#227) Field of Dreams (1989)
OR “Eight Men In”
Directed & Written by Phil Alden Robinson. Based on the novel “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella.
Class of 2017
The Plot: Native New Yorker Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) lives on a farm in Iowa with his wife Annie (Amy Madigan) and their daughter Karin (Gaby Hoffmann). He’s an avid baseball fan who never made peace with his late father John (Dwier Brown). One day in the cornfield Ray hears a mysterious voice telling him “if you build it, he will come”. He decides the “it” is a baseball diamond, and the “he” is the ghost of disgraced White Sox player “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta). Soon the ghosts of Jackson’s teammates come to the field, but the voice keeps giving Ray more instructions. After encounters with reclusive author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) and former Major League-hopeful “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster), Ray learns the true reason why he had to build the field…of dreams.
Why It Matters: Too lazy to come up with their own justification, the NFR cribs from Leonard Maltin, who says “Field of Dreams” is “in the tradition of the best Hollywood fantasies with moments of pure magic.”
But Does It Really?: Despite a father who loved baseball and a mother who loves movies, I’ve never seen “Field of Dreams” until now. And for obvious, perhaps genetically ingrained, reasons, I liked it quite a bit. Its iconic status was going to place it on here sooner or later, and I feel that’s justified. Yes, the film is sentimental and a bit hokey, but it’s all done in such a masterful way you don’t really care. In fact, it’s these slightly outdated factors that help the film age well. “Field of Dreams” is a baseball movie that isn’t just for baseball fans, and the rare successful modern-day fantasy.
Shout Outs: Brief references to “The Wizard of Oz”, “Citizen Kane” and “The Godfather”.
Everybody Gets One: Almost everyone, most notably Phil Alden Robinson, Amy Madigan, and thirtysomething Timothy Busfield.
Wow, That’s Dated: A quick joke about Shirley MacLaine’s New Age beliefs (a go-to punchline throughout the ‘80s) and something called a “home computer”.
Seriously, Oscars?: A hit with critics and audiences, “Field of Dreams” snagged three Oscar nominations. The film lost Picture and Adapted Screenplay to “Driving Miss Daisy”, while James Horner’s score lost out to “The Little Mermaid”. That being said, “Field of Dreams” is the first of the five 1989 Best Picture nominees to make the Registry.
- This is one of those movies where the poster really doesn’t tell you anything about the actual film. But it’s got Kevin Costner and baseball, and you liked “Bull Durham” didn’t you?
- Ray says that until he built the diamond he had “never done a crazy thing in [his] whole life.” Moving across the country to Berkeley and marrying someone you have zero in common with are both pretty crazy if you ask me.
- It’s not that Kevin Costner’s a bad actor, it’s just that his range is a bit limited. When the film gives him moments that play to his natural charisma, he’s very charming on-screen. Anything else just kind of sits there, especially when the likes of James Earl Jones and Burt Lancaster show up.
- You see their adorable daughter Karin? That’s Gaby Hoffmann from “Girls” and “Transparent”. Cool, right?
- Who is The Voice? The internet seems to believe it’s Ed Harris (Amy Madigan’s husband), but I like the mystery.
- Shoutout to “Harvey”, a classic movie yet to make it on the Registry.
- “Crazy”? Really, movie? Weirdly, it’s not the Patsy Cline version, but rather the Beverly D’Angelo as Patsy Cline version from “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. Both films are Universal pictures.
- Thanks to one brief shot, this film makes my “Die Hard” not-Christmas movie list.
- Presumably all those baseball players were teleported to the cornfield by a young Billy Mumy.
- Ah yes, the ghosts can’t leave the diamond due to Arbitrary Ghost Rules.
- Kudos to Amy Madigan (as well as Phil Adlen Robinson). Unlike most movie wives, Annie is immediately supportive of Ray and continues to be so through the whole film.
- In the original novel, Ray tracks down real-life reclusive author J.D. Salinger. To avoid Salinger’s litigious wrath, the part was rewritten to the fictional Terence Mann: author and outstanding Javert.
- James Earl Jones is just lovely in this film. He should have gotten an Oscar nod for his delivery of “piss off” alone.
- Among the extras at the Fenway Park game are young Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Damon’s also in “Saving Private Ryan”, so technically this is Affleck’s “Everybody Gets One”. Anyone know if you can see them in the final film?
- Burt Lancaster is perfectly cast as “Moonlight” Graham. His status as a Hollywood icon lends itself well to the emotional weight this brief role requires. Plus I always get a kick out of his very crisp delivery.
- Ray is impressed with Archie’s knowledge of when towns would get aspiring baseball players day jobs. Check out the big brain on the guy who played Brett.
- Robinson loves his dolly zooms. I see where he’s going, but I found them all a bit distracting.
- Slam on Ty Cobb outta nowhere (The Georgia Peach, not the other one).
- Timothy Busfield is Richard Dreyfuss-ing all over the place in this film.
- It’s fitting that the last shot of Burt Lancaster in his final Hollywood film is him walking off into the cornfield. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
- “Field of Dreams” is responsible for one of the most misquoted lines in film history. “If you build it, he will come” is referenced throughout popular culture as “If you build it, THEY will come.” So close.
- Phil Alden Robinson has been steadily writing and directing over the last 30 years. Among his post-“Field” credits are “Sneakers” and “The Sum of All Fears”, starring extra-turned-leading man Ben Affleck.
- The state of Iowa used “Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa.” as a slogan for its tourism in the early ’90s.
- James Earl Jones would appear as another reclusive baseball fan in 1993’s “The Sandlot”. Art LaFleur (Chick Gandil) makes a cameo as Babe Ruth, and has the best line in the movie.
- The actual baseball diamond built for the film in Dubuque County, Iowa is still in operation to this day. My parents visited the field in 2006 (back when the land was split between two separate families) and Mom took the obligatory photo of Dad walking into the cornfield.