“People Will Come.”
And they did. They came in droves from everywhere to visit the Iowa baseball field that this brilliant movie had made famous. The glorious field was actually built across the property of two different farmers and immediately after the production wrapped, one of the farmers plowed under the field and replanted his corn. When the people started to come, they built the field back proper and now it has become as big of a tourist location for baseball fans as Cooperstown itself.
I still remember seeing Field of Dreams when it was first released into movie theaters. I was 11 years old and just remember looking at the poster as we entered the theater. I saw Kevin Costner standing on a home plate in the middle of a farm and saying “look Dad, maybe it’s about baseball.” I was right, Field of Dreams was about baseball; but not just that, it manages to convey the spirit of the game better than any other baseball film ever made. I remember enjoying the film, but I never felt the full impact of it until much later. Now I consider it a classic. Even 14 years and many viewings later, the film still has a great emotional impact on me.
“If you build it, he will come.”
Those are the words Ray Kinsella (Costner) hears as he walks through the cornfields of his Iowa farm. Like any reasonable person, Ray brushes the voice off as simply his imagination or some kind of practical joke. But the voice is persistent, and soon Ray has a vision of a baseball field in the middle of his corn field, occupied by the lone figure of former baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta).
Shoeless Joe was a member of the 1919 Chicago White Sox team that was permanently thrown out of baseball for taking gambler’s money to throw the World Series. He was also the hero of Ray’s father John Kinsella, whom Ray had a falling out with when he was a teenager.
Ray decides to take a chance, build the field and wait and see what happens. The decision could cost him his farm, but when Shoeless Joe (who had been dead for nearly 50 years) appears, it all seems worth it.
“Ease his pain.”
Once Shoeless Joe and his teammates are given a second chance to play baseball, the voice gives Ray a new assignment. Soon he finds himself driving to Boston to visit a recluse author named Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones), who was a major activist in the 60s, but only wants to be left alone in the 80s. Mann soon finds himself a student of the voice as well, and soon he and Ray are off to Minnesota to look up an old ballplayer named Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster).Graham once played in a game for the New York Giants, but never got an opportunity to bat. In a magical movie about second chances, even a dead doctor can get a chance to relive his dreams.
“Is this Heaven?” “No, it’s Iowa.”
I can see why Shoeless Joe might be confused, if I suddenly woke up in such a glorious ball park, I might think I was in heaven too.
If there is one underlying theme in this film, it is about second chances. Shoeless Joe and the rest of the 1919 White Sox get a chance to play ball again; Terrence Mann finds a subject worth writing about again; ‘Moonlight’ Graham gets an opportunity to wink at a big league pitcher; and Ray gets a chance to have that game of catch with his father.
“We just don’t recognize the most significant moments in our lives while they’re happening.”
There are so many things I love about this movie that it is hard to know where to begin. Kevin Costner said that Field of Dreams is like the It’s A Wonderful Life of our time; and it is. Both movies are about some form of divine intervention pointing out just how precious life (and in this case baseball) is.
The most obvious place to start is with the script. Based on the novel Shoeless Joe by W.P Kinsella, writer/director Phil Alden Robinson’s script is so poetic that it sometimes sounds as if William Shakespeare himself as a baseball fan. Of course, great words can be meaningless if not delivered by good actors and Field of Dreams is filled with so many wonderful performances that the only reason there could be for none of them receiving Oscar nominations was because the Academy couldn’t decide which one to vote for.
Personally, my favorite performance in the film is delivered by the then 75 year old Burt Lancaster. To understand what I mean by the poetic language of the script, just listen to the speech Lancaster delivers during the flashback scene in Chisholm.
“I never got to bat in the major leagues. I’d have liked that, that chance. Just once, to stare down a big league pitcher. To stare him down and just as he goes into his windup, wink, make him think you know something he doesn’t. That’s what I’d wish for. A chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingle in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases. Stretch a double into a triple and flop, face first, into third. Wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish Ray Kinsella. That’s my wish.”
‘Moonlight’ Graham was a real person whom W.P. Kinsella had been lucky enough to come across while reading through the Baseball Encyclopedia. All of the stories that James Earl Jones listens to in the bar—the umbrella used to beat off his lady admirers; the shopkeepers always stocking blue hats—were real stories that people who knew Graham told filmmakers while they were shooting. As a tribute to the film’s casting, the actors hired to deliver these speeches give performances just as remarkable as any of the lead actors.
“This field; this game. It’s a part of our past Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”
So says James Earl Jones in a speech that encapsulates the spirit and the meaning of America’s National Pastime more than anything else ever written or spoken.
The final element of the film that completes the experience is the brilliant musical score created by composer James Horner. The instantly recognizable score has become a standard for grand openings of sports stadiums all across the country. It is so simple that it generates an emotional response to the action, without manipulating the viewer.
The film’s critics have scoffed at the fact that Ray Liotta bats right-handed, although the real Shoeless Joe batted lefty. He’s also been dead and buried for over forty years, so what? This film is not necessarily about historical accuracy (although it does a fair job of it), but rather the spirit of the game.
“Is there a heaven?” “Oh yeah, it’s the place dreams come true.” “Well maybe this is heaven.”
This movie makes us believe that our dreams can come true. The classic final shot was filmed with dozens of extras in their cars, flashing the brights; but it might as well have been real tourists, about to visit their own Field of Dreams. It’s a classic, it gets an A+.