Director – Ryan Fleck
Length – 60 minutes with commercial (55 minutes without)
Installment – #64 of 30 for 30/ESPN Films series
Most Similar To – June 17,1994, Catching Hell
Grade/Ranking – Mid to late twenties out of 64
Notes: 1) The screener’s edition featured a non finished version of the film and hence there is a bevy of missing graphics that I am sure added much to the film. 2) In addition to my normal review below, I’ll share some additional thoughts as well as someone who experienced the quake first hand.
Review – Stripping out the personal significance of this 30 for 30 installment, The Day The Series Stopped is certainly an above average installment but to a certain degree leaves you thinking it left some cinematic storytelling on the table.
Most of the time when I mention run time, it’s in the context that a 2 hour or 90 minute film (with commercials) maybe could have been better suited for a shorter window. This one left me thinking that the 50 minutes was rather compact to tell both a baseball story as well as a natural disaster story. Essentially the film is bursting at the seams with visuals, interviews, retellings, and archive footage, much of which could have been stretched out to give further context into a surreal situation that put the breaks on the 1989 Fall Classic.
You can feel the somewhat forced brisk pace as the film sprints through the first 10 or so minutes trying to explain the difference between the two teams, their fans, the cities they hail from, and their recent baseball history. It almost felt like one of the recent Discovery channel documentaries about various decades where you’re given a very fast paced montage of clips, events, and interviews with music in the background but rarely drilling down deep.
The Day The Series Stopped is at its best retracing some of the harrowing scenes and stories around the area in the hours after the notable earthquake. While staying tethered to the scene at Candlestick Park and its impact on the World Series, the film stretches out a bit as it masterfully exposes the viewer to the horrible destruction and death that occurred on both sides of the bay.
It certainly hit me hard given the familiar scenes and stories but for better or for worse the movie never fully commits either way in terms of being a documentary about the quake itself or about the quake’s effect on the World Series. I guess that could have definitely been a positive for the film but given the compact 50 minute window, I found myself wanting a lot more on both fronts. For instance:
– It’s never mentioned the behind the scenes back and forth between San Francisco’s mayor and the commissioner on when to restart the series. The commissioner threatened to actually move the series to stadiums outside of the area which expedited the restarting of the series.
– We’re given very little insight into what repairs were done to Candlestick and what repairs may have been needed at the A’s stadium should the series have been extended.
– I only recently learned the A’s left the area and went to their Spring Training home in Arizona for a stretch during the 10 day hiatus which kept them a bit more sharp and fresh compared to the Giants. This wasn’t mentioned at all.
In general, the actual amount of screen-time devoted to the series, the teams, etc, seemed thin but then again the footage focusing on the earthquake itself really stole the show.
Outside of the portion size and high density of the film, there isn’t much to quibble with in terms of quality. The footage, photos, and interviews are potent enough that it can pull on you physically as at times it’s hard to be even keeled given some of forgotten images from that day.
To some degree the film also has a humbling effect in terms of remembering how less connected and informed we were not that long ago. No cell phones, no proliferation of cable and social media, and all during a time where electricity and phones could be rendered useless. One player shared a story of having his newborn twins being babysat for the first time the day of the quake. With all of the bridges damaged or closed and phones knocked out, it took him hours to return home. In the recent earthquake that hit Napa, I had a steady stream of information coming through Twitter on my phone in a matter of moments during a very slow period of 2-3 AM. The Day The Series Stopped to its credit brings you back to a world where not knowing and desperately wanting to know was just how we lived.
All in all there is much to like here, although akin to ordering an appetizer or a dessert for the table at a swanky restaurant, you find the dish unique and tasty but are left disappointed by the portion size. This was a great topic choice for 30 for 30 and is executed at a high level but you just wonder how good it could have been with another 20 or 40 minutes. I imagine some might not enjoy the film because there is very little sports footage and some scenes are just hard to get through if you find yourself shaken by traumatic visuals. That said, the surreal retelling of that day is certainly worth your time and will certainly grip you to some degree.
Personal Memories And Thoughts:
– I was seven years old when this happened and was not that far from the epicenter of the quake. I thought going into this film that similar to 9/11, I’d recall every detail of this day. That said, I found myself asking many questions about my personal experience that night. Did the power go out at my house? What about the phones? How long did it take my dad to get home from work? Did we just watch news coverage the entire night? Did I sleep well? When and how were we informed that school was cancelled the next day. I have no idea and was disappointed that so much from that day has faded from my memory.
– I asked myself during the film “How many people died from the quake?” The film gives you the answer in the end and my estimate way way off. I believe young people who lived through this have over time erased details like this. I actually asked a couple of friends this question and nobody was even remotely close. Reliving a lot of this was significant to me as I feel many people moved on quickly and time has wiped away many of our thoughts and recollections on that day.
– On reading more about the quake, my jaw dropped reading about the impact it had on transportation. My commute to school back then was close enough where I could walk or bike to school but was often driven so it didn’t really register with me at all. Looking at it now…. it’s mind blowing to see just how many key roads and highways going over mountains, the bay, and up and down this area were closed and closed for quite awhile. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like to deal with as I’m sure many found themselves commuting ~5 hours a day in many cases.
– There is a small contingent of Giants fans who swear they would have won the World Series if the quake didn’t happen (A’s were up 2 games to 0). I imagine they’ve become less vocal as the Giants have won 2 more titles of late, but it’s always a colorful moment when it pops up.
– I had a crush in elementary school. She moved away after junior high. When I asked one of her friends why she was moving, I was told that her mom never shook off the 89 quake and would have bouts of anxiety about another quake. Per Facebook she got married last month. How many people can say they have a “one that got away” because of an earthquake phobia?