Blow Out - Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

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by Casimir Harlow May 5, 2011 at 1:07 PM

  • Movies review

    Blow Out - Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £24.77


    Blow Out is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.4:1. Black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are normal for this format. Supervised and approved by director Brian De Palma, this new digital transfer was created on a Scanity Datacine in 2K resolution from the original 35mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean system, while Digital Vision’s DNVR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.

    And the results are indeed superb for this US Region A-locked Criterion Collection release, which boasts a 1080p High Definition video rendition remastered as detailed above. Detail is very good indeed, with clarity resounding throughout, but with no obvious signs of any intrusive digital tinkering – whether edge enhancement or DNR. A healthy layer of suitably filmic grain remains visible across the production, but neither grain nor noise are oppressive at any stage. There are a couple of softer sequences, but they never impinge upon your viewing pleasure and are so infrequent as to largely go unnoticed. The colour palette has been lovingly rendered, with deep, rich and vibrant tones, a real marvel when you consider the faded look that could have been pervasive without colour correction. Black levels are largely strong and this is yet another exceptionally good film presentation from Criterion.

    Blow Out - Criterion Collection Picture


    The Dolby 2.0 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm magnetic track with Dolby A noise reduction. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation. Please be sure to enable Dolby Pro Logic decoding on your receiver to properly play the Dolby 2.0 surround soundtrack.

    Although they have clearly done their best with the material – and it was always intended to be heard in 2.0 surround – the lack of 5.1 (real or simulated) is still noticeable. That said, it’s an otherwise decent offering, certainly one of the best of its kind, offering us an inherently front-based aural presentation of the material, which is definitely dominated by the score. As noted, it may well be, apparently, suited to the material, but it still sounds massively dated – so if you can handle that, then the excellent presentation of it will only benefit your movie experience. Dialogue is clear and coherent throughout, again coming distinctly from the frontal array, and effects are innumerable, and well observed despite the lack of dynamics and significant surround activity. The LFE channel gets some action from the percussion elements in the score and overall this is a solid, but not demo quality accompaniment for the film.

    Blow Out - Criterion Collection Sound


    As usual Criterion have pulled out all the stops to give fans of the film a comprehensive set of quality extras. There’s no fluff here, no EPK featurettes, but instead a selection of extended interviews – recorded exclusively for this release – as well as the inclusion of De Palma’s debut feature film, in its entirety.

    Noah Baumbach Interviews Brian De Palma

    The following interview with director Brian De Palma was conducted by filmmaker Noah Baumbach in New York City in October 2010.

    Running at nearly an hour in length, here we have the director, just last year, talking about the exact moment where he first had inspiration for the movie – through an incident with his own sound designer; discussing the influence of Hitchcock, and of the Kennedy assassination (which he was obsessed with); talking about sound design itself; and dissecting the integral moments in the movie. He criticizes lazy filmmaking – wasting the opening shots of movies on landscape shots which play out under the credits – and how he had a lot of fun playing with the audience in his misleadingly sleazy opening shot in Blow Out; discusses working with both Travolta and also his wife at the time, Nancy Allen; and the horrendous setback of having several film reels stolen from the final act (which then had to be reshot). Although it doesn’t quite make up for the lack of a Commentary, this comprehensive interview is a wealth of information – both trivia and technical background material – which fans of the film, or the director, will simply lap up.

    Nancy Allen Interview

    This interview with actress Nancy Allen was conducted in Los Angeles in January 2011.

    Recorded just a few months ago, this 25 minute retrospective interview has Allen discussing her early beginnings, meeting John Travolta on the set of Carrie, working with her then-husband Brian De Palma and working with a young Dennis Franz and a young John Lithgow (who was always entertaining the crew off-camera); what she brought to the character and her ideas of how to develop the role, the strange voice that she put on, and the drastic changes that had to be made to incorporate Travolta and Allen into the original script (which previously demanded more universally cynical leads). It’s interesting hearing about the chemistry between them – and the improvisational moments from Travolta that really helped the script; as well as the full story of her claustrophobia going into overdrive during the main crash sequence, and we cleverly get the relevant film clips/stills playing out in the background whenever Allen talks about a specific scene. Worth checking out.

