The World of Chess Prodigies

Joe Mantegna, Joan Allen, Max Pomeranc, Ben Kingsley, Laurence Fishburne. Directed by Steve Zaillian. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 2.0. 109 minutes. 1992. Paramount 32673. PG. $29.99.

By now, Searching for Bobby Fischer requires no further introduction. In addition to being surprisingly popular at the box office, the film received a crackerjack transfer to laserdisc—including one of the most naturalistically atmospheric surround soundtracks to ever make it to disc.

Searching . . . is the story of a young chess prodigy pushed into the high-tension world of serious chess competition by a father (Joe Mantegna) who gets so caught up in his own pride and competitiveness that it threatens his marriage and his relationship with his son. Based on the story of Josh Waitzkin, Searching . . . has the ring of truth, which is bolstered considerably by its use of real New York chess personalities and settings. Bruce Pandolfini, portrayed here by Ben Kingsley, even gets screen time as an extra.

The professional cast is extraordinary, starting with young Max Pomeranc as Josh Waitzkin. He strikes the perfect balance between innocence and world-weariness as the pressures of the game begin to overpower its pleasures. Laurence Fishburne as Vinnie, the park hustler who teaches Josh speed chess, is a powerhouse—he nearly walks away with the film. Joan Allen, as Josh's mother, is less flamboyant but no less powerful as she seeks to preserve Josh's boyhood in the face of her husband's mounting desire for Josh to become a chess phenomenon.

The film is graced with a superb encompassing soundtrack, which was one of the beauties of the LD edition. Although the film is dominated by dialogue, its shifts in locale are signified by realistic changes in acoustic. Unfortunately, the video transfer seems a tad soft, and in a few places even grainy. The disc itself is bereft of any extra features; even the trailer is MIA.

Nevertheless, intelligent writing, extraordinary acting throughout, and a subtle but effective surround soundtrack all make Searching for Bobby Fischer a must-own DVD. It's a great story well told.