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Paramount Home Video presents
Major League: SE (1989)

"This isn't the California Penal League, Vaughn. We're professionals here."
- Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: April 13, 2007

Stars: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen
Other Stars: Margaret Whitton, James Gammon, Rene Russo, Wesley Snipes, Dennis Haysbert, Bob Uecker
Director: David S. Ward

MPAA Rating: R for (strong language and sexual content)
Run Time: 01h:46m:30s
Release Date: April 10, 2007
UPC: 097361207544
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-AA- A-

DVD Review

When it premiered in 1989, Major League batted .1000 with audiences, yet trailed the similar-themed Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and The Natural in the critics' standings. But like the mercurial team it chronicles, David S. Ward's half-goofy, half-inspired, yet totally winning comedy has become a big-time contender over the years, and now vies for first place among baseball aficionados. Whereas other movies shroud the sport in mythology, heavenly psychobabble, and nostalgic musical numbers, Major League, at its core, is a nuts-and-bolts baseball picture. Sure, it lovingly lampoons the game and tosses in some sweet romance, but the meat of the story transpires on the field. And by the time the nail-biting climax rolls around, we're hanging on every hanging curveball.

April always sees a flood of baseball video releases, and with the season now in full swing, Paramount at last unveils the special edition DVD for which Major League diehards have long been clamoring. Swathed in a slipcase covered with Astroturf, sporting a spanking new transfer, and packed with extras, the gimmicky "Wild Thing Edition" hits a homerun, and renders the original barebones disc blessedly obsolete.

Though the Cleveland Indians put together a string of successful seasons in the mid-1990s—and came within a whisker of winning the '97 World Series—the club was a perennial cellar-dweller when Major League commenced production in 1988. Back then, reaching the post-season was, at best, an impossible dream for The Tribe, and it's amid that atmosphere of utter hopelessness that Ward sets his Cinderella tale. Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), the materialistic, ex-showgirl widow of the Indians' owner, inherits the team, and plots to exercise a contract clause that will allow her to relocate it to Miami—where she's been promised a new stadium, Boca Raton mansion, and membership in a swanky country club—if attendance falls below 800,000 for the year. To meet that end, Rachel guts the previous season's squad, and populates the new Indians with a motley bunch of "has-beens and never-will-bes" specially plucked from oblivion so the team will finish no better than "dead last."

The dismal but spirited group includes over-the-hill catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), who's plagued by bad knees, a weak throw to second, and an unrequited desire for former flame Lynn Wells (Rene Russo in her film debut); near-sighted pitching phenom Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), an ex-con with a blistering fastball and no control; third baseman Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen), a cocky playboy more concerned with managing his financial portfolio than fielding grounders; Cuban outfielder Pedro Cerrano (a pre-24 Dennis Haysbert), who practices voodoo to help his beloved bat hit curveballs; and fleet-footed walk-on Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes), a smooth-talking base-stealer who can't get on base. Add a gravelly-voiced, minor league manager (James Gammon) who sells tires in the off-season, and you've got a team with less potential than the Bad News Bears. Yet when the players learn of Rachel's nefarious scheme, they band together and try to spite her by winning the whole shebang.

For all the loyal, long-suffering fans out there who've ever fantasized about that elusive magical season, Major League is your film. Ward freely admits that writing the screenplay was a form of personal wish fulfillment; he couldn't fathom the Indians ever chasing a pennant in real life, so he created a fictional scenario that would put his beloved team in the thick of the hunt. And what a hysterical hunt it is! Watching these lovable losers transform themselves into winners—and endure all the morale-busting crap their vindictive owner throws their way—is what makes Major League such a hoot. Ward knows and appreciates the game, yet relishes skewering it, and targets everything from outlandish superstitions, groupies, and dugout politics to locker room pranks, oversized egos, and the mechanics and quirks of baseball itself. Though much of the comedy is broad, Ward balances it with plenty of deft subtleties and a host of misfit characters who exude such vibrancy and warmth, we're rooting for them from the opening frames.

All the actors appear to be having a ball, and it's great to see Snipes, Russo, and Haysbert (who's almost unrecognizable) when they were screen rookies. Berenger's laid-back manner suits his irresponsible character well, and though Bernsen can't seem to shake the slick shyster he played on L.A. Law, he brings the right mix of charisma and crudeness to Dorn. Whitton channels Bette Midler as the conniving bitch whose plan backfires, but it's Sheen who steals the film as the bespectacled, dim-witted, but oh-so-cool Vaughn, who can't rein in his fastball, temper, or libido. Many of Sheen's expressions and reactions are priceless, and the seeds of his current sitcom success were most definitely sown on the Major League set.

