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Blu-ray Review Out of Africa (Universal 100th Anniversary) Blu-ray Review - Highly Recommended

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Kevin EK, Mar 10, 2012.

  1. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    Out of Africa returns to Blu-ray with a new and greatly improved transfer that obviates the picture quality issues of the 2010 release.  The movie itself continues to be the classy Best Picture winner fans have enjoyed since 1985 – only now it can be seen in all its glory.   Fans who held back after the complaints about the 2010 Blu-ray can now purchase this one without fear.  This release is Highly Recommended.


    OUT OF AFRICA

    UNIVERSAL 100TH ANNIVERSARY

    COLLECTOR’S SERIES


    Studio: Universal/StudioCanal/Relativity Media

    Release Year:  1985

    Length:  2 hrs 41 mins

    Genre:  Period Drama/Romance


    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

    BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 30 mbps)

    Audio:  English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 4.0 mbps), French DTS 5.1

    Subtitles:   English SDH, Spanish, French


    Film Rating:  PG (Some Sexuality)


    Release Date:  March 6, 2012



    Starring:  Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Klaus Maria Brandauer

    Based on the works of Isak Dinesen and the biographical works by Judith Thurman and Errol Trzebinski

    Screenplay by:  Kurt Luedtke

    Directed by:  Sydney Pollack


    Film Rating:    3/5


    This review will be a mixture of the material I wrote two years ago, the last time Out of Africa was released on Blu-ray, with what is new about the 2012 release.  Mostly, this is an identical release – the sound, the extras, the inclusion of the original DVD.  However, there is one crucial difference, which elevates this release to Highly Recommended status, and which makes it an easy purchase for people who have held off on picking it up before.  That, of course, is the new picture transfer, which easily bests what was presented in 2010 and is a genuine pleasure to see. There’s also a nice, brief booklet in the packaging, and the Digital copy, but the main attraction here is to see this movie in a far more appropriate presentation.  Essentially, this is a revised release, correcting the error made two years ago.


    As for the movie itself, I’ll quote my earlier analysis:


    Out of Africa is a fine example of the careful, classy filmmaking that marked Sydney Pollack’s career.  It features some beautiful photography and music, some great star power from Meryl Streep and regular Pollack collaborator Robert Redford, and a solid literary base in the works of Karen Blixen.   (The short summary of the story is that it follows Streep as Karen Blixen from Denmark to Kenya, where she falls in love with both the country and with a free-spirited safari man named Denys Finch Hatton, played by Robert Redford.)  And yet, for all the scope, size and budget of this film, it never finds the “breathtaking passion” the packaging on the disc wants you to think is here.  The reality of the film’s history is that it was a safe and classy choice to pick up seven Academy Awards at the 1986 ceremony, but it was never thought of as the Best Picture of 1985 by any means.  Keep in mind that this was the same year that saw the theatrical releases of Brazil, Ran, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, all of which are deeper and more challenging works.  The first two of those have arguably had a much richer life than Out of Africa, and are understandably higher on the “Best Film” lists we have seen since the 80s.  But this was also acknowledged at the time. 


    Watching the film again today, I am reminded of the beauty of David Watkin’s cinematography, and the sweep of John Barry’s score.    (I for one miss the sound of his string sections in modern films – he has a distinctive sound that almost immediately gives an epic quality to many of the films he scored.)  And I am reminded of the clever work of Klaus Maria Brandauer, who effortlessly steals every scene he’s in.   (Sydney Pollack is correct that only Brandauer could have made his character as charming while being a complete rogue.  With this actor, you can understand how Karen Blixen could still be friends with the man after everything he did to her.)  But I am also reminded of the crucial lack of heat between Streep and Redford.  Scenes that should smolder between them simply never do.  Part of this is due to the difference in performance style.  Redford and Pollack appropriately refrain from inserting a British accent into Redford’s established screen persona (thus avoiding the mess that happens in The Jackal with Richard Gere), but this is countered on screen by the Danish accent carefully adopted by Streep as Blixen.   The two performances feel as if they come from different periods in time, and we never feel as though they are in the same film.  The most effective scenes with Streep are where she is working without Redford to convey Blixen’s difficulties trying to operate a coffee farm and exist with the locals on her own.   And yet, I must acknowledge that the film does create several moments that are quite moving near the film’s close, two powered by Streep’s performance, and one that stems from the image of two lions on a hilltop.