    Garrett Brown Interview

    In this interview, Garrett Brown, the inventor of the Steadicam system, shares his recollections of shooting the Co-ed Frenzy scenes that appear at the beginning of Blow Out.

    So this was the first production where De Palma incorporated Steadicam footage, which was itself actually shot by the creator of the camera, Garrett Brown, and here we get a 15 minute retrospective interview with the guy; discussing why he made the unit, showing the various components that comprise the device, and how you use it (it is reminiscent of the heavy weapons that were strapped to the marine’s chests in Aliens). He explains how technology has moved on, and then goes back over his history working on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and then on De Palma’s Blow Out, talking about the shock he had when he was told that his footage was going to be used for the opening parody.

    Louis Goldman Photographs

    The following images were taken on the set of Blow Out by the late still photographer Louis Goldman, whose work spanned more than seventy major films. Books on Goldman’s life and career include 1986’s Lights, Camera, Action and his autobiography, Friends for Life: The Story of a Holocaust Survivor and His Rescuers, published in 2008.

    Here we get about two dozen iconic stills taken from the set of the movie, which offer an interesting look at the crew in action, as well as several excellent publicity shots / shots of key moments.

    Murder à la Mod

    Murder à la Mod, Brian De Palma’s experimental 1967 feature, is, like Blow Out, a thriller that takes place in the world of moviemaking. Scenes from it can be glimpsed in Blow Out, on Manny Karp’s television in chapter 8. The complete eighty-minute film is presented here.

    This was De Palma’s debut movie, written and directed by the man and here, some 45 years ago, already displaying many of the trademarks that he would later become best known for (the unusual camera angles, often first-person, and the innovative use of film cuts and speed, and long, single takes). The story also had plenty of parallels not just with the main feature, Blow Out, but also with many of his other works, taking in heady elements of voyeurism and obsession, and setting them within a slightly sleazy backdrop. It’s about an impoverished film director who is under obligation to film a skin flick, despite wanting to get out of his contract. When his girlfriend finds out what he does for a living, things start to get more complicated between them. And then a mysterious murder takes place nearby. Could it have anything to do with the mysterious film hand who works on the set and has a penchant for ice-picks? Or is he just a red-herring? Although De Palma’s work here was clearly early, unpolished stuff, with limited performances from the actors involved, and a twisty storyline which falters occasionally under the weight that said actors clearly simply cannot manage; it still manages to reverberate as a promise of more to come from this innovative director, utilising Rashomon-esque multiple-viewpoints (which De Palma would later return to in Snake Eyes) to tell what seems like a simple tale in a complicated layer format. We see the story from several different viewpoints, but who do we trust? Well worth checking out.

    Theatrical Trailer

    Finally we get the original theatrical trailer to round off the extras, running just shy of 2 minutes in length.


    Of course we also get the usual, excellent booklet to accompany the film, featuring “American Scream” – an essay by film critic Michael Sragow and “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Gadgeteer” – Pauline Kael’s original New Yorker review, as well as the complete prop magazine from the movie which showed the photos taken of the accident, and some fake B-movie posters which were also used as props. Although I’m not sure about the comparison between John Travolta in Blow Out and Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront, but these articles still make for very nice background reading.

    Blow Out - Criterion Collection Extras


    Blow Out thrives on its multi-layered format, pulling you into a story that works on so many different levels all at the same time, and taking you on a character-driven voyage where every element of style gets you further into the head of the protagonists. It’s a great suspense film, taking the archetypal bleak seventies-era political conspiracy thriller mould and breaking it for a new, more adventurous Hollywood revolution. And if you can handle the more dated tropes of this particular production, you will be richly rewarded by a demanding piece of innovative filmmaking.

    Coming to Region A-locked Blu-ray as part of the unparalleled connoisseur film collection created by Criterion, we get excellent, director-approved, remastered video and decent original audio, as well as an expectedly classy selection of comprehensive extras, largely produced explicitly for this package, and also including an early experimental feature film by De Palma as a supplement! What more could fans want?

    Early John Travolta at arguably his career-best, and honed De Palma reaching the peak of his striking style-meets-substance approach, Blow Out has perpetually been underrated. And now, thanks to Criterion, fans and newcomers alike can appreciate this masterful film classic for all its worth. Recommended.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.77

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