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A League Of Their Own
Special Edition

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 128 minutes

Starring: Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, Jon Lovitz, David Strahairn, Garry Marshall and Bill Pullman

Screenplay by: Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel
Based on a story by: Kim Wilson & Kelly Candaele

Directed by: Penny Marshall

 

Studio: Columbia Tristar

Retail Price: $24.96

Features:
Disc 1: Audio Commentary with Director Penny Marshall, Lori Petty, Megan Cavanaugh and Tracey Reiner
Disc 2: "Nine Memorable Innings" Documentary, Deleted Scenes with Introduction from Penny Marshall, Madonna "This Used To Be My Playground" Music Video, Filmographies, Theatrical Trailers

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Surround 4.0, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (28 Scenes), Two-Disc Set

Released: April 20th, 2004

 

 

"There's no crying in baseball!"

 

It's World War II, and with so many men out there fighting the war, who's going to play America's favorite national pastime? Under the guidance of candy bar magnate Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall), the All-American Girls Baseball League is formed from the sixty-four best woman ballplayers who come from all the corners of the United States. Even though many consider the idea of a professional girls baseball team a joke at first, soon major interest forms thanks to some strong publicity. And while things start to get serious, the most popular player, Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis), still takes the entire thing lightly as playing ball is just a way to pass the time until her husband (Bill Pullman) returns home from the war. But even though Dottie's attitude - and the rest of the Rockford Peaches team - inspire coach Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), a washed-up alcoholic former pro, Dottie's turbulant rivalry with her jealous sister (and teammate) Kit (Lori Petty) threatens to undermine some things.

Even though I've seen bits and pieces of "A League Of Their Own" on television over the years, the last time I actually saw the film in full was during its original theatrical release. I enjoyed it a lot then, and I was certainly quite eager to revisit it now. While I'm not sure if the film was as good as I remember it to be, there's no denying that it's still very entertaining and has held the test of time well (maybe because it's a period story and the overall lack of sports films in general?).

The screenplay is attributed to Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who are definitely one of the most commercially successful screenwriting duos out there (their list is pretty long, but I'm sure the films "Splash" and "City Slickers" rings some bells). The framework the two use for the movie works: the movie is mainly a more personal, character-oriented film that isn't as broad as you may think it is. Ultimately a bigger story is told through the eyes of these characters, that being the formation and impact of the All-American Girls Baseball League (which really did exist and ended up lasting for a little over a dedade).

I think the success of Mandel and Ganz is how they make their characters unique with original voices, and how they're actually developed throughout their films. "A League Of Their Own" is certainly a perfect film to witness the magic they create, as relationships and feelings the characters experience within the whole framework of the league and outside of it become rather complex. A good example is Dottie's loyalty to her husband and how she's pining for him to come home, all while getting to know Jimmy and there is clearly attraction and respect between them. The stumbling blocks and ordeals that must be faced are pitch-perfect (no pun intended). It comes across as realistic and organic.

The men's dialogue for the film is sharp, and they certainly create some memorable comic scenes that are natural and never tacky. Still this duo is really good: sure we all know that women can do anything a man can, and that we've all seen thousands of sibling rivalry stories before, but the movie makes all of those ordinary themes seem pretty fresh. On the rivalry theme, when it comes to Kit's jealousy of Dottie, there's no denying that it's pretty well-developed. It's traced early on in the film when they're regular Oregon farm girls, as Kit can't stand that more attention is paid to Dottie and she is better, but the film questions if the bonds between siblings can overcome all - especially when Dottie ends up giving her sister major opportunities. Also helping bridge a gap to a more grand design, we see a subtle reference to segregation and not-so-subtle references to female sexuality.

But there are some cracks within the film's story - Dugan's transformation from depressed apathetic to a more fit, nicer guy with a strong interest for the Peaches happens way too quickly if you ask me (and mainly highlighted with a montage) and the road to the World Series is pretty quick. Also, Dottie and Kit's fighting (which is a strong core of the film), could have been placed a bit more evenly. But that's okay, because even if these elements could have been more articulated, they're just detailed and believable enough to buy into them.