Ward finds the humor in almost every situation (and little of it feels forced), and jam-packs his expletive-laced script with memorable zingers that remain fresh and funny over the course of repeat viewings. As a director, however, he's strictly bush league—except when he tackles the climactic playoff contest, during which he generates such electricity and tension, and so completely immerses us in the on-field action, we feel like we're sitting in the stands at a real game. Making baseball look believable on film is no easy task, especially when movie stars are involved, but Ward somehow pulls it off, crafting arguably the most authentic game sequences in Hollywood history. The folks at ESPN could do no better, and their play-by-play announcers can't match the colorful, tell-it-like-it-is style of Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker), whose hilariously blunt commentary on the Indians' pathetic misadventures is one of the film's many highlights.

Major League may lack the weight of most baseball films, but it's more fun than almost all of them put together. It's got laughs to spare, but also plenty of spirit, heart, and thrills. And in the end, that's what our national pastime is all about.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The transfer on the previous Major League DVD was certainly adequate, but Paramount kicks up the clarity a notch for this special edition, and achieves stunning results. The image now looks as crisp as the players' freshly pressed uniforms, with beautifully saturated color adding extra lushness to the baseball field's green grass, and welcome pop to the red accents on the Indians' jerseys. Whites are brighter and more intense, and blacks remain solid and inky throughout. Though fleshtones look a shade off, contrast is excellent, and far less debris dots the print this time around. The transfer may not rival ESPN-HD, but it comes close.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrenchyes
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 audio seems identical to the track included on the original disc, but that's not a bad thing. The sound is clear and vibrant, and though most of it remains anchored up front, the surrounds engage during the game sequences. The roar of the crowd envelops nicely, immersing us in the raucous stadium atmosphere, while subtle details like the crack of the bat and cleats in the dirt are distinct, even when the track is quite active. Dialogue is always easy to understand, and James Newton Howard's score enjoys fine presence without overwhelming the action.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Tommy Boy (Holy Schnike Edition), Airplane (Don't Call Me Shirley Edition), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (Bueller... Bueller... Edition)
1 Alternate Endings
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer-director David S. Ward and producer Chris Chesser
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 53m:03s

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
Extras Review: Fans of Major League have griped for years about the dearth of extras on the film's previous DVD edition, but Paramount finally rights that glaring wrong by providing a fine spate of supplements here. Leading off is a relaxed, informative, but not particularly insightful audio commentary by writer-director David S. Ward and producer Chris Chesser. Like two season ticket holders hanging out in a luxury box, the guys sip margaritas while reminiscing about their experiences making the flick. Both share several interesting bits of trivia, evaluate the athletic ability and baseball prowess of the various actors, and marvel at the enthusiasm of the stadium extras. In addition, Ward recalls the nervousness of neophytes Russo and Haysbert in their early scenes, regrets the rampant cursing in the script, and notes that the few scenes featuring a young Jeremy Piven as a bench-warmer all ended up on the cutting room floor. Just like the film itself, this breezy track flies by, and fans will surely appreciate all the behind-the-scenes info.

The 23-minute documentary, My Kinda Team: Making Major League, is an absorbing production chronicle that combines on-set footage, vintage interviews, and clips from the film with contemporary chats with Berenger, Bernsen, Sheen, Haysbert, and Uecker. We learn about the baseball boot camp the actors attended, the injuries they suffered, and their ball-playing skill level, as well as changes made to the script during shooting. Equally entertaining, A Major League Look at Major League runs 14 minutes, and allows a select group of present-day Indians and the team's two broadcasters to evaluate how the film's characters measure up to real-life players. Aaron Boone, Grady Sizemore, and others discuss the various idiosyncrasies that define Taylor, Vaughn, Dorn, and the rest of the fictional squad, and reflect on their own personal connection to the movie. One minor league pitcher even confesses to watching Major League prior to each of his starts, as part of his pre-game routine.

In Bob Uecker: Just a Bit Outside, the beloved announcer reminisces about his very mediocre big league career, and admits much of his movie shtick stemmed from his actual play-by-play broadcasts with the Milwaukee Brewers. Several deleted and extended scenes prove Uecker had much more funny stuff up his sleeves, and testimonials from current Indians players and staff show how his quips and harangues endure.

Next up, producer Chesser returns to introduce an intriguing but well abandoned alternate ending, in which we discover Rachel Phelps isn't the nasty witch she appears to be. Apparently, the twist didn't test well with preview audiences, and it's easy to see why. A Tour of Cerrano's Locker runs 94 seconds, and gives Haysbert (who slips in and out of his Cuban accent) a chance to introduce us to the famous voodoo god, Jobu, but there's little else of interest in this lame piece of filler from 1989. Finally, a substantive photo gallery culls 120 color images from various stages of the film, including several from deleted scenes.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Wild Thing, you make my heart sing. And so does this Major League special edition from Paramount. At last, this riotous romp gets the DVD treatment it deserves, allowing fans to revel in all the revelry—on and off the diamond—as they cheer on a crew of lovable diamonds in the rough. With an upgraded transfer and solid extras, double-dipping is mandatory for baseball and film fans alike. Highly recommended.

 


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