Promotional poster of The Natural
|Directed by||Barry Levinson|
|Produced by||Mark Johnson|
|Music by||Randy Newman|
|Editing by||Stu Linder|
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
|Release date(s)||May 11, 1984|
|Running time||137 minutes|
The Natural is a 1984 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.
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.
It was the first film produced by TriStar Pictures.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (January 2010)|
A young Roy Hobbs plays baseball with his father on the family farm. Hobbs' father dies suddenly under a tree. That tree is split in half by lightning, and Hobbs carves a baseball bat from it. He burns a lightning bolt on the barrel and calls it Wonderboy.
In 1923, a 19-year-old Hobbs (Redford) is granted a tryout by the Chicago Cubs as a pitcher. The train to Chicago makes a stop at a carnival and Hobbs is challenged to strike out "The Whammer" (Baker), the top hitter in the major leagues. He does so in front of many people, including a sportswriter named Max Mercy (Duvall), who draws a picture of the event.
Back on the train, the naive Hobbs is seduced by Harriet Bird (Hershey), an alluring woman, who gravitates to him after judging that he, rather than The Whammer, is now the best baseball player in the world. Bird lures Hobbs to a hotel room, shoots him, and then jumps out the window to her death. It is later revealed that Bird kills rising athletes, having already murdered two others.
The story skips forward to 1939. The New York Knights have signed the now 35-year-old Hobbs to a contract, to the ire of the team's manager and co-owner, Pop Fisher (Brimley). With the Knights mired in last-place, Pop is angry about being saddled with a "middle-aged rookie" and refuses to even let him participate in team practice. After a showdown in which Hobbs is told he is to be sent back to the minors, Pop relents.
During the next game, the team's star player, "Bump" Bailey (Madsen), angers Pop and Hobbs is sent to pinch hit. Pop encourages Hobbs to "knock the cover off the ball", which Hobbs literally does, providing the game-winning hit in a rain-shortened game. After Bump dies running through the outfield fence in pursuit of a fly ball in a subsequent game, Hobbs takes over as the team's starting right fielder and plays phenomenally, becoming the league's sensation and single-handedly turning the Knights' fortunes around.
Hobbs' success prompts Mercy to try to unearth details about his background, but Hobbs is uncooperative. Mercy starts a rumor that Wonderboy is a loaded bat, but the allegation is disproven when the league weighs and measures the bat, which meets specifications.
Hobbs is soon summoned to a meeting with the principal owner of the Knights, The Judge (Prosky). Beforehand, Pop's assistant, Red (Farnsworth), informs Hobbs that The Judge has an interest in the team losing, since Pop is obligated to sell his share to The Judge if the Knights fail to win the National League pennant. To ensure that result, The Judge had ordered his chief scout to stock the roster with unknown players like Hobbs.
The Judge inquires about Hobbs's background but is rebuffed. The Judge then offers him a new contract as an implicit bribe to throw the season, but Hobbs makes it clear he is committed to winning the pennant. Gambler Gus Sands (McGavin) and The Judge devise a plan to manipulate him: Memo Paris (Basinger), Pop's niece, and Bump's former girlfriend, is sent to seduce Hobbs.
Mercy sees Hobbs pitch to a teammate after practice one day and finally realizes where he had seen Hobbs before. He confronts Hobbs with the cartoon he drew after Hobbs struck out The Whammer and offers him $5,000 for his story, but Hobbs is not interested. At dinner, Mercy introduces Hobbs to Gus and Memo. Memo and Hobbs begin seeing each other regularly. Despite warnings from Pop that his niece is "bad luck," he continues the relationship, and soon falls into a slump.
At Wrigley Field in Chicago, Hobbs comes to bat in the top of the ninth with the Knights trailing by one run with a man on third. With two strikes, he sees a woman in white stand up in the crowd, illuminated by sunlight, and he promptly hits a game-winning home run that shatters the scoreboard clock. After the game, Hobbs realizes the woman in white is his childhood sweetheart, Iris (Close), and they meet at a soda shop. She attends the next day's game, at which Hobbs hits four home runs. Later, they go for a walk and Hobbs confides his shooting and how he lost his way in life. Iris is sympathetic and they return to her apartment for tea. Hobbs notices a baseball glove, which Iris informs him belongs to her 16-year old son. Hobbs wonders where the boy's father is and Iris says he lives in New York. Hobbs is curious to meet the boy but Iris tells him he should leave.
With Hobbs hitting again, the Knights surge into first place, needing just one win in their final three games against the Philadelphia Phillies to clinch the pennant. Against Pop's advice, a victory party is held at Memo's, where Hobbs again refuses a payoff from Gus. Memo feeds Hobbs a poisoned éclair, causing him to fall ill. Hobbs awakens in a hospital bed a few days later and learns that the Knights 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 gunshot injury, which was discovered when they recovered the silver bullet while pumping Hobbs's stomach. Hobbs is warned that his stomach could tear apart and kill him if he continues to play ball.
