Nothing shows you how much time has passed more than when you wake up one morning and see that one of your favorite movies is celebrating its 30-year anniversary! Yep, Field of Dreams turns 30 this year, and as a gift to fans, Universal Pictures has given the movie the full 4K HDR restoration makeover. While disc purchasers will have to wait until May 14 to grab a copy, Kaleidescape owners are able to download and enjoy the film more than a month ahead of time.
Field is one of my favorite films, and I’ve seen it multiple times over the years, though I actually missed it during its theatrical release. Perhaps the trailer didn’t catch my 19-year-old attention, or maybe it had a limited initial run,. But I can remember watching for the first time on a rented VHS tape at a friend’s house and absolutely loving it. I bought the DVD when it was released, but that transfer was never terrific looking, featuring a lot of noise and soft images.
It’s tough to think any movie lover wouldn’t be familiar with the plot at this point, but I’ll keep it spoiler-free just in case. Baseball-loving Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner, starring in his second consecutive baseball film following Bull Durham) marries college sweetheart, Annie (Amy Madigan), and they move to Iowa where they buy a farm. One day while in the cornfields, Ray hears a mysterious voice. “If you build it, he will come…” Build what? And who will come? After the voice won’t go away, Ray has an epiphany one evening: The voice wants him to plow under most of his cornfield and turn into a baseball diamond where players from the notorious Chicago Black Sox (who threw the 1919 Series) will return to play ball. (My wife was quick to point out how surprisingly supportive Annie was of this seemingly insane idea.) The voice continues delivering cryptic
messages, sending Ray off on a quest to right some past wrongs and meet a group of interesting characters including Shoeless Joe Jackson (an incredibly young-looking Ray Liotta), Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones), and Dr. Graham (Burt Lancaster).
Field is considered one of the best sports films ever made, and was nominated for three Oscars including Best Picture, Best Writing (adapted screenplay), and Best Original Score. In a time when most movies rely on special effects,
explosions, elaborate schemes, and confusing plot twists, Field of Dreams is an entirely story and character-driven film with virtually no effects or gimmicks. The movie works because it keeps you genuinely interested, has you caring for the characters, and has so much heart that the ending leaves me teary-eyed every time.
As bad as my DVD version looked, I hadn’t been in a real hurry to revisit the movie, so this was not only an opportunity to see one of my favorites, but also the perfect opportunity to share it with my 12-year-old daughter for the first time. Not a sports fan at all, I was hoping she’d be caught up in the story, and she was. (She also now understands why it means a lot to me when I ask her to go and have a catch.)
While the new 4K HDR transfer isn’t perfect, I dare say this is the best that Field will ever look. The film has many outdoor scenes, which often exhibit wonderful detail and sharpness. Fortunately, they didn’t take too heavy a hand on the cleanup, leaving enough grain to let you know this is inherently from 35 mm stock. The detail is some scenes is fantastic, such as being able to see the wooly texture in Shoeless Joe’s cap, or the blades of grass and dirt on the baseball diamond, or the clear detail in the rows of corn. As a comparison, I checked a couple of scenes from the DVD, and they were all soft, grain-filled mush. While the HDR pass was pretty light, there are some nighttime scenes in Boston that benefit, as do some of the night ball games. Equally important, black levels are deep and clean throughout. I also noticed that the reds in some scenes were very saturated, likely pushing the color boundaries from previous releases.
As I said, the transfer isn’t perfect, and there is still some excessive noise and grain in some of the dusky, twilight sky scenes, when the sky hits a faded, powder blue/grey color that reveals a lot of noise, likely from the original film stock. Also, there were a couple of scenes where faces looked a bit too red.
Not much has changed on the audio front from the Blu-ray release 10 years ago, as we still get a 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master mix. (The 4K disc will include a new DTS:X immersive audio mix, that hopefully will find its way to Kaleidescape at some point, NBCUniversal willing.) Even so, I found the dialogue to be very well recorded, important for a film that is entirely story-driven, and James Horner’s score shines through nicely. I did notice that my Dolby Atmos upmixer did a nice job lifting the Voice up into the ceiling speakers, creating a nice, other-worldly effect that worked well.
I can’t recommend this movie enough, whether you’ve seen it or not. Field of Dreams is a timeless classic that is suitable to share with family member of all ages, but it especially translates well to watching with your dad or your kids. And at $15.99 from Kaleidescape, it should be a part of everyone’s collection.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.