The Natural: 35th Anniversary Ultra HD Blu-ray Review

Ralph Potts reviews the Ultra HD debut of this wonderful and inspiring baseball fable — starring Robert Redford and Glenn Close — that is celebrating its 35th Anniversary.

The Review at a Glance:
(max score: 5 )

Film:

Extras:

Audio/UHD Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )

93

Details:

Studio and Year: Sony Pictures – 1984
MPAA Rating: PG/Unrated
Feature running time: 138/143 minutes
Genre: Drama

Disc Format: BD-66
Encoding: HEVC
Video Aspect: 1.85:1
Resolution: 2160p/24

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1, English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, DTS-HD Master Audio stereo
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Starring: Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Wilford Brimley, Kim Basinger, Richard Farnsworth, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Robert Prosky, Darin McGavin, Joe Don Baker
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Music by: Randy Newman
Written by: Roger Towne & Phil Dusenbury based on the novel by Bernard Malamud
Region Code: A,B,C

Release Date: June 4, 2019

“My Dad Wanted Me to be a Baseball Player”

Synopsis:

The Natural follows the epic journey of Roy Hobbs. A once-promising ballplayer on his way to stardom in the big leagues, Hobbs finds his dreams shattered when a mysterious woman and a silver bullet end his career prematurely. Sixteen years later, Hobbs, armed with his childhood bat “Wonderboy,” finds himself coming back to baseball, joining the roster of the lowly New York Knights. Can Hobbs overcome physical pain – and nefarious forces around him – to lead the Knights to the pennant?” – Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

My Take:

I reviewed The Natural when it released on Blu-ray in 2010 and have included comments from that review here. The rating for the film is the same. New ratings for the Ultra HD video and Dolby Atmos mix are contained below.

The Natural is an inspiring fable that begins when 14-year-old Roy Hobbs exhibits a natural talent for baseball that is cultivated by his father. When his father is tragically taken from him Roy fashions a powerful bat from an oak tree after it is split by lightning. In high school he impresses major league scouts with his ability, and after graduating is summoned to Chicago for a tryout with the Cubs. He leaves home and his childhood sweetheart Iris, with the promise to send for her but, a chance meeting with a mysterious woman shatters his dream. 16 years pass and an older Hobbs reappears as a rookie signed by The New York Knights. Overcoming physical pain and defying those who have a stake in seeing the Knights lose, Hobbs, with his boyhood bat, which he calls “Wonderboy”, get the chance to lead the Knights to the pennant and to finally fulfill his dream.

I love The Natural. I am ashamed to admit that I had no idea that it was based on the novel by Bernard Malamud. It has been a favorite of mine since I saw it in the theater when it was released in May of 1984. Being a baseball fan and, player, I was drawn to it. This isn’t a complex story but, it’s stemmed deep in references to the game both in events and some of its memorable characters. It speaks to the mythology of baseball and has a timeless appeal that can be shared from one generation to the next. It isn’t hard to become involved in its thematic fantasy thanks to the scope and enamor of its beautiful presentation as well as the depth of its meaty characters that as a whole complete the story.

Caleb Deschanel’s beautiful cinematography along with Randy’s Newman’s evocative and, memorable music, play an integral role in the film. This was the first film for Tri-Star Pictures and the filmmakers assembled a terrific cast. In support of star Robert Redford each of the primary supporting players makes an essential contribution that solidifies the legitimacy of their characters and, in turn, the genuine appeal of the story itself.

Large part or small with none noticeably standing out, it is easy to appreciate the film’s enriching performances, such as the cantankerousness of Wilford Brimley’s Pop Fisher, the ominous calm of Barbara Hershey’s Harriet Bird, the glib pretentiousness of Robert Duvall’s Max Mercy, or the sinister ruthlessness of Darrin McGavin’s Gus Sands (to name a few), that as a whole, come together to establish a strong thematic foundation.

For me The Natural has many moments that I find rewarding and memorable. I won’t name them all but, here are a few; the sequence where Roy breaks out of his slump in Chicago (where Iris stands up) by drilling a homer that shatters the clock (based on a real event by the way), the initial meeting between Roy and the Judge, the period style banter that goes back and forth between Max, Whammer, and Sam, and of course the showdown in the finale, the conclusion of which still gives me goose bumps.

The film ends differently than the book but, personally I think that its fairytale style ending is apropos. For me The Natural is a stirring and ageless film about larger than life heroes, redemption, and dreams that revolve around a sport that has touched the lives of many of us in one way or another. If we were to envision ourselves in a similar capacity what better way than to be fondly remembered by passersby as “…the greatest there ever was.”

Replay Value:

Parental Guide:

The rating is for brief violence and mild thematic material.

AUDIO/VIDEO – By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100/EXCELLENT = 83-91/GOOD = 74-82/AVERAGE = 65-73/BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**

UHD Presentation: 94
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • HDR: Dark Highlights: 
  • HDR: Bright Highlights: 
  • HDR: Expanded Color: 
  • Resolution: 
  • Visual Impact: 

Dolby Atmos Rating: 92
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • Level of immersion: 
  • Soundstage integration: 
  • Audio object placement: 
  • Effectiveness of Atmos platform: 
  • Entertainment factor: 

The Natural comes to Ultra HD Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment featuring 2160pHEVC encoded video and lossless Dolby Atmos/TrueHD 7.1 channel sound.

