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Monday, April 07, 2014

Field Of Dreams

By all accounts, every single person in the world has their own idea of what year had the best films.  And, certainly, I have mine.

And certainly there have been some years that have been better than others.

I mean, just throwing out the year 1939 for example, that year brought us "Gone With The Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz", and it was the year in which colour began being added to motion pictures.  Certainly a wonderful year, and I loved both movies...but it's not my favourite.

Or, how about 1954?  That was a year in which we dreamed of a "White Christmas", spent some time "On The Waterfront", and cheered Judy Garland on in "A Star is Born".  Certainly another great year of film...but again, not my favourite.

I have a bit of a soft spot for 1985.  Admittedly, it was the year in which the first movie that I ever watched at a movie theatre (which was "The Care Bears Movie") was made.  But it also had some really classic films made, like "The Breakfast Club", "St. Elmo's Fire", "Back to the Future", and "The Goonies".  And, '85 is probably right up there in my Top 10 years. 

But you know what my favourite year for film was?

It happens to be
1989.  And, 1989 was a year in which almost all of my all-time favourite films were made.  Even sequels that were made in 1989 seemed quite good. 

(Of course, back in '89, only a select few sequels were made.  It wasn't like...oh...2013 in which practically EVERY film was a sequel.)

So, what were the top twenty films of 1989?  Let's have a look and see...


Certainly all wonderful films...well, at least the eighteen that I have seen.  As of this writing, I still have not yet seen "Black Rain" or "The Abyss".  And, I'm kind of shocked that "All Dogs Go To Heaven" didn't even make the Top 20.  I loved that movie!

Of course, you might be wondering why I have highlighted number nineteen on the list.  There's a reason for that.

It happens to be the film that I've decided to talk about for this edition of the Monday Matinee.  After all, spring is here, and baseball season is just starting up for another year.  What better time to talk about a baseball movie, right?

Certainly, this isn't the first time that Kevin Costner has filmed a baseball movie.  This one was filmed in between 1988's "Bull Durham" and 1999's "For The Love of the Game".  But I think "Field of Dreams" is probably the best of the three.  It's got a great story, a great cast (which we'll talk about a little bit later in this blog), and a great catchphrase.

"...if you build it, he will come..."

Sends chills down your spine, doesn't it?

The movie was released in the spring of 1989, directed by Phil Alden Robinson, and its screenplay was also written by Robinson, which itself was inspired by W.P. Kinsella's novel "Shoeless Joe", which was first printed in 1982.

The film itself made $84 million on a budget of $15 million, and was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  Unfortunately, it lost to "Driving Miss Daisy".  In the long run though, it's still a really decent film.

The film begins at the Kinsella family farm in the Midwestern United States.  The farm's primary source of income is the corn field that is located nearby.  And, for the time being, the patriarch of the Kinsella family, Ray (Costner) is content with living this way, along with his wife Annie (Amy Madigan), and daughter Karin (Gaby Hoffmann).  

But one fateful day, Ray hears a strange voice calling out to him while walking through the corn field.  The voice keeps saying "if you build it, they will come".  And, at first, Ray is confused over what the message means, but when he sees an image of a baseball diamond, he now knows what he must do. 

He comes up with the seemingly impulsive solution to bulldoze a section of his corn field to build a baseball diamond in the middle of it.  Seems like a plan that was well thought out, doesn't it?  Taking your main source of income and destroying half of it to build something that you were told by an unknown source.

Naturally, Ray's wife is not impressed by his plan, and shows much skepticism as he is digging up his corn field.  Unfortunately, when the crops are all dug up, nothing happens, and predictably, the Kinsella family face losing everything they own.  Boy, did Ray screw up good.

But wait!  Did he?  The littlest member of the Kinsella family sees something in the distance where the field now sits.  Karin mentions to her parents that she saw a man standing in the middle of the field, and it turns out that the man was the ghost of disgraced baseball player "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta).  As luck would have it, Shoeless Joe was the favourite baseball player of Ray's deceased father, and the reason why Shoeless Joe was disgraced was because he was one of eight players who was banned from playing baseball following the Black Sox scandal of the 1919 World Series (which you can read about HERE as I did a blog entry on that subject earlier in this blog's history).

And, the ghost of baseball past is so thrilled to be back on a baseball field that he goes back into the field to bring back the other seven baseball players who were banned from the game back in 1919.