    Out of Africa has previously been released on laserdisc, standard DVD, with a Collector’s Edition in 2000 including a commentary by Sydney Pollack and a documentary called “Song of Africa”.  There was also the 2010 Blu-ray, which contained both the documentary and the commentary, and added about 15 minutes of deleted scenes, presented in non-anamorphic standard definition.    The new Blu-ray ports over the same special features and sound mix from the 2010 release and inserts a new, superior HD picture transfer that by itself is worth the price of admission.  As with the 2010 release, the DVD from 2000 is included in the new package, but with the crucial difference that this is not a flipper disc.  Instead, the older DVD is found on the opposite side of the package, on its own.  (I have confirmed with the PS3 Memory Test that the disc contents are identical to the 2000 DVD – as a further check past the copyright information on the label.



    VIDEO QUALITY   5/5

    Out of Africa is presented in a 1080p AVC 1.85:1 transfer that is a tremendous improvement over what was offered in 2010.  Gone are the digital issues that plagued the earlier release.  Further, care has been taken not only to preserve the image (a caravan sequence about 45 minutes in is practically a revelation of landscape beauty when compared to the 2010 transfer) but also to correct an issue I had noted in 2010.  Specifically, there is a dolly shot with Streep and Redford lasting about 45 seconds that comes about 1 hours and 48 minutes into the movie, as they discuss him moving some belongings into her home.  In earlier transfers, there was a fair amount of jitter to this shot.  This was noticeable on the DVD but much more so on the Blu-ray, where it became quite distracting.  For the new transfer, this shot has been stabilized – and in a way that simply removes the jitter and allows the viewer to focus on the performances.  A strong argument has been made that this was the way the shot had existed, even as the movie won an Academy Award for Cinematography.  I can’t argue with that logic.  But this change is not one that materially affects the content of the scene – all they’ve done is remove a distraction.  I equate this with the change made to the 2007 Blade Runner release, where Joanna Cassidy was composited into the stuntwoman running through the glass.   In that case, as in this, the change was imperceptible, unless the viewer was actively looking for that element.  So I have no problem with it.  I have heard an opinion that this would be like removing jitter from a scene in a fast-moving car chase.  This is not that situation.  This is a shot of two people having a quiet conversation, and the jitter is actually a distraction from it.   And there are other isolated shots here and there that have issues – issues which are native to the original Award-winning presentation, and not an issue with the transfer.  The early greenscreen shots of Streep and Brandeur really do jump out at the viewer – and that’s just the nature of that kind of shot.  One wide shot in the magnificent caravan has a strange look to it, like a sudden loss of definition – but this is the way this shot has always looked.  Watching these scenes again made that moment pop out more than I had noticed in the past. 



    AUDIO QUALITY   4/5

    Out of Africa is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, and a standard DTS 5.1 mix in French.   As I noted in 2010:  The DTS-HD mix is mostly a frontal affair, but it does put the surround channels to good use with John Barry’s score.  There’s some use of the surrounds for atmospheric effects, but it’s really the score that gets the most use out of them.  I admit needing at times to turn subtitles on to understand what some characters are saying, but this is primarily due to thick accents or quietly spoken dialogue leading to the inevitable “WHAT did she say??” I have adjusted this audio score up from my previous one, after having listened to it again for the new release.  I unashamedly admit that John Barry’s score is what nudged the whole affair up.


    SPECIAL FEATURES      3/5

    The Blu-Ray presentation of Out of Africa comes with the usual BD-Live connectivity and My Scenes functionality, along with the commentary, the documentary, the deleted scenes and the movie’s trailer, all presented in standard definition.   The Collector’s Edition DVD is included on a separate hub in the package, along with a short booklet and instructions for obtaining digital and Ultraviolet copies.


