Movie - 2002, G, 128 minutes, Disney; IMDb entry
Genre - Drama
Cast - Dennis Quaid, Rachel Griffiths, Brian Cox, Beth Grant, Angus T. Jones, Jay Hernandez, Trevor Morgan
Director - John Lee Hancock
DVD - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French), subtitles - English, French, Spanish; single-sided, dual-layered disc; $29.99 SRP, Released 8/27/02

Movie - Based on the true story of Jim Morris, the oldest rookie in the history of Major League Baseball, The Rookie is an inoffensive drama that will please, even if it feels a bit uninspired. Considering that the film features a cast that lacks the usual star power Disney is able to attract, has a first-time director calling shots, and an unsatisfying screenplay, The Rookie fares quite alright. Dennis Quaid is capable in the leading role as the chemistry teacher turned professional pitcher. Physically convincing, Quaid is able to extract feeling for his role by underplaying. Although he lacks the spark of say, Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans, he does a fine job of carrying the film with his presence and somewhat withdrawn performance. The film doesn't pack many surprises, even if all you know is the bare concept of the true story. Even though it is based on reality, the liberties taken do make some of it seem even more implausible than it is. Nonetheless, the film, which is broken into two halves - Morris the coach and Morris the player - holds up well, despite these shortcomings and a generally underwhelming bunch of supporting performances. Look past the clichés and near-tired formulas, and you still have a pretty inspiring film, which could have been a lot better.

Video - Disney released The Rookie in both Widescreen and Pan & Scan versions. Be careful when looking to pick it up, the only way to tell which version you're getting is the back cover and the Widescreen spine; the front covers are identical, and many stores are foolishly getting mostly Fullscreen editions. Anyhow, this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is beautiful! This is about as clean and easy on the eyes as a live-action film has ever looked on DVD. The colors are full of life and accurately rendered, from the clay-palletted Texas exteriors to the beautiful blue of the sky when Morris is on the mound, this transfer is strikingly outstanding. The cinematography is one of the better qualities of the film, and each 2.35:1 screen is thoughtfully framed. (The pan-and-scan DVD effectively loses 45% of the image and destroys the visual beauty.) The 16 x 9 widescreen DVD is a treat for the eyes!

Audio - While the film might have benefitted from the inclusion of a DTS track, the Dolby Digital audio does just fine on its own, and the lack of DTS may very well be responsible for the video looking so good. While the fastball sound effect is overused, The Rookie does have a generally pleasing sound mix otherwise, and it is well-preserved on DVD. The score is never overdramatic or sappy, and the choice of music, if a bit uneven, is thoughtful and effective. Ambient sounds from the baseball games are nicely captured in the various speakers, and create a pleasing and engulfing audio environment.

Extras - While not as packed as the Remember the Titans DVD (which seems like the perfect movie and DVD to compare The Rookie to and not just because Disney's ads tout "from the studio that brought you" RTT), this DVD does have a nice bunch of extras. Unfortunately, it's missing the theatrical trailer and TV ads (every one of which featured the "Oh my God!" line), which is a disappointment. The trailer for the video release can be found on a variety of other recently-released Disney titles, but not even that is included.

But on to what IS included here, there is an audio commentary with star Dennis Quaid and director John Lee Hancock. Seven deleted scenes, presented in widescreen with editing and music, but not feature-quality, appear. Each of these scenes is accompanied by an introduction by Hancock, who explains why each scene was cut. These scenes are actually quite good, and most were cut simply because the film is already over two hours. Altogether, the scenes and Hancock intros run for about 15 minutes.

Then, there's a nice 20-minute featurette titled "The Inspirational Story of Jim Morris." The real Jim Morris appears and talks about his experience, even taking us to the mound of the Ballpark in Arlington where he first pitched in the majors. There's some footage of the real game, and interviews with producers, cast, Morris' family, and one of his former players. This featurette is excellent, and answers the questions you might have had about the real inspiration for the film. Finally, there is a series of hyper-edited "Spring Training" baseball tips for those interested in the sport. These are clearly designed for kids, and aren't too detailed ("Don't choke the bat!")or long, but they're sure to be interesting for those who are interested.

Sneak Peek trailers are included for Lilo & Stitch, Beauty and the Beast, B & B: Enchanted Christmas, The Country Bears (in widescreen, despite the fact the DVD will only be Fullscreen), Inspector Gadget 2, Monsters, Inc., and The Santa Clause 2 (the original teaser that ran in theaters in 2000, before filming was delayed to this year).

Closing Thoughts - Following the disappointing Fullscreen-only DVD releases of Snow Dogs and Max Keeble's Big Move, Disney hits a home run with the widescreen DVD of The Rookie. While the movie itself isn't on par with Remember the Titans or Cool Runnings, it is undoubtedly better than Snow Dogs and most of the other recent live-action efforts from the studio. With first-rate video and audio and a collection of extras, if you liked the film, do not hesitate to get it. I also recommend checking it out on DVD, if you missed the film in theaters last spring.

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