The Natural, the original Theatrical version and the Directors Cut, were fully restored from the original camera negative, supervised and approved by Director of Photography Caleb Deschanel and Director Barry Levinson. The Ultra HD rendering was minted from that process.

It’s important to note that the ultimate goal for any release on home video is to present a film in the highest possible quality based upon its original elements. The Natural has an aesthetic that incorporates film grain and the use of optics that won’t result in the type of high gloss, tack-like sharpness of a film shot using digital cameras. This isn’t a problem and shouldn’t be seen as such.

This is a period specific film that strives to recreate the look and feel of director Barry Levinson’s vision. Reminiscent of recent Ultra HD releases from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, this rendering represents faithful reproduction bumped to the next level. The Natural has never made for a commanding visual experience on home video but, that was always a given determined by Caleb Deschanel’s terrific cinematography and the elements necessary to convey the film’s tone.

I am happy to report that its primary foundation remains fully intact while revealing layers of seemingly new levels of detail, definition, color delineation, and emboldened contrast that elevate its thematic impact. The showdown between Roy and Whammer with its beautiful earth tones and subtle nuance convey the warmth of the suburban vistas. I was impressed with the sharpness and detail in the sequence where Roy and Iris become reacquainted in the drug store.

The subtle minutia visible in the period clothing and facial features among the members of the cast was striking. Grain remains perfectly intact, with an even and filmic essence that underscores the thematic content. The color range in the film is limited but the rendering of primary colors was gratifying and contrastingly vivid. I also found that fleshtones appeared gradational and quite natural, especially compared to the 1080p version.

The addition of high dynamic range added a pleasing visual element that enriched both natural and artificial light. The climactic finish to Roy’s stadium light crushing homer in the last act looked fantastic. I also felt that the purposefully dark/dreary sequences benefited from the application of HDR which emboldened their blacks and shadow delineation. In addition to the increase in resolution, this made the differences between the 1080p video and this rendering standout.

Hands down, this is the best The Natural has looked on home video. Kudos to Sony for giving this the treatment it deserves. Hopefully we can expect continued support of the Ultra HD releases from their extensive catalog.

Dolby Atmos:

In listening to the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, I was reminded of several recent catalog titles that I have reviewed which received new Dolby Atmos mixes. The Natural isn’t an action type film but, it already had a solid 5.1 channel surround mix, so I wondered what the application of object placed sounds would add. I was very pleased with how active the mix is. The use of overhead sound objects elevates proportional correlation. When compared to the original 5.1 track the Atmos mix offers a noticeable improvement by opening up the soundstage, elevating the perception of low-level detail and seemingly offering broader dynamic range.

The film is loaded with atmospherics, off screen cues and discrete sound effects that when applied using the freedom of object-based placement adds an enriching layer to the soundtrack. This is noticeable from the scene where lightning strikes and splits the oak tree, with noteworthy examples being found throughout. I also felt that the new track added another layer to low frequency effects providing improved depth that sounded terrific. The scene where Roy’s homer decimates the stadium clock sounds great but, the showstopper is during the finale, beginning with the clap of thunder followed by the exploding lights.

While the original lossless mix sounds very good, the Atmos mix adds a definable element that brings the listening experience up a notch or maybe even three.

For those not familiar with the details regarding Ultra HD Blu-ray you can refer to my article that includes some pertinent data on the subject. Here is the link:

Ultra HD Blu-ray Has Come to AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Bonus Features:

  • Disc 1: The Natural (Theatrical & Director’s Cut) Ultra HD Blu-ray
  • Disc 2: The Natural (Theatrical version) Blu-ray
  • Legacy Bonus Features
  • Digital Copy

Final Thoughts:

The Natural is a wonderful American sports film, based on the novel of the same name by Bernard Malamud, about a guy that never gives up on his dream of succeeding at the one thing he seemed destined to do, play professional baseball. It’s a fairytale style story that appeals to the imagination and, provides a rewarding level of escapism that makes it both memorable and fun.

It is a personal favorite that I enjoy revisiting from time to time and I am thrilled that it has been released in Ultra HD. It hits a home run in this fan friendly Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment that delivers beautifully restored Ultra HD video, a complimentary Dolby Atmos immersive sound mix, and legacy bonus content. Not to be missed this is a must have for fans and comes highly recommended. Enjoy!

 

Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Reference Review System:

JVC DLA-RS500 3D/4K Ready High Definition Front Projector
(Calibrated with Calman 5 & C6-HDR Meter from Spectracal)
Stewart Filmscreen – Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16×9 Screen
Carada Masquerade Electronic Horizontal Masking System
Marantz AV7704 Audio/Video Processor
Emotiva XPA-7 Gen 3 Seven Channel Amplifier
Emotiva XPA-11 Gen 3 Amplifier
Panasonic DP-UB820 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule Pro HD Universal Remote Control
Canton “Ergo” and Canton In-Ceiling Series Speakers
SVS Ultra Surrounds (Gloss Finish in Bipolar Configuration)
Dual SVS PC4000 Cylinder Subwoofers
Panamax M5400-PM Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, Better Cables (Silver Serpent) – Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
AC Infinity Aircom T8 Component Cooling Systems 

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