“It wasn’t perfect. It’s not supposed to be.” — Theo Epstein
Theo Epstein says that near the end of the Official 2016 World Series Champions video. The video, which goes on sale everywhere today, is pretty darn close to perfect however. Even the things that I thought might bother me didn’t, because I was carried along by the story of a team that broke a 108-year drought.
Major League Baseball releases one of these official videos for every World Series, and I suspect this one will break all sales records. Shout Factory was kind enough to provide us with review copies of the releases, and having watched it, I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to have to tell you to go out and purchase a copy, but I will anyway. Most of you would watch it if it were shot on a phone camera and narrated by Bill Murray doing his Daffy Duck impersonation. (Not included in the film, by the way.) Fortunately, what this video is a whole lot better than that and worth watching several times.
The official video is a 97-minute movie that tells the story of how the Cubs finally won a title after 108 years. In the very opening, narrator Vince Vaughn reads “This is the story of two cities in the middle of America who have been talking about time for a long time.” And that what holds the story together: two franchises take the field and one that will have to wait no longer.
The film sets the scene with two “cursed” clubs and their fans. (The film thankfully goes to lengths to avoid the word “curse” in favor of “time” and “waiting.”) The video highlights the history of these two teams, but it wisely allows the pictures to do the talking. Bartman, and the media obsession with him I know is a sore point around here, is never mentioned by name. He is simply a part of a montage of Cubs disappointments along with the black cat with Ron Santo and the ball through Leon Durham’s legs. Indians disappointments are included too, such as Edgar Renteria’s World Series-winning hit in 1997.
If you’ve seen one of these World Series films before, they contain a lot of video, mostly in slow motion, of the highlights of each game with a famous celebrity fan reading the narration when necessary. In the background of these slow-motion highlights is emotional music, designed to heighten the drama of every moment.
It all sounds pretty manipulative and I guess it is. I really didn’t care. I wanted to feel the emotion. I was swept up in the drama of moments that for the most part, I was too nervous to enjoy as I was watching it live. But the best parts are the interviews with players telling us what they were thinking at each of these dramatic moments. Most of the Cubs players, along with Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein and Tom Ricketts, are represented in these interviews, although Ben Zobrist is mostly the star. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and David Ross also get a lot of screen time. Several Indians also get to speak, although most of the Indians’ thoughts are represented by the world’s worst Cubs fan, Jason Kipnis. (I did love Kipnis showing us the shrine to Jobu in the Indians clubhouse.) The film also gives glimpses into the Cubs clubhouse and the look into the party room after Game 5 was a lot of fun. So was Rizzo and Dexter Fowler playing an old-school video game before Game 6.
One other thing I liked very much about this film is the way they integrate the fans, both Cubs and Indians fans, into the storylines. Especially during Games 6 and 7, the film would cut to fans in Wrigleyville reacting to events, good and bad. But before Game 3, for example, they interview several fans about what the World Series means to them. It’s a nice touch that reminds everyone that it wasn’t the players who underwent this 108-year drought, it was the fans. That’s important if you’re going to make that the focus of your story.
I can tell you that watching this video is an emotional experience. Watching everyone celebrate after Game 7 brought more tears to my eyes than it did when it actually happened. (Of course, I was working Game 7 in a sense, which gave me a bit of detachment that day.) Even knowing how things turned out, the Rajai Davis home run hit me like a punch in the gut. Jason Heyward is not interviewed, but others explain how important the first Cubs players-only meeting of the season was during the rain delay.
I received the Blu-Ray edition of the video, and I was blown away by the quality of the video transfer. On my 55-inch HDTV, the picture looked incredible. Some of that is the slow-motion that allowed me to focus on every facial expression, but the high-quality video allowed me to see all those fine details. Looking at Zobrist celebrating on second base in game seven is a treat. A DVD copy is also included in the package, and that looked fine for DVD quality, although it certainly didn’t pop like the Blu-Ray. You also get a digital download copy to watch on any connected device, which is always a great addition. (There is a DVD-only version for those without a Blu-Ray player.)
A word about the narration. I have a confession to make: I’m not a fan of Vince Vaughn. His aging frat boy persona (which I realize may just be an act) just rubs me the wrong way. Having said that, he’s a total professional on this video. He does a good job. He reads the copy he’s given and there’s nothing “Vince Vaughn” about it. In fact, if I didn’t know he was the narrator, I wouldn’t have noticed. Beyond that, the story is mostly pushed forward not by Vaughn’s narration, but by the words of the players, fans and broadcasters. We do get to hear calls from not just the Fox broadcast, but also the international TV broadcast and both teams’ radio calls. So you will get to hear Pat Hughes call many of the best of the Cubs moments. If you are a fan of Vaughn, I guess it’s a nice treat for you to hear his voice push the story along. If you’re like me, you won’t even notice.
The film ends with the parade and Eddie Vedder’s “All The Way.” There’s also a clever credits scene where the Cubs players and management read about what the world was like in 1908. I won’t spoil the punchline, but there is a punchline.
The extras in this package are nice but pretty light: there are 5½ minutes of video highlights from the regular season. A separate piece has the clinching moments in the regular season, NL Division Series, NL Championship Series and the World Series. Then there’s a quick look at the parade and the Cubs talking about what David Ross meant to the team. Fortunately, they are all in the same high-quality video that the rest of the feature has.
One minor nit is that there are about 2½ minutes of commercials before the video starts that as far as I can tell, can’t be skipped over. All of them are baseball-related and one of them is the Harry Caray Budweiser commercial, so it’s not awful. But one of them is for the very video that you’re watching, and that seems odd. And If you’re watching this several times, it’s a bit annoying to have to watch the ads each time.
Finally, if you think this all sounds fine but not enough, you’re in luck. There is also a special Collector’s Edition, an 8-disc set that includes the total broadcast of all seven games as well as Game 6 of the NLCS. That set goes on sale one week from today. The people at Shout Factory were nice enough to give us review copies of that as well, but clearly Al and I haven’t had a chance to watch eight games yet. But we’ll have another review of that before it goes on sale next week, once we actually get a chance to watch it.
I know that many of you reading this are going to buy both editions. But this shorter version with the highlights and interviews is the one that you are going to want to give out to friends and family this holiday season. It’s also the one you will probably pop into the Blu-Ray or DVD player on the cold days this winter when you want to remember how you felt the moment when it finally became next year on the North Side of Chicago.
“I’m a Cub for life and I really have no say in that now.”—Ben Zobrist