Well here we are again. Another Summer Film Challenge 2012 review, and this time we turn to a classic which neither Ryan nor I had seen. When we put it on the list, I had really high hopes for it, despite the fact that I knew a lot of what it was about. Yet, I was really underwhelmed by what some consider a really fantastic film, and I can only say that they must be referring to the potential this film had when they called it Field of Dreams.
Let me first say that when Ryan and I were considering adding this film to our list, I was rather excited. I have a particular affinity for baseball movies, likely because it reminds me of a part of my childhood. So, knowing that this was considered to be a classic bit of American cinema about the great American pastime, I had really high hopes for loving the film.
Part of what I think through me off about Field of Dreams was that I, like any self respecting filmmaker, knew that it was about a guy hearing a voice telling him “If you build it, he will come.” That part is such common knowledge that I doubt anyone could watch this film with no understanding of its cultural importance. I also had been **SPOILED** that the phrase was a misdirection, making you think it means Shoeless Joe when it really refers to Kevin Costner’s estranged father. Now, it is important to note that while I watched the film, I had forgotten that latter part, so I came in thinking “I know what this movie is about, but I just can’t remember it.” Thus, with some spoilers in place already, my expectations were that Field of Dreams would be about a man trying to build a baseball field in his yard so that he could connect with an old hero. But clearly my expectations were foiled.
The greatest criticism I have for this film is that there is absolutely NO CONFLICT!!! When I started college as a young and ignorant filmmaker, I questioned every convention about storytelling – including the necessity of having conflict in a film. But then I saw Adaptation and was set straight, and this film did nothing but reinforce my certainty that there must be some form of opposition that the characters must deal with. As I just mentioned, I expected the film to be about the financial and social struggles of a man living a form of the Noah story. However, I was stunned when, less than 20 minutes into the film, the field was built and the family was moving on to bigger things. I found myself wondering what was going to happen next and I think I was able to shift my thinking to enjoy the rest of the film. However, I cannot ignore the fact that what I thought was going to be a central conflict of the film was not even an obstacle for the characters.
The problem is that this set the precedent for the rest of the film. My friend Ryan had a great thought about the relationship between Ray (Costner) and his wife Annie (Amy Madigan). Yet, this again removed a very strong potential source of conflict from the mix. Further, the issue was raised that the family would not be able to pay for the farm if they built the field and for a time that financial issue became a challenge as Annie’s brother, the locale real estate broker, threatened to take their land away. But, one short game of baseball later, that fell apart too. Try to convince an old Freedom Fighter to go to a baseball game with you? No Problem! Baby girl nearly dies from a bit of hotdog? No Problem! For heaven’s sake, hearing voices in a large, isolated place is exactly how The Shining came about and even THAT was not enough to slow our heroes down!
Really what Field of Dreams is is a glorified Lifetime movie. It is heart-warming, touching, inspiring, with a solid base of great moral lessons about having faith amidst adversity (?), supporting family no matter what, etc. Yet it doesn’t have the type of serious external adversity found in other Hollywood films, which makes character transformation and and strong values so poignant. Honestly, I would say this is, at best, a pre-Sandlot film – explaining how Mr. Mertle lost his eyesight. It simply doesn’t hold weight. For me to care about a character’s growth, he/she has to struggle to over come something to get there, so that the development is in fact earned.
Sad to say, this film very simply underwhelmed me. I was just bored with it and, while I liked some of the acting and the bright tone was very well made, I just can’t get behind a story that involves no real change. **SPOILER** I mentioned earlier that I had forgotten that the film was about the father. Well, it only took me about half the film to remember because they began “subtly” reintroducing that concept, and I say “subtly” because half the time the references are so vague that one would never see them and the other half are the type of (ironic appropriate) baseball bat smacks to the head that I have come to hate. It simply isn’t set up well and therefore doesn’t pay off in the end the way it should.
Still, Field of Dreams is a classic and it definitely should be seen. While I think it is one of the weakest classics I have ever seen, it still does hold emotional merit and power which earns it the right of being on certain best film lists. However, prepare yourself for a film that lacks the mental stimulation and topical poignancy that other masterpieces of cinema past. It’s no Citizen Kane, but how can you say no to the Mariner and Mufasa?
Final Rating: 5//10
Yup! One of the only 5′s I have ever given for a Summer Film Challenge movie, and I am sure that some of you disagree with me. Let me know what you thought in the comments about Field of Dreams and my review. As usual, below you will find Ryan’s and my podcast review for this film:
Next up on the plate is another classic, but this one has a much different tone (and reception). So, join me again soon for my SFC12 review of the 1978 classic: The Deer Hunter.