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42 (2013)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/16/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/12/2013

For the most part, I enjoyed school, but my least favorite subject was probably history. I liked learning trivial tidbits here and there, but for the most part, history was just a series of names and dates which didn't have any real feeling to them. It was through watching docudramas and historical biographies that I discovered that history can truly come to life (Yes, I know that's a cliche) when we can put a face with the name and get some real emotion from the story. Thus, I've found that I like movies which explore a specific important individual from the past, especially one which actually changed the course of history. We get such a story in 42, which looks at the life of Jackie Robinson.

42 (which comes from Jackie Robinson's jersey number) opens following the end of World War II. America is attempting to get back to normal, which means the return of Major League Baseball. Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, decides that the world is changing and that he wants to bring an African-American player to his team. His scouts find Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), and the young man is brought to New York for a meeting and he's then sent to Florida for Spring Training, along with his wife, Rachel (Nicole Beharie). Jackie immediately faces racism and rejection from the other players, and threats from the public. Despite this, Jackie joins the minor league team in Montreal, where he flourishes. The next year, he's brought to Brooklyn to play for the Dodgers. This bigger stage only amplifies the bigotry and scrutiny, as some of the other players threaten to quit. Throughout this, Rickey remains Jackie's biggest supporter and urges him to focus on baseball. Jackie's dynamic play and his poise help to win people over.

Typically when a movie is over, we have an immediate impression of whether or not we liked it. (I say typically because there are always those "What did I just watch?" movies which can take a day or two to fully process.) However, with historical dramas like 42, forming an opinion can be more difficult. Unlike a true fiction film, we can't fault the writing, as the writer didn't make up the story, they simply adapted a real-life tale into a screenplay. We have to judge whether or not the director was able to put together a coherent movie which actually taught us something, and if the actors were able to accurately portray the emotions needed on all fronts. 42 certain succeeds in those dimensions.

The story told in 42 only focuses on a few years of Jackie's life, specifically his entry into Major League Baseball. While, by definition, this is a baseball movie, it doesn't really dwell on the mechanics of the game -- it assumes that we know enough about the sport to keep up. Instead, it focuses on the trials and tribulations which Robinson endured as he struggled to be accepted into the game. This is where the film truly gets its power. Today, it's easy to say that racism used to be prevalent in the South and that Blacks didn't have the same rights or liberties as they do now, but to see it portrayed -- with few punches pulled -- can still be shocking. The movie is full of these moments, but the pinnacle comes during a scene in which an opposing coach (played by the usually gentle Alan Tudyk) is allowed to verbally berate Jackie as he's batting in a game. The language used here is shocking and it's bewildering to think that this kind of thing was once accepted. Not unlike The Help, 42 gives an accurate portrayal of what life was like at the time, and it's very eye-opening.

Chadwick Boseman is very good as Robinson. He's asked to play the character as someone who went through a great deal of strife, but due to the possible repercussions, was unable to fight back. Therefore, he's asked to be both stoic, yet wear a great deal of pain on his face, and he does so quite well. While the film tells Robinson's story, the film gives equal times to Branch Rickey and Harrison Ford gives a notable performance as the warm, but cantankerous gravelly-voiced man. Wearing some prosthetics and a fat-suit, Ford is transformed and we can't help but like this sports pioneer.

As with most movies in this genre, there's little suspense, as we know that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and went on to be a baseball star. But then, suspense isn't the raison d'etre of this movie. It's here to profile a man who was plucked from obscurity and found himself blazing a trail for civil rights. The movie does a good job of letting us into Jackie Robinson's world and an excellent job of showing the state of America just 70 years ago. Difficult to watch at times, but uplifting, 42 is a home run.

42...seriously...is Alan Tudyk still out there yelling racial slurs?...on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 23 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no noticeable grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, most notably the green baseball fields, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth is good, as we can see that the players on the field are clearly separate from the backgrounds, and the level of detail is good as well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As a drama, the bulk of the sound comes from the front and center channels, with some sporadic stereo effects thrown in. However, the track comes to life during the baseball games, where the crowd noise fills the rear speakers. These sounds are nicely detailed and helps to place us in the story. Some elements of the games also provide notable bass effects.

The 42 Blu-ray Disc contains only three special features. "Stepping Into History" (9 minutes) is a brief, but wide-reaching making of featurette. It touches on the story, Ford's performance, Boseman's performance, and the film's themes. "Full-Contact Baseball" (10 minutes) explores how visual effects helped to re-create the old baseball fields. It also looks at the training the actors went through to play ball in the movie. "The Legacy of the Number 42" (9 minutes) has baseball historians and some contemporaries discussing Robinson's ascension to the Majors and the impact it had on baseball.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.