Review by Michael Jacobson
Thomas Jan, Barry Pepper, Christopher McDonald, Donald Moffat, Anthony
Director: Billy Crystal
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.78:1
Features: See Review
Length: 129 Minutes
Release Date: September 11, 2001
I guess so. It’s on TV.”
baseball fan could ever forget 1998…not one, but two prolific sluggers were
chasing a piece of sports history. Roger
Maris’ long coveted single season record of 61 home runs was within the grasp
of two beloved stars of the game…the gentle giant Mark McGwire and the smiling
Sammy Sosa. Both would pass Maris
in a season fans would never forget…a season that eerily echoed one that took
place 37 years earlier.
1961 season was the year two teammates went after the immortal Babe Ruth’s
seemingly untouchable record of 60 home runs in a season.
Adding to the drama of the chase was the fact that Mickey Mantle (Jane)
and Roger Maris (Pepper) were Yankees themselves…they would be chasing the
Babe in the so-called house that he built.
had been a New York favorite and a solid player for ten years.
On the field, he was the epitome of grace, power and playing through
pain. Off the field, he was a
relentless partier whose ways with booze and women would eventually catch up to
him. Maris, on the other hand, was
a quiet country kid from North Dakota, and one of baseball’s most
misunderstood men. He cared only
about the game, and the press and the fans mistook his reluctance to talk about
himself, the record, or his role as second favorite to The Mick as cold lack of
fans clearly had their favorite in Mantle, but the real favorite across the
board was Babe Ruth. 1961 was the
first year of the 162 game season, and Commissioner Ford Frick declared that any
record NOT broken in the span of 154 games would be a separate (and therefore,
the season wore on, it began to take its toll on the so-named M&M boys.
Mantle’s health problems were a concern, and his drinking wasn’t
helping. Maris was becoming less
and less of a fan favorite by not fitting their image of a sports hero.
By season’s end, Mantle would be hospitalized owing to a bad flu shot,
leaving Maris alone in the spotlight.
pressures he went through are the stuff of legends. Booed everywhere, but mostly in front of his own home crowd,
he began receiving hate mail and death threats.
The press was equally unkind. We
catch glimpses of him with his hands shaking and his hair coming out in clumps.
would make history, but Frick ensured it would never belong to him in his
lifetime…the infamous asterisk became almost as big as the number 61 itself.
It would not come off until modern Commissioner Fay Vincent ordered the
records combined in 1991. Maris had
passed away six years earlier. He
never knew the record finally belonged to him.
Crystal is a noted baseball fan and a Yankees aficionado, and his love and
passion shines through in every frame of 61*. This is one of the best baseball movies I’ve ever seen,
and I’ve seen a lot of them. This
is a film that not only celebrates the spirits of two indomitable legends, but
the joy of the game itself, when baseball really did represent something good
and wholesome about America.
makes you remember and believe in such a time, which is something we’ll never
have again. In watching Crystal’s
film, I kept thinking about the current season, which is really going to mark a
turning point in baseball history. Two
of the game’s classiest acts, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr., are leaving it
behind. In their place stands
hotshot upstarts commandeering ridiculous salaries and selling their services to
the highest bidder. There stands
the threat of another work stoppage. Even
the sacred single season home run record, passed down from Babe Ruth to Roger
Maris to Mark McGwire, is in danger of falling to a classless, egomaniacal
barbarian like Barry Bonds.
may founder after 2001, but the memories of the true giants of the game will
always be with us. 61* is a
film that celebrates everything right about the game in the face of all that’s
wrong with it today.
is a quality anamorphic transfer from HBO…occasionally, a bit softer and less
detailed when it comes to darker images, but there aren’t many of them.
Brightly lit outdoors are beautifully rendered with rich, warm colors and
sharpness, and no grain or compression to mar the images.
is a modest but effective 5.1 mix, with good dynamic range and crystal clarity
throughout. The rear stage is
mostly used for crowd scenes and to good effect; the quieter moments feature
perfectly rendered dialogue.
Crystal provides a commentary track, which is an absolute pleasure to listen to.
He’s informative, funny, and still filled with admiration for his
childhood heroes. He talks about his wonderful actors, the recreation of Yankee
Stadium circa 1961 in Tiger Stadium with some CGI help, and even interesting
bits of trivia along the way. The
right-handed Anthony Michael Hall was outfitted in uniforms with the words and
logos reversed, and the film flipped horizontally so he could pass for the
left-handed Whitey Ford, for example.
included is a terrific making-of featurette that gets not only into the heart of
the film, but the real life players as well, with some historical footage and
background to mix with the new stuff. I
enjoyed it immensely. Rounding out
the extras is a trailer, bios for Crystal, Jane and Pepper, bios and stats for
Mantle and Maris, and a list of Maris’ history making 61 home runs in
1961…when and where they occurred.