|Bull Durham (Special Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 02 April 2002|
"Bull Durham" actually has sex on its mind as much as it does pitchers and catchers, but writer/director Ron Shelton contends that lovemaking and sport are irrevocably intertwined. He makes such a good case for this theory that it’s no wonder "Bull Durham" has achieved such beloved status.
The minor league Durham Bulls team get a new catcher, "Crash" Davis (Kevin Costner), a one-time major leaguer who’s on his way down, and a new pitcher, Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), whose arm is as impressive as his mind is flaky. Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), who puts an original spin on the concept of being a groupie, eyes both men as potential summer flings, but Crash says he doesn’t want anything to do with a woman who’d even consider Nuke, so this narrows Annie’s choices down. She sets out to inspire Nuke to have his best summer ever as a player, while Crash takes a more traditional approach in steering the younger man to baseball prowess. However, it’s hard for Crash and Annie to ignore the sparks between them.
In other hands, "Bull Durham" might be just another romantic triangle with a sports angle. However, the movie has serious mojo working for it. Shelton, a former pro ballplayer himself, knows what he’s talking about and (perhaps more importantly) what he’s shooting when it comes to action on the field, and his dialogue reflects a great, gut-deep joy in both the art of playing with language and the fun of hearing good actors striking home runs with words that allow them to fully inhabit characters.
Costner has made some questionable choices in material of late, but seeing him in "Bull Durham" explains completely how and why he became a major star. As the road-weary but still not too cynical Crash, he is as natural and convincing as he is likable. When his Crash trumps a dispute with Annie about life philosophies by ending his summation with, "I believe in long, slow, wet kisses that last three days," we’re ready to vote for him. Sarandon, whose Annie narrates the film, is abundantly sexy, projecting confidence and vulnerability in equal measure while seeming at once very shrewd and impressively odd. Robbins is simply a hoot as the impressionable, shallow but good-natured Nuke. The actors all really do know their craft, as well – we’re supposed to be pulling for Crash and Annie based on their chemistry, and Costner and Sarandon sizzle plenty together. However, off-screen – as cheerfully noted in the actors’ commentary track by Costner and Robbins – it was Robbins who paired off with Sarandon in a relationship that has continued into the present.
The extras on the disc are enjoyable, especially the aforementioned commentary – it’s hard not to like two guys who reminisce easily together, especially when at least one is being fairly candid about his private life. Filmmaker Shelton’s commentary is informative and bright. Shelton is confined to the center channel, with the joint Costner/Robbins session is heard in both center and mains. In all cases, the soundtrack plays softly behind them, coming up full volume whenever the commentary falls silent. The disc also contains three featurettes all dealing with the making of the film in different ways, with one general making-of, one focusing on Costner and one centering on the sports aspects.
Picture quality is okay, although not as sharp as we might hope. Blues on baseball uniforms are nicely rich in Chapter 7, but elsewhere, edges blur and hues are a bit washed-out, almost as if the print had been transferred in the ‘60s or ‘70s.
The center-channel dialogue track is thankfully sturdy and the plentiful rock songs that show up on the soundtrack are always introduced with enjoyable, danceable blasts, although they tend to get dialed down right away to ensure that we hear what’s being said. Chapter 1 has a fun rendition of "Rock Around the Clock" and Chapter 17 provides an apt blast of John Fogerty’s "Centerfield" before receding to make room for Annie’s monologue. Music does tend to cut out very abruptly on scene transitions, but this is a facet of the original edit rather than something created by the DVD transfer.
Sound effects are used to good effect, with an atmospheric crunch of gravel underfoot in Chapter 4, a jangling bracelet in Chapter 5, a rosary slapping a baseball bat in Chapter 10 and rain in Chapter 26 all add dimension to the proceedings. Surround effects, however, are inconsistent. In Chapter 8, we have ambience in the rears, but in Chapter 10, set at a baseball stadium, we get more organ music than crowd sounds in the rears. In Chapter 12, the rears temporarily give up altogether, which might not be so noticeable if the characters weren’t on a moving bus – a little wheel noise or engine rumble spread from the mains to the rears would not have gone amiss.
Mostly, though, "Bull Durham" is a fine film, brought to DVD in a decent transfer with some great extras.