42 - The Jackie Robinson Story
When Jackie Robinson starred as himself in the 1950 film "The Jackie Robinson Story," his struggle was presented as noble and free of foul-mouthed rancor, and his character was drawn as nothing less than saintly.
In "42," the man and his story are given more a more realistic, more complex treatment. Robinson (brilliantly played by Chadwick Boseman) is brought out of the Negro League and into the Major Leagues by businessman and visionary Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). As the first African-American to play on a Major League team, Robinson endures the racist attitudes, taunts, slurs, and sharpened cleats of not only his fellow Brooklyn Dodgers teammates, but players from the other major league teams as well -- not to mention the fans.
In many ways, Robinson's story parallels the story we might expect to see, in theory, with an openly gay NFL or Major League player (how many anti-gay epithets have we heard from athletes and sportscasters, and how many times have we heard talking heads fret that an openly gay football player would have a hard time from the fans?). If that really were to be the case, that pioneer would have to have the cast-iron constitution Robinson had: The courage, faith, and forbearance not to swear back or knock some bigot's teeth down his throat, but to comport himself with absolute dignity at all times, however he might seethe inside.
While the new film hardly shies from giving us a good look at the ugly face white America showed Robinson (one scene featuring Alan Tudyk as Phillies manager Ben Chapman piling a scorching string of obscene and racist comments onto Robinson right on the diamond is enough to make you flinch), it's nonetheless somewhat sentimentalized. So be it; that's what we do when it comes to our heroes -- and Jackie Robinson was definitely one of our great heroes. More than that, Robinson distinguished himself as one of the all-time great baseball players, full stop. He proved to a skeptical, and often quite racist, nation that talent, drive, and ambition know no color lines.
This Blu-ray / DVD Combo pack, on the other hand, proves only that the ongoing pressure on consumers to upgrade to Blu-ray has hardly abated. Only one special feature is to be found on the set's DVD disc, a 25-minute featurette titled "Stepping into History" that celebrates the cast -- especially Boseman and Ford.
The Blu-ray disc contains the high-def version of the film plus two more featurettes: "Full-Contact Baseball" and "The Legacy of the Number 42" (Robinson's number is the first to be fully retired across all Major League teams).
As someone with a closet full to bursting wit DVDs, I can tell you there's not really much out there that qualifies as "must own." For baseball fanatics, however, "42" fits readily into that category.