Major League: Wild Thing Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (10th August 2009).
The Film

Long before LeBron James was pronounced king of Ohio and long after Jim Brown left the Cleveland Browns after their championship season, Cleveland has had trouble putting together serious championship contenders in their respective sports. Fans speak of the different curses and legends that haunt the town, or at least that’s the image that we get through ESPN and media outlets, showing a general depression in Cleveland sports. That sort of fan attitude and lack of titles breeds movies like “Rookie of the Year” (1993) or “Major League” (1989) that take a historically loosing team and turn their story into a sports comedy movie. Unlike the kids’ flick “Rookie of the Year,” “Major League” deals better with the sort of fan devotion and dedication people can have to such a loosing team and brings in a young Wesley Snipes and Charlie Sheen in his 80’s prime.

After a long run of loosing seasons and the death of their owner, the team’s new owner, Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), plans to construct a team so incredibly terrible that it would kill fan attendance and nullify the lease the team has with the city of Cleveland. She then gets her new general manager to hire the worst teammembers he can think of, combining outdated veterans with inexperienced and unready rookies with a manager that has spent most of his time selling tires. In the rag tag bunch is a bundle of success in Rick Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), a young pitcher with a strong and uncontrollable arm, or even Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) who helps to turn the team around from a potential league looser into a serious competitor for the world series. Problems arise when Phelps tries to counter the team at every turn by replacing their transportation with older and outdated methods, more inconveniences and bigger disadvantages in the locker room to try and keep them from succeeding.

There’s not much more to the film than a sports comedy about a rag tag gang of players, but the charcters created are fun enough to watch to keep the movie going. It’s odd seeing Snipes so much smaller and younger than the hulking Blade that he became in the late 90’s and 2000’s, but he does well in a comedy role and I’m surprised he hasn’t done more (other than his fantastic job in “Too Wong Foo: Thanks for Everything Julie Numar” released in the same year, 1989). The rest of the supporting cast makes good on their roles too, though nothing stands out too heavily for me. Tom Berenger reprises his status as Sheen co-star after “Platoon” (1987) and his look reminds me of an old Mickey Rourke, and by that I mean Rourke after he was done being a pretty-boy, but Berenger is good enough in his role as the veteran. On the opposite end of Snipes is Dennis Haysbert, who looks like a huge and bulky hitter at the time, but slimmed down for present day in playing the President in “24” (2001-Present). Plus if you watch closely you can catch Neil Flynn, better known as Janitor on “Scrubs” (2001-2009).

The comedy in the film does a great job getting at the blind hope and devotion fans can have for a team. Moments in the beginning of the film where the announcer tries to pull out hope for the season or calls a game looking through homer glasses by glossing over mistakes with compliments hits at what it means to be a sports fan. The sort of obsession that grows with a team after the hype grows is good too, building hope for the small franchise and allowing more comedy to be poked at the organization and it’s fandom.

However the fandom is a huge point of interest for me in the film, as I’m not from Cleveland but I only hear legends of the sort of racist imagery that the team portrays through it’s Chief Wahoo and the terminology associated with the team. The fact that they refer to the field as ‘the reservation’ or fandom as ‘the tribe’ was fairly shocking to me, but how casual and normal it seems to the fans and Clevelanders was interesting to see in the film. If anything it helps to document the sort of racist sports imagery that has held a major place in United States sports, but how long it could take to change something that holds such a great affection in fandom is hard to say.

Overall it’s a fairly funny comedy that managed to keep me interested in baseball on a TV screen for more than an hour, which speaks volumes in my book. There are some funny terms in the film, and it’s interesting to see the sort of casual racism in sports (that isn’t really a factor in the film other than being in Cleveland). However the success of the team in the zero to hero story makes me wonder if there isn’t another sort of curse at work, a movie curse, that afflicts major franchises with loosing histories that have major movies about them. I haven’t seen the Cubs or Knicks win any championships in the years since they had movies made about them.