Memo visits Hobbs in the hospital and encourages him to accept Gus' payoff. Hobbs later sneaks out of the hospital to take batting practice, but collapses after a few swings. Later that night, The Judge appears at Hobbs's bedside and increases his offer, even though he doesn't think Hobbs is in any condition to play. Hobbs refuses and The Judge threatens to ruin Hobbs's image by releasing photographs from the shooting, which were obtained from Mercy. The Judge also informs Hobbs that he has a contingency plan in place, having bribed another key player on the team.
The day before the game, Iris visits Hobbs, who still blames himself for failing to achieve his full potential in baseball. Iris insists he's a great player anyway, but Hobbs responds that he could have been "the best there ever was." Hobbs asks whether her son is in New York with her and whether they will be attending the game. She says he is, but leaves before answering the second question.
The day of the game, Hobbs goes to The Judge's office and returns The Judge's money. Memo fires a gun at the floor. Hobbs takes the gun from her and recognizes her similarity to Harriet Byrd. As Hobbs walks out, Gus predicts the Knights will lose. Hobbs heads to the locker room, where a nervous Pop is shaving. They converse briefly. Pop tells Hobbs he's the best player he's ever coached and the best hitter he ever saw, and tells him to suit up.
Hobbs, injured and rusty, strikes out in his first at-bat. The Pirates take the lead when the Knights' starting pitcher, Fowler, surrenders a two-run homer. Realizing Fowler is the player The Judge bribed, Hobbs goes to the mound and tells him not to throw the game. Fowler replies he'll start pitching when Hobbs starts hitting. In his next at-bat, Hobbs strikes out again, falling to the ground. Iris, sitting in the stands with her son, goes down to the railing and asks an usher to deliver a message to Hobbs. The message says she and her son are at the game and Hobbs is the boy's father. Shocked, Hobbs peers out from the dugout but cannot see them.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Knights are still trailing 2-0 and are down to their final out. After the next two batters reach base, Hobbs comes up and the Pirates bring in a young, hard-throwing, left-handed pitcher. Hobbs fouls the first pitch back, breaking the glass to the press box, where Mercy had been sketching a cartoon of Hobbs as a goat. Hobbs swings through the next pitch. Down to his last strike, he hits what looks like a home run down the right field line, but the ball hooks foul. At the plate, he sees that Wonderboy is broken. The batboy brings him his own handmade bat, the Savoy Special, which Hobbs had helped him make. The catcher notices blood on Hobbs' jersey, and calls for an inside fastball to exploit Hobbs's injury. With lightning flashing in the sky, Hobbs sends the ball into the lights above right field for the game- and pennant-winning home run. The lights explode and sparks rain down on the field as Hobbs rounds the bases.
The screen fades to a wheat field bathed in sunlight, with Hobbs playing catch with his son as Iris watches.
- 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
- 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 there had been too little time to find a bonafide announcer during post-production, so he 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.
The Natural currently stands as one of the most beloved sports movies of all time. On movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 83% positive score based on 29 reviews, with an average rating of 7.0/10. 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."
While The Natural's reputation has enhanced over time, critics were not universally impressed when the film first appeared. 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 adaptationl. 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 wrote a fairly negative review, calling 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 a bit heavy-handed, "portentous and stuffy," in the film version, and that the book's ending should have been kept. However, 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 a female stalker, paralleling 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 in 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) (2007-04-03). When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural (Documentary). Sony Pictures Entertainment.
- Barry Levinson (director) (2007-04-03). When Lightning Strikes: Creating The Natural (Documentary). Sony Pictures Entertainment.
- Heldenfels, Rich (2012-06-14). "Mailbag: Why do TV shows run longer than scheduled?". Akron Beacon-Journal. Retrieved 2012-06-15.
- "Film Starring Redford To Be Shot in Buffalo". The New York Times. 1983-06-18. Retrieved 2008-10-31.
- http://www.buffalonews.com/entertainment/story/305911.html[dead link]
- "The Natural Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-06-12.
- "Page 2's Top 20 Sports Movies of All-Time". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2009-06-12.
- Simmons, Bill. "Holy trilogy of the 'Karate Kid'". ESPN.com. Retrieved 2009-06-12.
- Barry Levinson, Costas at the Movies, MLB Network, February 11, 2013
- (May 19, 1984)
- (May 21, 1984, p. 71)
- Simon, John (1984-07-13). The Natural (36). National Review. pp. 51–2. Text " volume " ignored (help)
- Schickel, Richard (1984-05-14). The Natural (123). Time. p. 91. Text " volume " ignored (help)
- Ebert, Roger (1984-01-01). "The Natural". rogerebert.com. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
- Siskel, Gene (1984-05-11). "'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 2008-01-20.
- "NY Times: The Natural". NY Times. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
- "DVD - The Natural (Director's Cut)". Monsters and Critics.com, WotR Ltd. Retrieved 2008-01-20.
- Tezer, Adnan (2007-04-01). "DVD Review: The Natural (Director’s Cut)". Monsters and Critics.com, WotR Ltd. Retrieved 2008-01-20.
- Montgomery, Scott; Gary Norris and Kevin Walsh (1995-09-01). The Invisible Randy Newman 21 (18). Goldmine. Retrieved 2008-01-20. "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 (1984-05-28). The Natural. Newsweek.
- "The Natural (1984 Film) [SOUNDTRACK]". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2008-01-20.