Blow Out (Blu-ray)
Directed by Brian De Palma
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 108 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: April 26, 2011
Review Date: April 21, 2011
Director Brian De Palma has sometimes been called a derivative filmmaker or a minor league Hitchcock, but there is nothing derivative or minor league about Blow Out, a tantalizing and taut thriller which is a unique achievement in the filmmaker’s canon. Filled with excellent performances, a terrific script with several startling twists, and masterful direction that really shows De Palma at the apex of his career, Blow Out, like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation¸ is a technology-based film which uses its mechanics brilliantly and always in service to its story.
While recording some fresh nighttime sounds for his audio library, Philadelphia sound technician Jack Terry (John Travolta) witnesses and records a car crashing through barriers on a bridge and sinking into a river. Diving in, he rescues the rather simple-minded Sally (Nancy Allen) though the driver, a rising political candidate being touted as the next President, dies. While being treated in the hospital, he’s approached by the candidate’s political spokesman (John McMartin) to keep it quiet that the candidate had a woman who was not his wife in the car with him. Thinking that odd, Jack begins listening carefully to his audio recording and notices that it was a gunshot that blew out the tire and caused the accident. Synching his audio to a shot by shot series of photographs filmed by an on-scene cameraman leads him to believe that he witnessed a murder rather than an accident. Little does he know that the powers that be who wanted the candidate eliminated have now sent a hit man (John Lithgow) to clean up any lingering traces of the crime which means both Jack and Sally are in danger.
De Palma’s film is a textbook example of how a facile variety of directorial techniques can make for a gripping, unforgettable movie. The film is filled with split screen effects (sometimes obvious ones with the screen split in two; sometimes with two different shots melded into the widescreen frame seamlessly as if in one), overhead and low-level shooting at appropriate moments (a climactic shot involving fireworks never fails to take one’s breath away), a mesmerizing sequence where the camera circles 360 degrees as Jack discovers that his sound studio has been burglarized, tracking shots, slow motion shots, and a creative manipulation of previous images (using a directional mic) with current ones (reliving his experience using a pencil instead of the mic). The unending assortment of techniques to tell his story (De Palma also wrote the script) makes it the very definition of auteur cinema. What could have been a stale, simple stalk and slash movie in the wrong hands turns into something deeper and more meaningful as the director constantly surprises us with unique revelations about motives and modus operandi. And he also doesn’t resort to a typical romance developing between his two leads either which films of this type would generally embrace. Instead, we get a grown up emotional bond between the protagonists tied as they are to the event and its aftermath. Perhaps the lack of these clichéd elements prevented the film from capturing a large, enthusiastic audience during its initial release, but it certainly plays like a masterwork now.
John Travolta gives one of his strongest, warmest, and most heartfelt performances in the movie as the lone wolf professional who finds himself caring for someone else’s well being. Nancy Allen effects a singsong, hippy-dippy airhead accent to her Sally that’s perfectly in keeping with her persona as someone who’s accustomed to being used with someone else calling the shots. As the sleazy person-on-the-scene, Dennis Franz etches another wonderful character in his De Palma filmography while John Lithgow proves at even this early stage of his career he could play sinister and menacing exceptionally well long before his Emmy-winning turn as the Trinity Killer on Dexter.
The film is presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and is showing 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Apart from the soft, murky rushes of Co-Ed Frenzy which opens the movie, sharpness and color saturation is really first-rate with plenty of detail in clothing, hair, and facial features. Flesh tones may be just a bit rosy, but it’s not a major handicap. Black levels are the transfer’s weakest element. Again, they aren’t a deal breaker in the least, but they prevent the transfer from earning an optimal score. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo sound mix features quite impressive recording of the dialogue with some directionalized speech making a very good impression. The music score by De Palma regular Pino Donaggio has nice resonance, and sound effects are crisp and nicely delineated, important for a film concerning the efforts of a sound man to get impressive, unusual sounds for his library. At no time do the dialogue, music, and sound effects clash with one another, and the mix is absent of any truly distracting artifacts such as hiss, crackle, or hum.
All of the video featurettes on the disc are presented in 1080p.
Filmmaker Noah Baumbach conducts a 57 ¾-minute interview/discussion with director Brian De Palma about this film and other monumental films in his career. The interview was conducted in 2010.
Actress Nancy Allen discusses working on the film in this video interview also recorded in 2010 and running for 25 ½ minutes. She recalls her work with Travolta previously on Carrie, how she came to work on the film, her experiences with Dennis Franz, and how it felt working with her then-husband De Palma.
A 15-minute interview with cinematographer Garrett Brown (who shot the Co-Ed Frenzy sequences with the Steadicam, his invention) discusses his camerawork on the movie and illustrates with various models of the Steadicam then and now.
A step-through gallery of black and white photographs by late photographer Louis Goldman features both stills and behind-the-scenes shots with the cast and crew.
Murder a la Mod, De Palma’s 1967 feature film about a young director with secrets, his confused girl friend, her wealthy chum, and a mysterious assistant named Otto and juxtiposes time constantly runs for 80 ½ minutes.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs for 1 ¾ minutes.
The enclosed 33-page booklet features a cast and crew lists, some color plates and black and white shots, a critical essay on the movie and the career of Brian De Palma by film author Michael Sragow, Pauline Kael’s original review of the movie as featured in The New Yorker, and reproductions of the magazine photo array and movie poster layout both featured in the film.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4.5/5 (not an average)
Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is a stylish, thoughtful thriller which is rewarded by multiple viewings. This Criterion Blu-ray release now becomes the ideal way to experience the film again and again with excellent picture and sound and a good assortment of bonus material. Highly recommended!