Evanson: 'Field of Dreams' is good, like it or not
Some say the best defense, is a good offense. So, as a means of defending a movie that has once again found itself in the crosshairs of the baseball and movie-making elite, I'm going on the offensive for "Field of Dreams."
Last week, Major League Baseball honored the iconic cinematic treasure with a game on the field — or a field like the one — the movie made famous.
The New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox pitched, hit, ran the bases and ultimately homered between the lines amidst a corn field in Dyersville, Iowa, just a stone's throw from the original diamond featured in the 1989 movie.
Yes, the production before, during and after the game was a bit cheesy. "Field of Dreams" star Kevin Costner's speech was awkward, the player entrances from the right field corn was an obvious twist, and the necessary facility additions offered an alternative version of the original field constructed by Costner's character in the movie itself.
But while obviously scripted, produced and presented in a very made-for-TV way, the game was real and the sentiment was genuine for willing participants interested in escaping the realities of life.
Sure, like with the movie, there was plenty of fodder for cynics to feed upon. It wasn't the original field; it was commercialized with corporate logos abound; the noteworthy score throughout the introduction; Costner's predictable question, "is this heaven?" and any number of other romanticized aspects of a game built around a romantic movie.
But for those willing — if even just for a few hours — to trade life's facts for just a little fiction, it was a pleasant escape from a world that, let's be honest, hasn't been a whole lot of fun for the past year and a half.
And that's great!
Sport — like cinema — is a form of entertainment. It doesn't always have to make sense. Which is why the growing backlash to the movie behind last week's game so misses the mark.
A Google search will get you to where I speak: a land not nearly far enough away. A figurative place where everything's taken literally, actors are downgraded for their athletic shortcomings, and people waste energy applying life's realities to Hollywood's fantasyland.
Basically, the least fun place on Earth.
As coincidence would have it, I rewatched "Field of Dreams" last week prior to the game. I tried to look at it through a more critical lens, to see if I could understand why the film is so maligned in some quarters.
True, Ray Liotta, the actor who played "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, is limited athletically. As is he who portrays "Moonlight" Graham, Ray Kinsella's dad, and half of the original White Sox who join Jackson from the beginning.
Liotta — who is mostly remembered for his depiction of gangster Henry Hill in "Goodfellas" — also threw left-handed and batted right, the opposite of the real "Shoeless" Joe, and upon criticism from a baseball pundit years later, Liotta responded with, "He also never came down from heaven, so there's that."
Critics also point to the over-romanticization of a game that formerly turned its back on African American players, the absurdity of a few acres of fruitless corn breaking the Kinsellas financially, and the "ridiculousness" of the entirety of the story itself. All of which are legitimate, but at the same time asinine. After all, it's fiction!
If you're looking for a baseball documentary, watch "The Battered Bastards of Baseball." It's really good.
If you're interested in a historical depiction of this country and the world's discrimination against Black people and athletes, pick up a book — there are lots of them.
And if you don't like a good story — outlandish or not — look somewhere beyond "Field of Dreams," because that's what it is and was designed to be: a tale of broken people in repair by way of a mystical force, each other, and a game they all love.
The movie is an ode to baseball, but it uses it primarily as a vessel to address life's broader realities: relationships, life-altering mistakes, and our propensity to complicate the inherent simplicities of life. It fosters passion and does so by feeding the viewer the fruits of its character's labor in a ridiculous way, but also in a fun and entertaining one — which is why you watch to begin with.
So, if you already like the movie? Enjoy it.
If you're on the fence? Watch it again, with my words in mind.
And if you don't for any of the reasons cited above? So be it. But that might be your loss, and the product of a bigger problem stemming from the roots of a mostly minor complication. If so, I've got a movie for you.
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