Bad News Bears: Special Collector’s Edition
February 21, 2006
If fans of Richard Linklater’s films were nervous when he entered the mainstream with School of Rock (2003), a Jack Black vehicle with kids, then they must’ve freaked out when it was announced that he was remaking The Bad News Bears (1976) with Billy Bob Thornton and kids. Linklater managed to escape relatively unscathed with School of Rock and then used its success to make the more personal Before Sunset (2004). He’s done the same with Bad News Bears (2005), making it for the studios so that he could then make the much riskier, more experimental A Scanner Darkly (2006). At first glance, it seems a rather calculated move: take the director of School of Rock and the star of Bad Santa (2003) and voila, instant box office hit.
But look closer and you can see what must’ve appealed to Linklater: the original Bears movie came out in 1976 – the same year that Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) is set in. The original Bears movie was pretty subversive for its day: foul-mouthed hellraisers coached by a sarcastic burn-out played by Walter Matthau. This time around, Thornton plays the alcoholic burn-out, Morris Buttermaker, an ex-pro ballplayer now exterminator who is enlisted to coach a misfit team of Little Leaguers. He’s hit rock bottom and likes the view, refusing to give a crap about much of anything anymore.
At first, Morris figures it’ll be a cakewalk: show up, hit a few balls to his players, go through the motions and collect the occasional check. And then a funny thing happens: the kids actually get to him and he actually starts to care. You can pretty much guess where the story goes from there but the ending is a bit of a surprise.
Billy Bob Thornton nails the bored indifference of his character perfectly. Granted, it is a variation of his Bad Santa character, only slightly more ambitious and not quite as mean-spirited. Like that character, Thornton excels at being a surly, foul-mouthed slacker and fits right in with his charges who are also potty-mouthed miscreants. He has the deadpan delivery of his smarmy dialogue down cold and this is a source of a lot of the film’s humour.
As he demonstrated with School of Rock, Linklater works well with kids and is able to get natural performances out of them. He keeps the kids rooted in reality and doesn’t allow them to resort to shameless mugging. The kids improve gradually over the course of the movie and it doesn’t happen miraculously overnight. When they do start winning it is well-earned. Compared to the bland, kid sports movie, Kicking and Screaming (2005), this one is much wittier and feels more genuine, like it was made by someone who actually has his own personal filmmaking style. Linklater’s trademark, laid-back style and charm have survived intact. At times, his movie evokes those sunny, summer afternoons spent playing ball. As he did with Rock, Linklater sticks close to the formula of the genre but finds enough tiny variations to keep things interesting. It is an unnecessary remake but entertaining nonetheless. He is obviously a fan of the original and keeps true to its raunchy spirit.
There is an audio commentary by Linklater and screenwriters Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Linklater addresses the stigma of remakes and thought that it was a good opportunity to not just modernize but remain true to the original’s raunchy roots. They talk about the differences between the original and their version. They found that some of the humour didn’t translate well to modern audiences. If you’ve listened to Linklater’s commentaries in the past, you know what you’re in for: a laid-back vibe with self-effacing humour that is very engaging.
“At Bat with the Bears” takes a look at how the film came together. Linklater loves baseball and always wanted to do a movie about the sport. He was hesitant about doing a remake but Thornton’s involvement and the script changed his mind.
“Writing the Bad News Bears” is an interview with screenwriters Ficarra and Requa and how they set out to write a remake. They didn’t want to change much from the original, just update it, like diversifying the kids on the team and so on.
“Scouting for the Big Leagues” takes a look at the casting process for the kids in the movie, including clips from their audition tapes. The challenge was to find distinctive kids and not just with looks but personality as well.
“Spring Training” is a brief look at how the kids trained to play baseball and how the games were choreographed. It was all about technique and selling it to the camera.
There are also six deleted scenes with optional commentary by Linkater, Ficarra and Requa. They put the footage into context and talk about why they were cut out (mostly for time).
Also included are three outtakes with optional commentary.
In a nice touch, “Video Baseball Cards” gives a mini-bio on Thornton and his team.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.