Credit for that must be given to Penny Marshall, one of the most popular and succesful woman directors out there (even if she's only directed seven films in about twenty years). But Marshall, like her brother Garry, is a very good director because she knows how to tell a story and give into what audiences want. Marshall balances all the film's elements in a flawless fashion: there's drama, there's comedy and there's certainly quite a bit of sentiment. But Marshall is careful not to overdo just one of these things, and as a result, there is a rather harmonious balance. Marshall also moves the film along at a great pace, and certainly doesn't make the film's most important lessons preachy. That, and working with production designer Bill Groom and costume designer Cynthia Flynt, she helps give the film a very authentic look (not to mention some lush cinematography from Miroslav Ondricek that certainly excels in the baseball playing scenes).

As a comedic actress herself, Marshall certainly must be complimented for getting rich performances out of her actors. Tom Hanks, who worked with Marshall on the mega-hit "Big," makes yet another memorable role. Even though much of Hanks in the 1990s was pure drama, and it seems he's getting back into his comedic roots currently with "Catch Me If You Can," "The Ladykillers" and "The Terminal," "A League Of Their Own" is another reminder in just how gifted a comedic actor Hanks is. He's loud, sluggish and certainly most fun when it calls for Dugan to be frustrated. Even though Hanks is billed first, his role is more toward supporting (he doesn't even show up until 30 minutes into the film). But no matter, as what makes this another solid Hanks performance is that he gives Dugan a softer side, as the character ultimately finds his own little peace.

Geena Davis is certainly the film's heart, giving Dottie a longingness for her husband and a certain serene misdemeanor. Davis also makes Dottie vulnerable, and one who grows and really comes to realize her true love of the game. Lori Petty is arguably annoying, but she's the kid sister and it's what the role calls for: someone who's competing for attention and growing into her own. Petty and Davis do have fine chemistry, and it's easy to believe that they could actually be sisters.

On the supporting side of things, David Strathairn does a fine job of being the league's biggest supporter and Garry Marshall gives another splendid side performance as Walter Harvey. Madonna actually isn't too bad as a fellow ballplayer, and neither is Rosie O'Donnell in one of her early roles and as Madonna's best friend. Both can be amusing (oh, the same goes for Bitty Schram). Bill Pullman ultimately doesn't make any impression because that's what his role calls for, still, it's quite clear that the underrated talents of Jon Lovitz steals the film. Even though Lovitz leaves the film early on, his sarcastic wit and deadpan humor truly make an impression. Personally, I think it's him who generates the most laughs in the film. It's too bad this little part didn't truly launch his movie career.

"A League Of Their Own" is certainly a fine baseball movie, but there's more to it than that as it offers a more intimate story set against the bigger war-time backdrop. The film also serves as a lovely tribute to to the actual All-American Girls Baseball League, something I'm not sure many people were aware of until the release of this film. But the film resonates and filled with a lot of fine touches. It may not steal every base, but as far as crowd-pleasing entertainment goes, it's definitely a home run.

 

The first disc features a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen on one side and a 1.33:1 full screen version on the other. The widescreen transfer is pretty good, but definitely not up to snuff with some current transfers. There are some edge halos to be had, as well as some noise and edge enhancement. Most annoying are the constant scratches, dirt pieces, specks and blemishes on the print - I figured the print would be a little bit cleaner. The transfer also seems a little soft at times, but it does have a sharpness and has a depth to the image. Colors are well saturated, detail is quite imeccable (the farms! the baseball fields!) and the fleshtones are spot on. The transfer is nice overall, but I was hoping it'd be a little bit better.

I briefly checked out the full screen version, and the overally image quality appears to be the same as the widescreen version - but I did notice a bit more noise on the transfer. That, and the annoyance of some of the wide shots being cropped. Blech. Like usual, stick with the widescreen... though there are plenty of you who won't.

