The Rookie

The Rookie (2002)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Dennis Quaid, Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes

"The Rookie" is a film that arrived at theaters in 2002 directed by Texan director John Lee Hancock, who was also responsible for "The Alamo" in 2004. It is based on the true story of Jim Morris and his rise to the Major Leagues against seemingly impossible odds. It grossed around $76, 000, 000 in the United States, which is certainly respectable being that it is a G rated family film. Featuring Dennis Quaid in perhaps his finest role, the film is now available on Blu-ray to be discovered by a whole new audience (like myself) who have never seen the film. Well, if you haven't had a chance to see it yet, prepare to be impressed. "The Rookie" took me by complete surprise, not only because it is so well made and creatively shot, but because the Blu-ray version is simply outstanding and visually breathtaking.

Running at almost 2 hours and eight minutes, the film is epic in length. It tells the story of Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid) a husband and father of three young children living in a small Texas town called Big Lake, coaching a baseball team and teaching chemistry. His life seems ideal, and he is certainly a widely regarded and upstanding member of the community, but something is bothering him from the beginning. Twelve years before he was well on his way to a career in baseball as a pitcher, he made it all the way to the minor leagues when a shoulder injury seemed to end his baseball ambitions and he retired without ever achieving his lifelong vision. In flashbacks we see him as a child, his love affair with baseball knew no limits, to the disdain of his father Jim Morris Sr. (Brian Cox in another winning performance). His mother and father eventually separate, and his relationship with his dad remains strained into the future because of his constant lack of acceptance for his son's choice of baseball as a passion.

Coaching a baseball team known as the Owls is one thing that keeps Jim content these days. That and he has a very strong bond with his family and particularly his young son Hunter (Angus T. Jones), who follows him everywhere, including to the baseball practices. His wife Lorri (Rachel Griffiths) is very supporting of his career as a teacher, his baseball injury and its affect on him clearly had a negative impact on her. When he informs her he and the catcher on his team tried a few pitches for old times sake you can see the worry on her face. What he doesn't tell her is that the pitches themselves were extraordinarily fast and right on the mark, shocking the catcher and eventually baffling the entire team, who want him to try playing again after seeing first hand how gifted of a player he could be. It seems his talent has defied the odds and he has actually improved with age.

Jim grudgingly takes an offer from his team, if they win the championship he has to make a promise to try his hand at baseball again. He hesitantly yet cynically agrees and sure enough the team wins through the entire season. Now he will have to keep his end of the bargain, so he shows up at a scouting even. They look at him like he's crazy because of his age, but sure enough, he pitches at 98 miles per hour, shocking everyone and virtually insuring a place in the minor leagues and hopefully with the Orlando Devil Rays. This scene is a real triumph and though it should make him ecstatic, the reality of life in the minor leagues is a little more grueling than I realized. You have to leave your family behind and go on the road and earn only 600 dollars a month; all of these sacrifices for the unlikely chance that he will be chosen to play Major League Baseball at his age. The obstacles are phenomenal, and he is tortured especially when he finds out his wife doesn't really support his dream. Eventually she has a change of heart and he begins the difficult and lonely climb towards his seemingly unattainable goal of middle aged baseball player. It's a very well made film and the positive message underneath it all really hits home. It also has several chances to become overly sentimental, but Quaid's realistic portrayal and the excellent directing and writing keep it from spilling over into gushiness, so what we have is a very well made and beautiful looking film that is actually very effective and some of the cinematography is simply amazing. This is a great movie.

And Disney is obviously proud of this film, because the treatment it got on this Blu-ray is nothing short of a revelation. The 1080p 2.35:1 aspect ratio comes across brilliantly. The picture is about as sharp as I have seen, and I didn't notice any edge enhancement, and the colors are strikingly well represented. This new high definition version is demo material all the way around, with a clarity you will have to see to believe. Everything in the background is perfectly rendered and the whole film simply looks three dimensional, the black levels are dead on and I haven't seen a transfer that was this impressive in quite a while. The texture on the clothing and the pores on the actor's faces are all clearly defined, and when the baseball action is on you will notice the dust come up from the cleats and every pattern on the baseball field and the blades of grass come across excruciatingly clear. Every once in a while a film comes along and reminds you how amazing these new high definition transfers can really be, and how they can actually add a whole new dimension to the story itself. This disc is about as good as it gets image wise.

The audio is also very impressive, containing a 5.1 uncompressed track that brings all of the dialogue and soundtrack to life in a wonderful way. They play some really good Classic Rock and Country on the soundtrack and it sounds great. When we do get to the baseball stadiums that's when the surround action kicks in, this movie sounds very good and the dialogue is very clearly defined.

The special features are all in standard definition. First up we have an audio commentary by the director and Dennis Quaid which is pretty laid back but informative. Dennis Quaid recalls seeing the story on the news and thinking what a great film it would make, and the director is obviously proud of the film and goes out of his way to name all the bit players. Subdued but entertaining.

We also have two featurettes; the most interesting of them is a documentary that runs about twenty minutes called 'The Inspirational Story Of Jim Morris'. Although it's in standard definition it includes all of the real people whose lives are depicted in the movie, including Jim Morris himself. It also takes you to all the real locations and is generally just fascinating to watch after the film itself, which certainly provoked my curiosity. An excellent featurette, if not a bit brief.

'Spring Training: Baseball Tips From The Pros' runs about 8 minutes, it features baseball advice from Mark Robert Ellis, the baseball coordinator for the film. Filming baseball is difficult according to the commentary, I can see why.

We also have 7 'Deleted Scenes' each with an introduction by the director. Together they run around 18 minutes and are all very interesting, but they couldn't leave them in for pacing reasons. Although the director seems to have wanted to keep most of them in, I'm surprised this isn't a director's cut, not that it needs one.

And last but not least we have some high def sneak peeks for "Sleeping Beauty", "Wall.E", "Enchanted" and "National Treasure: Book Of Secrets".

"The Rookie" is a rare treat, a family film that appeals to young and old alike with a story that is uplifting and yet it doesn't lay too heavy on the cheese as so often films like these are prone to do. They don't make films like these much anymore. This Blu-ray version is not only the best it has ever looked, it is almost perfect, I was extremely impressed with the amount of work they put into this catalog title. "The Rookie" on Blu-ray is a big winner.