and Ray into an argument and during the heated discussion Ray's daughter Karen (Gaby Hoffman) is hurt. Dr. Graham sees the young girl injured and crosses the foul line to help her. He then becomes the older ghost and cannot return back to playing the game, but his time on the field of dreams was enough to ease his spirit. This allows Mark to finally see the baseball players on the field and he understands what Ray is so obsessed with. Eventually, Ray's father appears as a younger man and the two finally play catch.
As a decade has past and I've become older and wiser, I now view "Field of Dreams" as a story of not just chasing after your dreams, but also a film of redemption and closure. The ghosts of the players come to Kevin's baseball diamond for redemption and to bring closure to their ball playing. Whether it be the Doc, Moonlight Graham, who finally got to have more than one at-bat or the grizzled writer who lost his love for the game, "Field of Dreams" shows people healing and coming to terms with something they love. The ultimate redemption and closure is that by Kevin Costner's character – he finally plays catch with his father, but provides the love of baseball that his father had wanted to enjoy through his son decades earlier.
The film is a classic and stands up as time rolls by. I've watched it over half a dozen times and have owned it on three formats. Every time I place "Field of Dreams" in a player to watch or review, my attention is held for the entire running time. Costner is at his best here and the wonderful ensemble cast fills in any holes the film may possess. The story is definitely a stretch as we've yet to prove ghosts exist and they certainly aren't going to come to a cornfield in Iowa to play baseball. If you want a baseball movie that is about the game and reality, then Costner's "For the Love of the Game" is more your speed, but if you want to be entertained and be left with something after watching the film, then "Field of Dreams" is one of the best baseball films ever.
I noticed that after writing this Blu-ray review and then looking back at the previous HD-DVD review, there was a huge discrepancy I had given the title a measly 4 in that older re-hash, but given the film a 6 in this new review. I'm going to stand by the new score and just state that I was a little hard on a film that I enjoy. "Field of Dreams" is not an impressive looking film in high definition, but it sell looks clean and an improvement over the DVD release. The VC-1 mastered film is shown in 1.85:1 widescreen and is nearly identical to the HD-DVD release. Coloring is decent, as is detail, but this high definition transfer looks dated and the 1989 film turned twenty from its original release date of April 21. There are instances when the film looks muddy and is hindered in low-light conditions. Universal typically does a better job, but "Field of Dreams" is passable on Blu-ray.
The title is given a brand new English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix to replace the former Dolby Digital Plus mix that was found on the former HD-DVD title. However, the French surround track is now completely missing, but I don't feel overly sad. I would hazard to say that "Field of Dreams" is just a pinch more dynamic than it previously was, and the dialogue problem I had with the HD-DVD release is slightly improved upon. This is not an overly engaging mix and most of the audio emanates from the front channels. The .1 LFE channel does wake up a few times, but not very often. Rear surrounds are used for some musical bleed, but that is really about it. The problem with "Field of Dreams" is not so much a technical issue, but the original sound design. The DTS-HD mix is simply given next to nothing to do for long stretches of time. Thankfully, dialogue is very clear aside from being a smidgeon low in volume.
This latest release of "Field of Dreams" contains the same materials from previous DVD releases, the Collector's Edition LaserDisc and the former HD-DVD release. Universal has added something new in the form of access to the BD-Live Center and from here you can download promotional clips and trailers for other releases from Universal Home Video. There is nothing included online for this specific film, but it allows Profile 2.0 capable players and their owners a little something more to do. If you happen to own the previous HD-DVD release, then there is hardly any reason to upgrade unless you are looking to liquidate your entire collection of elite red cases.
The "Extras" menu begins with the hardly-worth-mentioning My Scenes bookmarking technology, but begins its real value-added content with the collection of Deleted Scenes with Introduction by Director Phil Alden Robinson (16:50). The introduction is optional and the deleted scenes are clumped together, but these cutting room floor moments are worth looking at if you love the film and Alden's introductions are worth his explanations. From Father to Son: Passing Along the Pastime (38:41) is an absolutely wonderful feature. Its name echoes the film's theme of redemption and getting to say what was unsaid for so long. This is one of my favorite making-of featurettes from the days when I first saw it on LaserDisc. It takes the standard formula of a talking-heads EPK featurette, but does so in fine fashion.
The Roundtable with Kevin Costner, Bret Saberhagen, George Brett and Johnny Bench (29:56) but features Costner and the baseball dignitaries sitting around and talking about "Field of Dreams" and the sport of baseball. Costner has an unusual-for him Van Dyke beard, but the conversation is candid and full of good insight into the film and I enjoyed listening to the old ball players talk about the game they love. Some brief footage of the players is also included. A Diamond in the Husks (17:41) takes a look at the Iowa farm where the baseball diamond from the film still exists – the Lansing family farm. It is used for tours today and the family that owns that land keeps it in wonderful shape.
Galena, IL, Pinch Hits for Chisholm, MN (5:35) is a quick feature that looks at one of the locations used in the film and how the town of Galena, Illinois was converted for the filming. This was a decent little feature with local historian Steve Repp. The Field of Dreams A Scrapbook (1:29:51) is an incredible lengthy look at the making of the film from beginning to end. This is absolutely worth looking at and just adds to the already impressive supplements contained on the disc. The Bravo Special: From Page to Screen (46:06) is another lengthy feature that looks heavily at the novel "Shoeless Joe" and the director's journey to bringing the story to the big screen. The Theatrical Trailer is included and was missing on the HD-DVD release.
Finally, the Feature Commentary with Director Phil Alden Robinson and Directory of Photography John Lindley is the same commentary that has been found on every major home video release of the picture aside from VHS. I've listened to this commentary track in the past and Robinson and Lindley are decent enough speakers, but after watching the hours of bonus footage found in the "Scrapbook" and other making-of materials, it starts to feel a little repetitive. This is absolutely nothing to knock the two men as they provide an engaging and informative commentary track, but "Field of Dreams" contains so many lengthy and good pieces of value added content, that only the diehard fans will be able to sit through all of those stand-alone features and this track.
"Field of Dreams" is one of Kevin Costner's better pictures and as I grow older, I find myself enjoying the film even more. The last time I reviewed the title was on HD-DVD and I simply did a comparison review. This time around, I watched the entire picture with my complete attention and completely re-wrote that former review to give the title some well deserved attention. This is a classic picture and its themes of redemption are important and at its core, "Field of Dreams" is really not a baseball picture, but a movie about living your dreams. The new Blu-ray release has the same look and feel of the old release and really doesn't add anything new to the supplemental materials, but this has always been a very good release and that doesn't change on Blu-ray. It may not look and sound superb, but the bonus materials are among the better offerings on the format. Out of the bundle of Blu-rays Universal release for Father's Day, this is my top recommendation.