Released originally in the busy spring of 1989 Major League stood out as a classic sports comedy film. Performing well at the box office it spawned a less successful sequel but the original is still considered one of the best baseball movies made.
Featuring an all-star cast Major League is a story about underdogs and what spirit can accomplish if you want something bad enough. The story begins with the wife, Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), of the newly deceased Cleveland Indians owner taking over running the struggling team. Her goal is not to rebuild and become stronger but instead to make a team that will place last giving her an option to move the franchise to Miami.
She proceeds to make a list of has-beens, never-beens and unknowns (‘this guy is dead’ is a classic quote from the movie). The major faces in the movie are all damaged players; Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) is a format great catcher with bad knees and many regrets. Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) is an ex-convict with a blistering fastball but no control. Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) is a highly paid under-achieving player that refuses to commit to the team. Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) is a power hitter whose voodoo background cannot help him hit breaking balls. Willie Mays-Hayes (Wesley Snipes) sneaks into spring training and has talent but is extremely raw. Finally the manager Lou Brown (James Gammon) has never proved he can coach a winning baseball team.
The season starts of just as Phelps wanted with the Indians losing nearly every game and the city losing faith in them. Unbelievably the team actually starts to pull together and win some games. Frustrated Phelps decides to demoralize the team and takes away all their luxuries and perks. While frustrating this does not have the effect she desired, instead the team discovers her tactics and becomes more determined then ever to win.
The movie is the classic story of the underdog heroes but it is done in such an effortless, fun, and realistic way that you cannot help but cheer along. As the players develop we see Vaughn learn to swallow his pride in order to become a better player. Dorn learns that he cannot let the team down; Hayes learns his trade and plays to his strengths. The on-field leader of the team, Taylor, tries to recover a lost love, Lynn Wells (Renne Russo) while attempting to have one last great year.
The cast is really perfect in this film, as is the progression from reviled team to hometown heroes. All of this progression is perfectly captured by Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker) who delivers the performance of his life as the initially dispirited Indians sportscaster. He has a number of classic lines that play as well today as they did 20 years ago. My personal favorite occurs during an early game as Vaughn pitches a fastball a few feet from the batter, Doyle's call ‘That one was just a bit outside’ made me laugh again and again.
For some reason I remembered this film as one filled with slapstick and potty humor, I now realize I mistook it from any number of other baseball films. This movie is a great sports comedy, in fact I would say it is one of the best out there and it is great to see it on Blu-ray.
Presented in 1080p with a 1.85:1 aspect ration Major League looks good. It looks better then I thought considering it is a 20-year-old film made on a relatively small budget. It is certainly not a reference title as the film has a soft look that is very noticeable at times and black levels are very spotty. Film grain is present and there is some film damage that creeps up from time to time.
Having said that there are some good things about the transfer, in particular the color depth is quite solid. The movie is mostly shot during the day on bright fields with teams wearing uniforms with splashes of color. Thankfully the colors are very distinct, the grass is vibrant and sharp looking, and the key uniform colors stand out nicely. Flesh tone is well represented and by and large the overall image is sharp.
The audio mix is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and is serviceable for the film at hand. Generally all audio is presented out of the front speakers but during games the surround mix is used effectively if muted. This is not an action film so there is very little use of the subwoofer, which is fine in context of this movie.
Dialogue is very clear and distinguishable which is really important in this film. Uecker’s play-by-play is always entertaining and comes through loud and clear at all times. While this mix has no fancy, stand-out moments it is capable and serves its purpose.
While there are some good extras on this disc, they are all from the SD Wild Thing release from a few years ago. It would have been nice to see some Blu-ray specific extras, but what is on here is good stuff. While it does not break any new boundaries the extras are entertaining and worth a view.
- Commentary by writer/director David S. Ward and producer Chris Chesser – This track is not terribly exciting but it is really interesting. The pair discuss the Indians, locations, shooting details, and how the actors handled themselves. Well worth a listen if you really love the movie or baseball in general.
- My Kinda Team – A series of interviews with cast and crew discussing the film. Yes, this is the typical Access Hollywood-style feature, but while light, it is entertaining.
- A Major League Look at Major League – This one is great for the sports enthusiast. This featurette has conversations with major and minor league players like Paul Byrd, Aaron Boone, Jason Michaels, Jensen Lewis, and Grady Sizemore, who played (or play) with the Indians, as well as Indians sportscasters Tom Hamilton and Rick Manning.
- Bob Uecker: Just a Bit Outside – All the participants from the previous feature as well as Bob Uecker and some of the cast and crew discuss Uecker’s career and great performance in this film.
- Alternate Ending with Filmmaker Introduction – A rather bad alternate ending that deserved to be cut appears with commentary.
- A Tour of Cerrano’s Locker – Short promo piece looking at all the voodoo items in Cerrano’s locker.
- Photo Gallery
The Final Word
Major League is truly one of the best sports comedies out there. The great cast, inspiring story and great true to life baseball action makes this a must own for fans of the genre. It is a shame that the presentation is simply average, but the quality of the movie mostly makes up for the vanilla treatment on Blu-ray.