Wesley Snipes as Barry Bonds

Often cited as one of Tony Scott’s worst films, The Fan is a coldly cynical thriller tackling baseball fandom without any inspired wit or nuance. Subverting almost everything people love about the grand old game of baseball in reckless fashion, there are no sympathetic figures in a fine cast led by stars Wesley Snipes and Robert De Niro. Based on a novel by Peter Abrahams, The Fan is Hollywood filmmaking gone wrong. Horribly indulgent direction and its ridiculously bad climax make for a movie best forgotten by everyone involved.

A troubled knife salesman, Gil Renard (Robert De Niro) is a violently unhinged personality waiting to explode as his life falls apart. The one thing he cares about more than anything is his beloved San Francisco Giants and their new superstar free agent Bobby Rayburn (Wesley Snipes). Rayburn’s life reads eerily similar to Barry Bonds. He’s a 3-time MVP who signs with the Giants in the 1990s, returning to a place he once called home. Big things are expected for the team now they have Rayburn.

The Fan’s mediocre screenplay is the dark thriller’s ultimate weakness

Playing a loser version of his Cape Fear persona, De Niro depicts Gil’s crumbling life. Gil is on the verge of losing his job at the company founded by his own father. His ex-wife slaps a restraining order against him when the surly salesman ditches his own son at a baseball game for an important business meeting. He’ll eventually cross paths with Rayburn, whose season goes terribly wrong after an early injury. Gil’s hero worship degenerates into serious loathing and hostility after their encounter which turns Rayburn’s life upside down.

Rayburn is a pampered modern athlete, coddled by a smarmy agent played by John Leguizamo. Rayburn’s biggest beef is with fellow teammate Juan Primo, the team’s steadfast star who refuses to give up his jersey number.

Tony Scott attempted to make a slick, disturbing thriller about the downsides of fandom but nothing smoothly operates as it should in The Fan. The baseball action is poorly shot, one of the easiest sports to capture in full cinematic glory. Ellen Barkin is wedged into the movie as an obnoxious sports radio personality, coming off faker than a two-dollar bill.

Producers obviously didn’t believe Wesley Snipes could credibly swing a bat without looking like an inexperienced amateur. Former MLB player John Kruk, most associated with the Phillies, appears in the background as one of Rayburn’s teammates. The lifetime .300 hitter is even given a line or two.

What’s strange about The Fan is that it should work in theory. A prime Wesley Snipes is an inspired choice to play a Barry Bonds-like baseball player and De Niro plays menacing nutjobs like Gil in his sleep. There’s a tasty Hans Zimmer score and the cast is filled out with such names as Ellen Barkin, John Leguizamo, and a young Benicio Del Toro. Less than the sum of its parts, The Fan’s mediocre screenplay is the dark thriller’s ultimate weakness. Dragged out nearly two hours in length, the insane final act is clearly a result of Hollywood wanting a big, stagey climax.

Video

The Fan has one of the more erratic and inconsistent film transfers ever seen on Blu-ray. Close-ups are sharp with nice definition for a 1996 production, often a trademark of Scott’s filmography. That is where its virtues end. Mill Creek licenses The Fan from Sony, so presumably it is their HD master and scan. They’ve done much better work before. It’s easy seeing why Sony themselves passed on The Fan’s reissue.

This image harvest is not ready for 1080p video, much less 4K resolution. A dated transfer from mostly clean elements, struck down by haphazard and lazy video processing and some questionable compression artifacts. Better than DVD, but a few issues hold it back. I can’t say if Mill Creek’s earlier double feature disc which included The Fan was better looking. They likely stem from the same master.

The main feature runs 116 minutes on a BD-25, encoded in occasionally sloppy AVC with some lapses in grain reproduction and film-like fidelity. Mill Creek has a so-so track record with their compression efforts and this is no exception.

The 2:35:1 presentation’s primary fault lies in selectively egregious ringing, slathering certain scenes in halos. Detail is all over the place, from almost gorgeous close-ups packed with detail to occasional scenes going inexplicably soft. One scene looks smeared in Vaseline. Some fault may land on the original cinematography and possible pick-ups by the second-unit director.

The Fan’s picture quality isn’t all problems and mistakes. The palette is nicely attenuated with pleasing flesh-tones and well-developed black levels, not to mention its consistent contrast. There’s often generous definition and clarity, offering surprising depth and dimensionality. I imagine a new 4K scan from the negative would produce outstanding video quality. It’s not a completely unwatchable disc but cinematic purists and videophiles will be greatly disappointed.

Audio

Mill Creek neglects to include the film’s 5.1 home surround mix, available on the original Sony DVD and on various Blu-rays released by distributors in foreign countries. What we get is serviceable 2.0 stereo DTS-HD MA audio. There’s a fine score by Hans Zimmer and Gil greatly enjoys playing various hits from the Rolling Stones in the background.

Dialogue reproduction is fine but generally most action is underwhelming, particularly the baseball scenes. Outside of the recognizable rock tunes, nothing offers big dynamics or impact.

Optional English subtitles play in a white font, partially outside the scope video.

Extras

Mill Creek released The Fan earlier in 2020 as part of a Wesley Snipes double feature with The Contractor. My assumption is they recycled the same transfer for this Retro VHS slipcover solo release. There’s no real benefit outside of the new slipcover if you own the prior disc.

No special features are included. Sony originally released this film on DVD with no special features, though foreign territories such as Germany saw a smattering of cast interviews with one featurette. Hardcore fans of the film should probably hunt down the superior German Blu-ray edition from Turbine.

The disc is marked as Region A.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided by the label for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how DoBlu handles all review material, please visit our about us page.

The Fan
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  • Extras
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Movie

A darkly cynical look at baseball fandom which wastes an all-star cast, one of Tony Scott’s worst films

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 45 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray:


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