Kevin Costner: Pursuing The Dream

Sexy, straight-on and ambitious, Kevin Costner is a grownup hero with brains

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In Robinson's adaptation of the W.P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe, Ray is a New York boy, reared by a father he loved, resented and finally escaped from, who has brought his wife (Amy Madigan) and daughter to an Iowa farm. One night a voice whispers, "If you build it, he will come." Inexplicably moved, he builds a baseball diamond on the farm, where his father's old baseball idol, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), soon materializes. Another message -- "Ease his pain" -- propels Ray to Boston to corral a reclusive novelist, Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), and a third mystic entreaty -- "Go - the distance" -- sends them to Minnesota for an encounter with the ghost of another major leaguer, "Moonlight" Graham (Burt Lancaster). And, finally, for a trip back to his fungo Fatima and a game of catch with the one man he has been dreading and dying to meet.

"Any class in film writing," says Charles Gordon, who produced Field of Dreams with his brother Lawrence, "would teach that this story contained the three elements you should never make movies about: fantasy, baseball and farming." Most studios turned it down flat. But film executive Pollock, according to Robinson, "said he'd make it even with an unknown. 'This is the kind of movie you make only if a voice tells you to,' he told me. And I said, 'If you make it, they will come.' " But could Robinson make it? "It was a 64-day shoot," Robinson says, "and 64 times I said I'd never direct again. I had industrial-strength angst." Often, though, the film seemed blessed. The scene where fog rolls in over Shoeless Joe was no special effect but the only five minutes that summer that fog touched the ball field. Says Chuck Gordon: "It was magic from Day 1."

Field of Dreams is a movie to make a grown man cry. "Arnold Schwarzenegger called to tell us that he couldn't stop crying," says Lawrence Gordon. "Ron Darling, who pitches for the Mets, told me it was the only time he had cried in a film. He said he was so inspired, he went out and pitched a shutout."

Some men, with dryer eyes, have other ideas. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad hopes Universal will allow him to use the line "Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa!" in a tourism campaign to plug his state. Others are enjoying a kind of agricultural celebrity. "I built it, and they're still coming," says Don Lansing, whose farm, just outside Dyersville, includes part of the playing field. "Hundreds of people, from all over." His neighbor Al Ameskamp, who decided to plow his part of the baseball diamond to grow corn again this year, says, "The only voices that I've been hearing out there are saying, 'Al, it's dry.' "

There are a few dry eyes as well. Some viewers find the film smug in its visionary fervor. And baseball mavens find it odd that Joe Jackson and his infamous Chicago Black Sox, bribed by gamblers to help throw the 1919 World Series and the 1920 pennant race, should be lauded for their innocence -- as if, years from now, some movie should dream of bringing Ben Johnson back to sprint for that elusive Olympic medal. Bill James, the baseball writer and sultan of sabermetrics, says Field of Dreams is "about people who love baseball but leave Fenway Park in the fourth inning. Why does Jackson bat right and throw left, instead of the other way around? And where is his famous black bat? But Costner is great, and I'm happy we have the movie."

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