DVD - Image A+ Sound A Extras B-
BD - Image B- Sound A Extras B-
starring Dennis Quaid, Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez, Brian Cox
screenplay by Mike Rich
directed by John Lee Hancock
by Walter Chaw Based, at least in part, on the book The Oldest Rookie: Big League Dreams from a Small Town Guy by Jim Morris and Joel Engel, Disney's The Rookie is a semi-fictionalized account of the unlikely rise of small-town high-school science teacher and baseball coach Jim Morris from respectable obscurity to big-league relief pitcher. Morris (Dennis Quaid) inspires his team of bad news bears (Big Lake, Texas Owls) to overachieve by promising to try out for the majors if they get on a winning streak and make it to state tournament.
The first half of the mildly overlong The Rookie features montages of swinging bats interspersed with newspaper headlines, inspirational speeches delivered on baseball diamonds, and what seems to be a pitch-by-pitch recreation of all seven innings of a pivotal match. The last half of The Rookie jettisons the underdog sports intrigues (and the mild father/son dysfunction endemic to mid-life baseball movies) in favour of aping The Natural, right down to a climactic big-game triumph.
The fantastic Brian Cox deserves more time as Jim's gruffly estranged pop and altogether too many scenes are spent on Jim's cherubic little boy (Angus T. Jones)--to the point where it comes as some shock when Morris's other two kids trundle onscreen briefly. (Perversely enough, both parents forget the infant during a late-in-the-film roll call.) Rachel Griffiths is the long-suffering wife (another staple of baseball flicks; see Amy Madigan in Field of Dreams) who stays at home with the kids and puts on a brave face while speaking on the telephone, and Quaid is again everybody's all-American. The problem with The Rookie isn't to be found in the agreeable performances, but rather its elegiac pacing and lockstep narrative. It seeks out drama in the democratizing sweetening of its topic. The truth that Morris was forced into retirement by elbow surgery and tendonitis is, for example, predictably obfuscated by a few misleading end titles.
As evidenced by its choice to reference the baseball weeper Bang the Drum Slowly instead of more visceral sports fare like Pride of the Yankees in a shot of a theatre marquee, unsullied truth is clearly not the point of The Rookie. The purpose of the film is to present a family entertainment (The Rookie is rated G) redolent with veritable music videos (there are no fewer than two) and panoramic vistas that sentimentalize and mythologize baseball (again). Thankfully--wisely--the soundtrack features such exquisite down home grinders as John Hiatt and Willie Nelson.
Therein lies the strength of The Rookie: not just the sound of it, but also the feel of it. Screenwriter-turned-director John Lee Hancock (he penned a couple of Clint Eastwood movies) has a way of capturing and holding (and holding) an iconic image, of casting a perfect face, and of knowing a meaningful moment. When the town's good ol' boys spread their barbershop's hair around the outfield of the school's baseball field so as to keep deer from eating the grass seed, there is a magical evocation of a time and place that is as romantic as it is heartening. Far from a perfect movie, The Rookie nevertheless feels like an old friend or even baseball itself: sort of boring, sort of stately, yet possessed of an ineffable poetry in its peaks that speaks to the young heart of old men and their sons. The Rookie knows itself well enough to have two pivotal moments hinge on a father talking baseball with his boy, and end on the same. It's a new old movie in the best sense of the word, a vintage clunker that breaks down a lot, but man, is it sweet when it purrs. Originally published: March 29, 2002.
by Bill Chambers Disney's DVD presentation of The Rookie is one of the finest I've ever seen. Cinematographer John Schwartzman shoots films with a vibrancy rarely seen since the halcyon days of MGM musicals and CinemaScope epics; I'm not sure if the same old-fashioned Technicolor process he used for Pearl Harbor was applied to The Rookie, but it looks that way on DVD. The film's eye-popping 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD transfer is flawless to the naked eye but not so perfect as to appear inorganic--detail has not been overenhanced, nor is the saturation digitally aggressive. (A separate-purchase pan-and-scan version is also available.) What the accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 track lacks in intensity it makes up for in subtlety, with the light LFE whump that's married to Jim's fastballs, for example, sounding both authentic and cool.
The disc includes "The Inspirational Story" (21 mins.), an entertaining glimpse into the life of the real Jim Morris, who relives his first major league game for us right there on the Arlington ballpark pitcher's mound--a moment intercut with flashbacks to footage from the actual game, wherein we see that Jim once wore an unfortunate cop's moustache the moviemakers wisely disregarded. (Though we hear from most of the key players in Morris's life (as well as screenwriter Mike Rich), Morris's wife and father are conspicuously absent.) Director Hancock hosts a section of seven short deleted scenes, almost all of them ironically cut "for time," and he joins Quaid for a feature-length commentary in which the actor deflects any sort of praise from Hancock and slyly kids him when he gets pretentious. (Hancock has a lot to say.) Kids-oriented "Spring Training" tips from The Rookie's technical supervisor Mark Ellis on everything from pitching to outfielding plus "sneak peeks" for Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Lilo & Stitch, The Country Bears, The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause, Monsters, Inc., Beauty and the Beast: Special Edition, and Inspector Gadget 2 round out the DVD. Originally published: August 26, 2002.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
A straight port of the 2002 DVD, Disney's BD release of The Rookie is not quite a Con Air situation but it's a mild disappointment all the same. Check out the grille on the family vehicle at the beginning of chapter 2: it shimmers as if straddling two different video fields. An optimal rendering of a dated transfer, the 2.35:1, 1080p presentation clearly hails from an era when digital filtering and other noise-reduction techniques were the norm (especially at Buena Vista), and as such it looks soft and unnaturally grain-free throughout. There's also a bit of gate jitter and print dandruff. On the bright side, colouring continues to impress and contrast is spot-on; the image can actually be quite beautiful at times, just never beyond reproach. (I certainly wish I owned a pair of whatever magic goggles HIGH-DEF DIGEST's Kenneth S. Brown was wearing when he evaluated this and Con Air.) Conversely, the DD 5.1 audio (640 kbps) delivers the goods you expect from a HiDef upgrade with a soundfield that's so much more precise than before, I can only lament the limitations of my receiver, which deems inaccessible the theoretically superior 24-bit PCM uncompressed track. In addition to recycling the standard disc's bonus content, the platter contains assorted Blu-ray promos plus trailers for Sleeping Beauty, Wall-E, Enchanted, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets, all of which cue up on startup. For what it's worth, if I were grading the original DVD today, its A/V specs would rate much, much lower.
DVD - 127 minutes; PG-13; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, French Dolby Surround; English SDH, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Disney
BD - 127 minutes; PG-13; 2.35:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); English 5.1 LPCM, English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1; English SDH, Spanish subtitles; BD-50; Region-free; Disney