 

What? No English 5.1 Dolby Digital remix? That's okay - the English 4.0 Dolby Surround track gets the job done. The lack of a full surround experience can be felt, but the movie does pack sound power in its baseball sequences when it comes to the action on the field and with the crowds. Also helping things out is the music - Hans Zimmer's excellent score helps liven things, and the swing dance portion that features Madonna. Other than the occasional surround, it's pretty much a front channel affair. Sound effects come in clear and easy and the dialogue is easy to hear. I was pretty impressed in how discrete the track is overall, and the rather high fidelity. 5.1 would have been better, but this is exceptional for what it is. A French Dolby Surround track is also included, plus English closed captioning and an English subtitle stream through the DVD.

 

The only extra on the first disc is the Audio Commentary with Director Penny Marshall, Lori Petty, Megan Cavanaugh and Tracey Reiner. Marshall leads the way on this track, and everybody else more or less chimes in here and there (it almost seems like the girls are afraid to talk). Marshall gives quite a few details and offers some interesting tidbits and stories (such as hiring a few foreigners - like Hans Zimmer - who knew nothing about baseball), but it's clear she's trying to remember some of the stuff as she goes along (but she does remember a lot and does a pretty great job with that). There are some fun moments on the track, but not as revealing as some may hope. Still, Marshall admits toward the end of the commentary that this was the last movie she's made that she's truly been happy with. I really liked hearing Marshall, but I wish the actresses participated more. I think the film's biggest fans will get the most out of this commentary.

Much better is the documentary Nine Memorable Innings on the second disc. Lasting around 53 minutes, the documentary is highlighted by new interviews with Marshall, Reiner, Petty, Cavanagh, Jon Lovitz, Garry Marshall, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Rosie O'Donnell and David Strathairn (and probably to keep viewers happy, old on-the-set footage of Tom Hanks and Madonna is thrown in for good measure). Even though the documentary is highlighted mainly by stills and the interviews, it's still incredibly entertaining and very well-made. Divided into eleven parts (there's a pre and post game too), the film's entire production is talked about as well as the movie's ultimate impact. We hear about Marshall's original interested in the All-American Girls Baseball League, how she almost got screwed over in directing the film, Ganz and Mandel's writing process, plenty stories from the set and a lot more. I think what I appreciated most about this documentary that there are some things Marshall glosses over in the commentary, and here those stories are covered in a lot more detail. The documentary kinda takes on a pro-feminism attitude (especially from Petty), but it seems like everybody had a good time of making the film and they're proud of it. And maybe best of all: the entire thing is in anamorphic widescreen.

Fifteen Deleted Scenes are presented (not anamorphic), all introduced by Penny Marshall. Marshall explains why there were cuts, and she's pretty funny in some of her intros too. The scenes end up totalling over a half-hour, and there is actually some good stuff here in my opinion - but if some of them were put in the film, it would probably hurt it overall (such as a pretty sweet scene between Dottie and Jimmy). But there is a lot of deleted material here worth watching (Jon Lovitz's Babe Ruth speech is pretty priceless), so if you liked the movie, gives these scenes a shot - they're a lot better than a 95% of the cut material that get placed on DVD. The quality of the scenes is decent, but nothing special - which makes sense, since the scenes were put back together using the original negative, a workprint and a VHS copy of a four-hour cut of the film (hey, why didn't they put THAT on the DVD?)

That's the bulk of things - the rest isn't too much. There are some Filmographies, the Music Video for Madonna's "This Used To Be My Playground" plus three Theatrical Trailers - one of which is for "A League Of Their Own."

 

One of DVD's earliest releases, I'm glad "A League Of Their Own" has finally gotten the special edition it rightfully deserves. The film's presentation is pretty nice, but the main draw are the new supplements. It may not seem like there's much on the two-disc set, but it's definitely quality over quantity. Even if you have the old DVD, it's definitely worth upgrading to this new edition.