Reflections on Field of Dreams on its 30th anniversary, back on the big screen

Review by C.J. Bunce

This weekend one of the greatest American film classics celebrated its 30th anniversary across the U.S.  Thirty years later and Phil Alden Robinson′s Field of Dreams still holds up.  But thirty years is a long time, and my umpteenth viewing for Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies theatrical release for Father’s Day netted even more new thoughts about one of my all-time favorite movies.  I can’t think of a better Father’s Day movie, but if you missed it in the theater this weekend, you have one more day and two showings to catch it before it goes back in the vaults until its next anniversary.  Find out more about tomorrow’s two screenings and find your local participating theater at the Fathom Events website for the anniversary event here.  TCM host Ben Mankiewicz adds some film trivia before and after the screening–he’s a great host for these anniversary events.

Not even two minutes pass before Kevin Costner′s Ray Kinsella hears the ghostly words from afar that set the story into motion: If you build it, he will come.  From there, Robinson’s tightly written, major re-work of the W.P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe is non-stop magic (check out my retro review of the novel here at borg earlier this year where I compare it to the film).  It’s accompanied by James Horner′s sweeping, emotional score that will jerk you around from ghost story surprise to epic cross-country adventure and back to quiet, pastoral personal drama.  You can go back and scratch your head over the actual films that won Academy Awards over Field of Dreams for 1989–it was nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score.  You’ll find Field of Dreams is the only film that stuck with audiences three decades later, airing almost weekly now on cable channels, confirming its place in the Library of Congress’s film recognition and at the top of the American Film Institute’s rankings more than once.

It’s the rare film like Field of Dreams that begs for there to be an Academy Award for best casting.  Margery Simkin, the casting director for films from Beverly Hills Cop to Top Gun to Star Trek Discovery deserves a salute for getting every role just right.  Kevin Costner never veers from pure immersion into this new farmer wanting to follow his gut instincts.  Amy Madigan plays the perfect supportive partner and wife to Ray.  Gaby Hoffman is smart for her age as Ray’s daughter and a true credit to the film.  Director/writer Phil Alden Robinson should share in the brilliant updating the novel character from real-life J.D. Salinger to the fictional Terence Mann–audiences know James Earl Jones so well from Star Wars, yet here we get the benefit of his powerfully emotional eyes and that broad smile and laugh.  I always look forward to Ray Liotta′s steely stare, his knowing calmness, and his snarky laugh-out-loud dismissal of Ty Cobb.  Keeping with the novel and my take from past viewings, Archie Graham brings the magic home as the crucial piece of the puzzle driving the story to its end, played young and eager in a 1920s mindset by the great Frank Whaley and in his later years as a wise small-town doctor by film legend Burt Lancaster.  The quaint beauty of Dubuque, Iowa, made for the perfect backdrop to film Graham’s hometown of Chisholm, Minnesota, for these scenes.

What happens next?  Does Terence Mann ever return from the cornfield?

More than 100,000 people find their way each year to the actual Field of Dreams baseball diamond in Dyersville, Iowa, where the movie was filmed.  Back in 1994 during a summer between college years, my then girlfriend/now wife and I made our way from Iowa City to Dyersville to visit the field.  At the time no one was there–you could play some ball, run bases, or sit and stare at the field in the bleachers.  These days professional baseball players have exhibition games there against a team of Ghost Players from the cornfield.  Dwier Brown, who plays Ray’s dad in the film, returned to Dyersville this weekend to help fans celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary release.  As James Earl Jones’ Terence Mann says at the end of the film, “they’ll come from all over.”  And he was prescient.  Fans just keep being drawn to the magic of the field.  The coolest thing I can imagine is actually having James Earl Jones return from the field someday during one of these exhibition games.  That would be something to witness.

Robinson combines John Lindley′s cinematography, framing one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth, with a timeless story that pulls at the heartstrings without getting sappy.  Plus he uses well-timed splices of The Allman Brothers’ Jessica and The Doobie Brothers China Grove.  Robinson didn’t miss a beat.  To paraphrase Ben Mankiewicz at the end of the screening, “If you don’t like Field of Dreams, that just means you’re a bad person.”

Don’t miss your last chance this year to catch Field of Dreams in the theater.  Check the Fathom Events website here for more details.


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