Video

Converting older movies to Blu-ray has always been one of my prime concerns, but with the 1080p 24/fps 1.78:1 aspect ratio and AVC MPEG-4 encoding it looks about as good as it will get. The transfer still has the feel of an older movie without making it feel unrealistic by taking away grain, but it still have some specs and artifacts pop up occasionally and the grain becomes incredibly thick and blurry in some scenes where the frame is out of focus, but it otherwise looks good. The imperfections in the transfer help keep the older feel of the film but adds a nice clarity that you can’t get on any other format and looks slightly better than DVD. It’s not one of the greatest older film transfers, but for an 80’s comedy low on any sort of visual effects it’s not going to get much better.

Audio

Presented in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit, there are also optional French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The TrueHD sound fares about as well as the image. The clarity you’ve come to expect from the format is there, but it maintains the feel of an older movie. All of the levels are in balance and the different noises of the games make for a good effect when watching it, but it feels slightly lacking in some of the stadium scenes. I’m not sure if it’s the original film or this audio transfer, but I expected a bit more from the roar of the crowd and the different movement of pitches and cracks of the bat.
Optional English, English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish subtitles are included.

Extras

This "Wild Thing Edition" of the film is on one Blu-ray disc and the special features are identical to the 2007 "Wild Thing Edition" on DVD, though still containing an audio commentary, five featurettes, and photo gallery.

First is the audio commentary with writer/director David S. Ward and producer Chris Chesser. The duo is a bit silent for the duration of the film, but spend most of the time complimenting the actors and the film itself in appreciating how it’s aged in the years since they made the film. There are some interesting discussions of lighting or why the decided to make the film, but it’s a very sporadic commentary with many pauses and quiet voices to begin with so it’s a bit hard to pay attention to if you aren’t dedicated to the task.

“My Kinda Team: Making ‘Major League’” featurette runs for 23 minutes and 10 seconds, apparently made in 2007 and managing to get together the entire original cast of the film to talk about the making-of the film in the featurette (except for Wesley Snipes). Everyone talks about how they got involved in the film and offer a nice bit of retrospective on their roles and the roles their characters played on the team. Many of the stories from Ward carry over from the commentary, but it’s supplemented with a good amount of behind-the-scenes footage on set as well as old photographs from the set of many of the actors that didn’t show up for the featurette. It’s well put together considering the amount of time that has passed in making the film and they get a surprising amount of source material to work on, though very obviously just ripped directly from the DVD edition since it’s full screen and all of the clips look like imported DVD quality.

“A Major League look at ‘Major League’” featurette runs for 14 minutes and 27 seconds and speaks with the current players on the Cleveland Indians roster (at the time the featurette was made) as well as with broadcasters and fans involved with the club. It’s an interesting featurette to talk about how they would react for the film, including some similarities to the real clubhouse and how the film looks from a professional’s perspective, an overall nice touch to the set.

Bob Uecker: Just a Bit Outside” featurette runs for 12 minutes and 43 seconds, looks at Uecker, the current play-by-play announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers who played Cleveland commentator Harry Doyle, one of the best parts of the film. The players from the previous featurettes and producers talk about the character of Doyle and his comedic styling that he brought to the film as well as the authenticity of his character in the press box. They also throw in a few alternate takes of scenes that he improvised into the film which are great touches to see how funny Uecker really is as a commentator.

“Alternate Ending with Filmmaker Introduction” runs for 4 minutes and 18 seconds, this featurette discusses the twist they had planned for the film where Phelps reveals that it was her plan all along to push the team to the limit through pretend hatred of the team to actually whip them into shape. The footage isn’t in that great of shape, but the scene is good and I think could have worked in the film, but it’s nice to see it preserved in one way or another.

“A Tour of Cerrano’s Locker” featurette runs for 1 minute and 36 seconds, looks to be filmed at the time of the movie where Haysbert gives a brief tour of his locker, in charcter as Cerrano.

Finally is the photo gallery which has 50 images in total.

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: B+ Audio: B- Extras: B- Overall: B-

 


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