If asked, I’d probably blame MTV, video games, and CG for the downfall of American cinema. These reasons are my knee-jerk examples and, if they’re not the whole problem, they’re certainly the major contributing factors. However, following Field of Dreams, I think I’ll have to revise my answer. There’s a sense of cynicism about American cinema, even if it’s not pronounced, it’s present; Field of Dreams was not the last idealistic American film, but it might have been the peak of them. Or the last bump anyway. By the late 1990s, Capra-esque had become a pejorative after all. P.T. Anderson might have cost American cinema more than he contributed.
Watching Field of Dreams now, as a full cynic, as someone who deliberates on the filmic adaptation of novels, as someone who’s seen how bad American baseball movies have gotten, is interesting. No, it’s not. It’s not interesting. Maybe, while watching it, all of those list items did occur to me for a moment or two, but not for any sustained period. Field of Dreams presents a beautiful world, not just in its universal statement, but also in its small ones. There’s a beauty to the scene where James Earl Jones talks to people in the bar. It’s hard to imagine such a scene actually occurring today, which makes Dreams’s message more significant in modernity than perhaps it was in 1988. (I mean, Bush is worse than Reagan, right?)
I can’t think of a more successful father and son film between Field of Dreams and East of Eden. They’re incredibly different–except there is farming in both–but they’re the only two films to significantly essay the relationship. I just thought of calling them Iron John films (after Bly’s book), but two films isn’t really enough for a label I don’t think.
Besides having James Earl Jones’ finest performance, Costner’s great–I love his awful shirts–so’s Amy Madigan and Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster and everybody. Phil Alden Robinson, who has gone on to other stuff and none of it–even Sneakers, which is good–shows this level of excellence, controls not just the actors, but the editing, the sound, every part of Field of Dreams fits perfectly. It’s not even the case of a well-tooled construction, it’s an organic creation. James Horner’s score is obviously an important feature–more important, even, than Amy Madigan or Ray Liotta or Burt Lancaster–but there’s also the baseball element. Baseball–in the American context, I’m not sure what it means in the Japanese–does represent some idealized American existence. I don’t even like baseball (which is not, however, why I don’t like Bull Durham. Bull Durham just isn’t good).
Field of Dreams is also an example of the benevolent studio. I believe Universal Studios had the picture’s best interest in mind. There are two significant, studio-dictated changes to Field of Dreams. One was the title, changed from Shoeless Joe, which was the title of the novel and is not the correct title for this film’s story. Second came at the very end: the “Dad” line. I tried watching that particular scene as cynically as possible, with full knowledge of the preview audience and whatnot, but it changed the scene’s effect. I can’t believe I forgot how great this film was… In fact, I’m embarrassed I was expecting less from it.
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson; screenplay by Robinson, based on a novel by W.P. Kinsella; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Ian Crafford; music by James Horner; production designer, Dennis Gassner; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Charles Gordon; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Kevin Costner (Ray Kinsella), Amy Madigan (Annie Kinsella), Gaby Hoffman (Karin Kinsella), Ray Liotta (Shoeless Joe Jackson), Timothy Busfield (Mark), James Earl Jones (Terence Mann) and Burt Lancaster (Moonlight Graham).