October is Great Scene month at Go Into The Story whereby we put a spotlight on notable movie scenes, then analyze and discuss them. Their structure, themes, character dynamics. Why do they work? What are their narrative elements that elevate them to greatness? Let’s face it: In a fundamental way, screenwriting is scene-writing, so the more we learn about this aspect of the craft, the better.
With the World Series upon us, I figured it was time to feature a great scene from a baseball movie and what a great scene it is: The ending sequence from The Natural (1984). With a screenplay by Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry, based on a novel by Bernard Malamud, The Natural builds on the mythic elements in Malamud’s book: Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) like the knight Percival in Arthurian legends, his bat Wonderboy like Arthur’s Excalibur. The mythic themes work so well in the movie version of The Natural because baseball itself is one big fat metaphor for, well… just about anything.
The movie differs in one huge respect from the novel: The ending. In the book, the Protagonist Hobbs ends up a broken man, his baseball career doomed by suspicion that he helped lose a big game on purpose. In the movie, Hobbs gains redemption by winning the big game. There have been arguments back and forth about the moral validity of changing the ending, but what else could we really expect from Hwood — they like ‘happy’ endings. Moreover, it’s a helluva final sequence with a fitting and emotionally satisfying denouement.
We pick up the action in the 9th inning of what amounts to the championship game for the New York Knights. Two men on, two men out, Hobbs coming up to bat. Three big points. First, Hobbs turned aside from the opportunity to throw the game for a lot of cash. Second, he’s just out of the hospital after having been poisoned, so Hobbs is in a much weakened physical condition. Finally, Hobbs has just found out from his old hometown girlfriend Iris (Glenn Close) that Hobbs is the father of her son Ted. With all that in place, here is the script to the final sequence in The Natural.
Youngberry is looking in at Roy. He winds and delivers. Roy takes a whirling cut at it, meeting it squarely. The ball sails out in a low arc toward left as the runners go, but, the third base umpire calls it, "FOUL!" SLO-MO capturing the fractured halves of Wonderboy as they sail down to the ground. The crowd moans horribly. AT THE KNIGHTS DUGOUT heads drop in disappointment. Pop looks catatonic. Roy looks on for a long moment. Bobby runs out and gathers in the splintered halves of Wonderboy. He returns dutifully back to Roy. ROY (indicating the batrack) Pick me out a winner, Bobby. Bobby trots back to the batrack. He lays Wonderboy down on the grass. He surveys the rack -- hesitates, then pulls out a bat. ON BOBBY handing Roy the bat. Roy looks at it and at Bobby, then turns toward the batter's box. He grips the bat in his two hands, stopping for a long moment to reflect. Now we NOTICE blood just beginning to seep thru Roy's shirt. UMPIRE (breaking in) Hobbs? You okay, fella? Roy re-sets himself in the box with the new bat. ROY Let's play ball. UMPIRE Awright, that's what we're here for. Roy sets the bat on his shoulder. An eerie silence has pervaded the stadium in the wake of Wonderboy's demise. Youngberry has a sneer on his face as he goes to his motion and -- reaching back for something extra -- releases the pitch. CLOSE AT ROY with a seething fury, he swings -- violently and perfectly -- the ball exploding off his bat. The Knights bench bolts to its feet. The crowd, electrified, a frenzied reverberant scream. The ball, a white blur aiming straight for the lights of the stadium roof. CRASH! One light goes. Then in a chain reaction, they all start to go -- pop! pop! pop! -- like a giant short circuit. THE TOWER The Judge and Gus turn ashen with horror, disbelief. The stadium lights -- flaring. Spurting. Lighting up the darkened sky like the Fourth of July. The Knights dugout -- pandemonium. Spontaneous lunacy. Players hug and kiss; Bivens does a swan dive into their midst; Pop and Red collapse with joy in each other's arms. The crowd -- delirious, raptured. Men pound each other's heads; women screech as we go to TED HOBBS still following the ball beyond the limits of the stadium, like a single, fleeing star. THE ARC LIGHTS One after another, each bank of lights begins to fizzle and dim. Entire sections of the stadium grow darker. And darker. Wonderboy -- it lays in the grass. A nearby bank of light goes off, casting it into darkness. Roy, head down, somberly trots the bases, barely visible in the diminishing light. There is a final, silent burst of arc light. Then, darkness. The SOUND of the CROWD recedes and there's a WAIL in the WIND which grows louder as we QUICK CUT TO: ROY'S HOMERUN BALL - FOLLOWING IT A super trail blazer that glides dreamily into the growing light of a westerly sunset. Flying high and long over "our" country, the cities, the plains, going, going ... until at last it begins to dip, arcing down to a landscape -- familiar fields of gleaming, golden wheat ... falling ... THE WHEAT FIELD a BASEBALL GLOVE breaks the surface of feathered stalks, stretches spectacularly and catches the ball. ROY stares in wonder after his son. BACK TO TED He reappears from the wheat field smiling, his glove held triumphantly aloft. END TITLES
Great stuff. And it’s interesting to note the key differences between the script and the movie including the name Bobby the batboy has emblazoned on the side of the replacement bat for Roy: “Savoy Special”; no sign of Ted, Hobbs’ son, but lots of shots of Iris reacting to the events on the field. Of course, one of the most fantastic elements in the movie sequence is the musical soundtrack composed by Randy Newman. So here it is, a great scene from The Natural.
To read all of the entries in the Great Scene archive, go here. If you have an idea for this Great Scene series, check out the responses people have made so far here. If you have a different scene in mind you think would be worthy of analysis, please post it there or in comments for this post. Thanks!