oscar run 7: virunga (orlando von einsiedel, 2014)
oscar run 8: still alice (richard glatzer and wash westmoreland, 2014)

by request: the sandlot (david m. evans, 1993)

I’ll get the basics out of the way, because the experience of watching this movie was more interesting than the movie itself. The Sandlot is a family-friendly story about a group of almost-teenaged boys who love to play baseball. It’s not quite a coming-of-age story, since during the course of the movie, the boys only age from the beginning of summer until the end. Director Evans keeps things moving, and gets decent performances from the young actors. I can imagine if you saw this when you were 12, you’d have a soft spot in your heart for it.

Evans seems to be trying for a Stand by Me feel, but it is nowhere near as good as that film. As is appropriate for a movie that takes on the perspective of a young boy remembering a good summer, everything is a bit exaggerated. But the primary subplot, about a monstrous dog they call The Beast, goes way over the top. It’s one thing to make the pretty girl lifeguard into the most desirable girl these boys have ever known. It’s another to make The Beast into a variety of sizes, some of which are gargantuan. In the first case, the exaggeration suits the memories of the boy. In the latter case, Evans is likely trying for the same thing, but The Beast has no connection to reality, even the reality a grown man keeps in his memories of childhood.

I wanted to watch The Sandlot because it was requested, and it’s one of those movies that are always showing up on TV. But the purist in me didn’t want to watch it on a commercial station, so I kept postponing, until finally I threw in the towel and recorded it off of what I think was the Discovery Family channel. Talk about old school … I was thrown back 20+ years. First, there were the commercials. Sure, I fast-forwarded through them, but there were so many. I know, people always say that, but The Sandlot runs 101 minutes, and was placed into a 2 1/2 hour timeslot. For every two minutes of movie, there was one minute of advertising.

Then came the old Aspect Ratio trick. The Sandlot is 2.35:1, which on most TVs today means it will be letterboxed. And the credits were the right ratio. But when the actual movie began, the screen filled. Much as movies in the olden days were butchered to fit into the then-standard 4:3 ration, The Sandlot was cropped to fit today’s standard 16:9.

I can hear people saying I should mellow out, that it doesn’t matter, that this happens lots of times on TV, even today. But then I noticed what I call the Ernie Hudson Effect. Ghostbusters was shot in 2.20:1, and when it was shown in a pan-and-scan version in 4:3, the problem of framing four actors into one shot was often solved by cropping Hudson’s character, making it look like a three-shot. Well, when The Sandlot begins, the narrator is a new kid in town with no baseball skills. He’s accepted into the group mainly because he will be the ninth member, meaning they’d have enough kids to make an entire baseball team. Then the Hudson Effect strikes … there are many shots of eight boys in a line, shot from the perspective of the ninth boy, and they fit the boys into the picture by cropping one from the edge. The need for a baseball nine is what created the basis for the story … the need to cater to anti-letterbox viewers is what created a need for one fewer boy.

And yes, I know this is much ado about nothing. Maybe I’m the only person on Earth to even notice this. But there wasn’t enough going on in The Sandlot to distract me from such concerns. 6/10. For a companion, watch Stand by Me.

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