Blu-ray Review: ‘The Sandlot’ Still Charms, But Rerelease Disappoints

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CHICAGO – 1993 will be nostalgically remembered by many members of my generation as the summer of “Jurassic Park” and the spring of “The Sandlot.” If you were a movie-loving kid during this year, it’s highly likely both of these films occupied a corner of your imagination. I clearly remember how the junkyard dog, dubbed by neighborhood pals in “The Sandlot” as “the Beast,” seemed as terrifying as any T-Rex.

Since I was seven years old in 1993, my parents wouldn’t allow me to be traumatized by Spielberg’s monster movie (I later saw it on VHS during a snow day, and was absolutely spellbound). But I did see “The Sandlot,” and prided myself on being able to handle the gleefully scary scenes where a group of boys attempts to snatch a prized baseball from the jaws of the Beast. Viewed 20 years later, I now see why it was so effortless for me to brave the Beast, since it consists of deliberately cheesy special effects designed to illustrate the naïve and heightened imagination of a child. Blu-ray Rating: 3.0/5.0
Blu-ray Rating: 3.0/5.0

This was the setpiece in David M. Evans’ family crowd-pleaser that stuck with me, but during my recent viewing of the film, I found it to be rather tedious, particularly since the shrieking kid actors seem to be about a breath away from breaking into laughter. It’s also the picture’s most fantastical sequence, with the kids rigging the sort of elaborate contraptions that would make Kevin McCallister’s jaw drop. I also became acutely aware of the film’s glaringly derivative plot structure, which borrows a good deal from Rob Reiner’s far edgier 1986 gem, “Stand by Me,” though not quite as much as “Now and Then” did, switching the gender of the young ensemble but little else. The cool kid played by Mike Vitar who compassionately reaches out to a sensitive soul (Tom Guiry) is no less unreal than a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and registers as a pale shadow of River Phoenix’s wizened misfit in Reiner’s film. Vitar appears to be so much more sophisticated than the rest of his cartoonish peers that it’s hard to buy him getting worked up over a dog. Worst of all is the syrupy yet flat narration by Guiry’s adult self, which lacks the wit and poignance that Richard Dreyfuss’s voice-over brought to “Stand by Me.” The misadventures of this ragtag group of baseball-obsessed friends seems to be inspired less by real life and more by familiar tropes of Americana circa 1962. The subplot focusing on a geeky’s kid’s pursuit of a sexy lifeguard is nothing more than amber-hued wish fulfillment as queasily artificial as it is uninspired.

The Sandlot was released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 26th, 2013.
The Sandlot was released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 26th, 2013.
Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

And yet, “The Sandlot” still managed to plant a smile on my face. Why? Because there’s a genuine sweetness beneath all the slapstick-laden hokum, and a good portion of it is generated by Guiry’s tender, at times achingly vulnerable performance. Though a bully does lurk on the periphery of the pint-sized heroes’ prized sandlot, his presence doesn’t result in a big climactic showdown. Instead of concerning itself with a hackneyed win-or-lose battle, Evans’s film focuses on the growth of its characters during a pivotal summer of discovery. As Guiry’s mom, Karen Allen has a wonderful scene early on when she urges her son to “get in trouble,” if only to experience life as it’s meant to be lived as a child. James Earl Jones is also a perfect choice to play the kids’ Boo Radley-esque neighbor, considering how he delivered one of the greatest sports monologues in film history in another baseball movie (“Field of Dreams”) a few years prior. Evans’s film won’t earn any prizes for originality, but it will still delight new generations of filmgoers, and perhaps even give their parents—during the inevitable yet undeniably effective denouement—a lump in their throats.

“The Sandlot” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English, French and Spanish audio tracks, and is available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Though the restoration brings added clarity to each scene, it actually makes the Beast appear less fearsome. What’s worse is the complete lack of new extras, since a cast retrospective would’ve been a huge attraction for fans. Instead, there’s a worthless archival featurette and trailers, though the disc is accompanied by collectible baseball cards, each displaying a member of the team and, yes, there is one reserved for the Beast.

‘The Sandlot’ is released by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and stars Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Patrick Renna, Chauncey Leopardi, Marty York, Brandon Quintin Adams, Grant Gelt, Shane Obedzinski, Victor DiMattia, Denis Leary, Karen Allen, Marley Shelton and James Earl Jones. It was written by David M. Evans and Robert Gunter and directed by David M. Evans. It was released on March 26th, 2013. It is rated PG. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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