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Field of Dreams
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Field of Dreams

Writer and Director Phil Alden Robinson has had success with a variety of projects, from penning the Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin comedy All of Me (1984) to helming the Tom Clancy thriller The Sum of All Fears (2002). His greatest triumph, however, would begin with a story that he wasn't interested in. As Robinson explained in a 2002 interview, "A good friend of mine had given the book and I said, 'Great, what's it about?' She says, "It's about a farmer," and I say, 'Eh. . . I don't want to read it.' And then she says, "It's a farmer who hears voices, and I said, 'I really don't want to read it.' But I took it home, grumbling, and I started it and literally couldn't put it down until I finished it.' The book was Shoeless Joe, by W. P. Kinsella; the film became Field of Dreams (1989), the story of a man who builds a baseball diamond in the middle of nowhere to attract the ghosts of a dead baseball player was an unexpected but amazingly successful smash.

Robinson had been interested in the project almost immediately after the book's publication in 1982, but it would be a long road before the film's 1989 release. Fox eventually passed on the project, and Universal picked it up. Robinson had envisioned Kevin Costner for the lead role, but never thought that the actor would consider the part. Costner was flying high during this time period, beginning with The Untouchables, followed by No Way Out (both 1987), and, finally, Bull Durham (1988). Robinson was sure that Costner would not do two baseball-themed films back-to-back, but Costner had other ideas: "It was a great, great screenplay. I saw and believed in the fantasy of this movie." He was not alone; legendary actors Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones also came aboard. Their presence was enough to attract a skeptical Ray Liotta, who played Shoeless Joe himself. In a 2002 interview, the actor confessed:

"When I first read the script I thought it was dumb. I didn't see the bigger picture, that there was a whole underlying message to it--I just took it really literally where here's this guy with a cornfield and he's making money on it and then a ghost comes--I just couldn't wrap around it, y'know. But y'know, Kevin [Costner] was attached to it and then James Earl Jones and then Burt Lancaster so I figured that there must be something to it that I didn't understand about the script and I was willing to accept that and go with it--I would've been silly not to do it."

The Lansing family farm in Dyersville, Iowa, was the chosen location for filming; about 200 miles west of Chicago, it offered the idea rural environment and, of course, the cornfields. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was not cooperating: the 14-week shooting schedule coincided with a heat wave and a serious drought. In a 1989 Los Angeles Daily News article, he explained, "It was very physically uncomfortable - 105 degrees and very humid . . . and we had an extremely difficult schedule based on the projected growth of the corn." Robinson managed to shuffle the shooting order for the scenes around, giving the crops as much time as possible to grow, but time was running out. "I said, 'The first scene in the movie, when Kevin hears the voice, it's got to be up to his shoulders.' Two weeks before we hit the corn (scenes) it was ankle high".

During the delays, veterans Lancaster and Jones became friends. Jones recalls in Kate Buford's biography, Burt Lancaster: An American Life, "There was nothing we could do for each other. It was just being in touch with somebody of my generation who did the kind of work that I think actors go into acting for." Meanwhile, Robinson was facing a serious drought and desperate measures were needed. In the end, he spent thousands irrigating the land and ran two weeks over schedule - but the corn finally grew. The owners of the Lansing farm have maintained the baseball field throughout the year, and it is open, with free admission, to visitors from April through November.

In keeping with the theme, Robinson maintains a certain level of mysticism about certain aspects of the film, even today. The owner of "The Voice," responsible for the most memorable line of the script --"If you build it, he will come" --has never been revealed. In the cast notes it reads only, "Himself." Even the genesis of the film's title had a fantastical air about it. Robinson had earnestly campaigned for the film to carry the book's title of Shoeless Joe, but Universal had other plans. Robinson recalled, "They settled on Field of Dreams, and I hated that. What the hell is that? It's a room deodorizer--Now, Field of Dreams with lemon! But I was vetoed and had to call Bill [Kinsella] and had to tell him that the good news was that the film was testing great but the bad news was that we couldn't call it Shoeless Joe. And he says, "Oh, I don't care about that, that wasn't my title, that was the publisher's title." And I say, 'Oh yeah? What was your title?' He says: "Dream Field." And I thought, well, that works."

Producer: Brian Frankish, Charles Gordon, Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Screenplay: Phil Alden Robinson, W.P. Kinsella (book)
Cinematography: John Lindley
Film Editing: Ian Crafford
Art Direction: Leslie McDonald
Music: James Horner
Cast: Kevin Costner (Ray Kinsella), Amy Madigan (Annie Kinsella), James Earl Jones (Terence Mann), Ray Liotta (Shoeless Joe Jackson), Burt Lancaster (Dr. Graham), Timothy Busfield (Mark).
C-106m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.

by Eleanor Quin VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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