Wednesday, April 5, 2017

                                The Sandlot - Implicit Messages

The Sandlot is a coming of age movie centered on one of America’s greatest institutions, baseball. Its target audience is preteen through mid-teen boys. This lighthearted comedy is about a rather shy fifth grader, Scotty Smalls, who finds himself in a new town just before the end of school. Being a baseball neophyte, both in his knowledge and skill, he is befriended by Bennie Rodriquez, the best baseball talent in the community, who teaches him to play the game. Through this friendship, Scotty becomes part of a ragtag team of boys who are also social comrades through thick and thin. Through the summer, they share many adventures including a major “pickle” as it was described. One day when the boys have damaged their only baseball, Scotty comes to the rescue by taking his stepdad’s prized Babe Ruth autographed ball as a replacement. When Scotty launches a homer over the fence, the baseball lands in the neighborhood’s scariest yard, protected by a monster junkyard dog known as “The Beast” who, by legend, has eaten trespassers and is owned by the meanest man in town. Facing sure “death” if not returned to Scotty’s stepfather’s trophy room, their only option is to retrieve the ball. This leads to their hilarious quest to make this happen. According to Giannetti’s thesis discussed in Understanding Movies, this movie, set in the 1960s, takes a rightward leaning slant which can be demonstrated in a number of ways. One marker of this is that boys are “disciplined, respectful, and obedient to their elders” (Understanding Movies). The movie pays homage to the legends of the game like Babe Ruth and honors adherence to the rules of the game. While the overt theme of the movie is that baseball is the greatest single passion a young boy can possess, there are also underlying implicit messages, both positive and negative, that can be identified. On the positive side, there are messages about comradery, social interactions, problem solving, overcoming fears and dispelling stereotypes. From a negative perspective, women and girls are objectified, portrayed as subservient to men, and cast in a negative light. There is also a distant coldness that can be observed in a stepparent’s interaction with a stepchild and devaluation of that child’s worth. Undercurrents of a lack of investment in the overall relationship can also be identified. For this review, a closer analysis of just one positive and one negative message will be addressed. In the movie The Sandlot, in keeping with the humorous and lighthearted tone of the film, the positive message of problem solving is by far the more dominant message in comparison to the negatively framed awkward relationship between a stepfather and a stepson.

One of the most positive implicit messages that is championed in this film is that of problem solving. The prime example of this is the progression of methods employed by the boys to accomplish their goal to reclaim the baseball. First off, they tried a wooden broom handle to pull the ball back towards the fence. This failed when “The Beast “stomped on the ball with his foot and shredded the handle with his teeth. Not discouraged, the boys attached a metal pan to a sturdy metal pole, passed it through the fence and trapped the ball. As they were pulling it back towards them “The Beast” again foiled the plan, crushing the pole and throwing the mangled mess across the baseball diamond. Undaunted, they upped their game and fastened a catcher’s mask to the suction end of three vacuum hoses. Centering the mask over the ball, the vacuums were turned on securing the baseball. As it was being lifted over the fence, “The Beast” attacked, knocking it loose. He damaged the hose ends causing each vacuum to blow up. Not phased, the boys came up with an even more ingenious plan. Wearing the catcher’s chest protector with ropes tied to it, threaded through pulleys, one of the boys was lowered into the yard very stealthily, so as to not disturb “The Beast”.  All was going well until they came face to face. Jerking the boy to safety, the ball was jarred loose, ending that plan. Pulling out all the stops, Scotty constructed a sophisticated robot catapult. Rolling it down a track into the yard, the catapult was positioned and cleanly thrust the ball into the air. At the last possible second, “The Beast” leaped high into the air and caught the baseball in his mouth. Finally, after much soul searching and preparation, Bennie jumped into the yard, grabbed the ball and alluded “The Beast” during a lengthy chase. Mission accomplished, the elusive ball was back in their passion.
The positive message of problem solving is by far the most dominant. I have highlighted just one example, but there are many others woven throughout the film. This is a life skill that successful leaders must possess, according to analysis done by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman published in the Harvard Business Review. Creativity, hard work and perseverance are all components of problem solving that were demonstrated in the movie. This message was effectively delivered and generates an all things are possible message. Even when faced with adversity, there is always a solution to be found.

In selecting a negative implicit message that can be found in The Sandlot, the stepfather and stepson relationship between Scotty and Bill is the best example. Scotty’s mother and Bill have been married for a year, yet Scotty and Bill’s relationship is distant. Every time Scotty addresses Bill, he stutters and stammers. Bill either ignores him or gives Scotty a curt response. In their new house, Bill has a trophy room, and it is strictly off limits to Scotty.  Having just met the sandlot boys, Scotty wants Bill to show him how to catch and throw, but his meek requests go unfulfilled. Not until his mother steps in, is Bill willing to give him a lesson. That doesn’t go well at all because Scotty is terrible at baseball. The audience can see Bill roll his eyes, sigh and show annoyance at Scotty’s ineptitude. Interestingly enough, as Scotty hones his baseball skills through practice with the sandlot gang, his newly acquired ability makes Scotty attractive to his stepdad who then accepts him because he has become a “jock”.
The implicit negative stepfather stepson relationship is well delivered, much in part to the performance of actor Denis Leary whose bread and butter has been to play intolerant, flippant sarcastic roles. As a stepdad, he delivers a believable performance as a self-centered, self-consumed king of his castle character. The reason that this relationship is not the dominant implicit message is that the audience sees it as a work in progress. This is reinforced by the bonding between the two as Scotty demonstrates his new found athletic prowess. Interestingly, what was once a negative implicit message at the beginning of the movie, actually turns into a problem solving success for Scotty. His hard work to become good at baseball provides an area of interest and commonality between the two of them.

The Sandlot is a humorous movie about the escapades of a group of preteens and their love of baseball. Upon close analysis, implicit messages can be identified. Of these, the positive message of problem solving is the most dominant, as it is woven throughout the film. With its real life implications for success, if mastered, this is a valuable message for young people to be exposed to. The Sandlot does this well. Of less emphasis and importance to the film, a negative implicit message concerning stepfather and stepson relationships can be observed. In its delivery and coverage of these implicit messages, this film hits a grand slam and is most deserving of a five star rating.

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