Interestingly enough, Ray is one of the only people who can see Shoeless Joe and his team.  Nobody else can, especially Ray's brother-in-law Mark (Timothy Busfield), who urges Ray to replant his crops before his entire family goes bankrupt.  I guess it goes without saying that Ray and Mark don't exactly get along with each other very well.

Still, Ray refuses to listen to Mark, and goes ahead with completing the baseball diamond, while hearing another voice calling out to him, saying that he needs to "ease his pain".

The beginning of this new quest takes place at a PTA meeting at Karin's school, where the subject of book banning is in full swing.  Turns out that the school wants to ban the books that were written by town recluse Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), and Ray puts two and two together and realizes that the pain that Ray is supposed to ease is that of Terence's.  Turns out that after a bit of research, he discovers that Terence had the dream of one day playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team.  However, with the team relocating to Los Angeles, that dream never came true.  And Ray believes that this dream is the reason why he has become such a recluse.

As Ray progresses with his quest - in which he has absolutely no idea who or why he is doing this in the first place - he finds out the answers to a lot of questions.  Why does he go to see a baseball game in Fenway Park?  Who exactly is Archibald "Moonlight" Graham (Burt Lancaster)?  How does Ray end up doing a time warp all the way back to the 1970s?  And, just who is behind Ray's decision to turn his corn field into a baseball park?

Well, of course, I never reveal movie endings.  You just have to watch it for yourselves.  And, please.  Do watch this film.  I think it's one of Kevin Costner's best films.

(Of course, given that he was responsible for "Waterworld"...that could be a stretch.)

So, what else would you like to know about "Field of Dreams"?  Well, here's some behind the scenes facts for you.

1 - Kevin Costner really wanted to do this film, but because of his commitment to the film "Revenge", there was only a three month window in which Costner was available for filming.  Despite a few weather related delays in filming, Costner left the film site in just enough time to honour his other film commitment.

2 - The original title of the film was "Shoeless Joe".  It was changed after test audiences reacted negatively to the title.

3 - This was the film debut of Gaby Hoffmann.  She was just six years old when the movie was filming.

4 - That scene in which Ray Liotta knocks over the bag of baseballs with a line drive?  Completely improvised and was a lucky shot!

5 - Burt Lancaster actually had Timothy Busfield fetch him water and chairs not realizing that Busfield was part of the cast until after they filmed a scene together!

6 - Look closely at the crowd in the scenes filmed in Fenway Park.  If you look closely, you might be able to recognize two of them as Ben Affleck and Matt Damon!

7 - Tom Hanks was originally offered the role of Ray Kinsella, but turned it down.  Just as well...he was already committed to both "The Burbs" and "Turner and Hooch" in 1989.

8 - The grass for the baseball field was kept green by artificial means.  It was hand painted by the crew.

9 - The baseball diamond was built on a real farmer's field in Dyersville, Iowa, and the family who owned the farm liked it so much that they decided to keep it!

10 - Believe it or not, W.P. Kinsella wrote a review of this movie for a Canadian periodical!  He gave it a great review, but only rated it four out of five stars, citing mostly casting blunders.  He claimed that Gaby Hoffmann didn't look like the child of Kevin Costner and Amy Madigan, and he also felt that Timothy Busfield's character of Mark should have been a lot more evil!

11 - Would you like to know who provided the voice that Ray kept hearing throughout the movie?  Well, it was Ray Liotta himself...perhaps foreshadowing the major role he would play in the film.

12 - Interesting fact about the corn field scenes.  When filming began in May 1988, the entire state of Iowa was in a drought, and extra water had to be given to the corn crops in order for them to grow tall enough to reach Kevin Costner's height (which is just over six feet tall).  Problem was that the crew added a little too much water, and the corn quickly surpassed Costner's height to the point where Costner had to walk on an elevated platform to get a couple of key shots!

13 - Did you know that Reba McEntire actually auditioned for the role of Annie Kinsella?  That might have been quite interesting to see.  If she was cast, perhaps she could have even contributed a song to the soundtrack!

14 - While director Phil Alden Robinson lamented the fact that he never used any African-American actors to play any of the baseball players, it turned out that his decision not to do so was historically accurate.  After all, there were no African-American ball players playing in the Major Leagues until Jackie Robinson broke the colour barriers in 1947.

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