    Feature Commentary with Director Sydney Pollack –  Sydney Pollack’s scene-specific commentary is carried over from the 2000 DVD, and it is still effective, although it lapses into silence at many points.  Pollack discusses everything from  the life of Karen Blixen to his production process to the problems he dealt with in filming lions.  Some of his comments overlap what he says on the documentary.  Listening to him on this commentary, it’s hard to believe he’s been gone for 2 years now.


    Song of Africa – (1:12:45 Total, 480p, Full Frame)  - This documentary, culled from the 2000 DVD, is broken into 20 chapters that can be accessed individually or via a “Play All” function.  The documentary mostly follows the real lives of Karen Blixen and the men in her life, but through the prism of the making of the film.  Clips from the film and on-set photos are intercut with interviews with Pollack, Streep and writer Kurt Luedtke.  These in turn are intercut with photos (and some film footage) of the real Karen Blixen, interviews with biographer Judith Thurman, along with readings from Blixen’s works.  There’s some interesting material here, both about the making of the film and about Blixen’s life and death.   Meryl Streep is in an appealingly wry form here, with her stories contrasting sharply from those of Sydney Pollack.  (The two absolutely disagree about whether the attacking lion in one scene was on or off the leash when they were filming…)


    Theatrical Trailer – (3:00, 480p, Full Frame)  - The film’s original trailer is included here in standard definition (and in somewhat distressed condition).


    Deleted Scenes – (15:02, 480p, Non-Anamorphic)  - THIS FEATURE IS ONLY FOUND ON THE BLU-RAY SIDE OF THIS DISC – About 15 minutes of deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic standard definition, with most of them being additional bits of exposition that were not necessary to the film as a whole.  One late scene with Shane Rimmer as the coffee farm manager at least explains what happens to his character, as he just disappears in the latter part of the film.

    BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including tickers, trailers and special events. 


    My Scenes - The usual bookmarking feature is included here.


    DVD – The Collector’s Edition DVD from 2000 is included in the package.  I should note that this means that the new transfer is only available on the Blu-ray.  Again, I have confirmed that this is the original DVD by playing a scene from it in my PS3, ejecting the disc and inserting the older DVD.  Playback resumed exactly where I left off.


    Digital Copy – Instructions for downloading a Digital Copy of the movie can be found on an insert in the packaging.  Access to the download will expire after December 31, 2013.


    Booklet – The new 100th Anniversary packaging includes a 44 page booklet that is mostly filled with pictures and poster art from the movie.  There’s also a quick introduction by Leonard Maltin, notes about the careers of Meryl Streep, Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack, as well as a few pages from the shooting script.


    The usual promotional ticker is present on the main menu, but can be toggled off at your discretion. The film is subtitled in English, French and Spanish on the Blu-ray, and English only on the DVD.  The usual pop-up menu is present.   There is an identical chapter list for the movie on both discs.



    IN THE END...


    Out of Africa is a fine film, and one that continues to show the careful, classy filmmaking of Sydney Pollack.  The movie continues to have the same effect I recall from seeing it 1985 in the theater – beautiful to see and hear, but not that involving when you get down to it.  The new Blu-ray presentation of this movie corrects the earlier release’s picture quality issues and elevates the release to one that is Highly Recommended.


    (I should also note here that if you already purchased the 2010 disc, it’s a good idea to wait for a significant sale before purchasing.   I have not heard about any exchange programs for the prior release.  On the other hand, if you waited due to the PQ issues before, your patience has been rewarded.)


    Kevin Koster

    March 10, 2012.



    Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:


    Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “THX” picture mode

    Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver

    Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player

    PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)

    5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)

    2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)

    Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer

     
  2. benbess

    benbess Producer

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    I agree with your review of the film. It's solid work, but somehow doesn't quite come together emotionally for me, except in a few places. I like several of his other films better, and so it's somewhat ironic that this one won the Oscar.
     
  3. warnerbro

    warnerbro Supporting Actor

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    I'll never understand why Universal feels grain is so evil. The first release of OUT OF AFRICA looked similar to SPARTACUS -- so smeared of grain it looked as if you were watching the film through a glop of Vaseline. There is also a short on the TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD Blu-ray where they show the process of eliminating grain. They say it too distracting. Instead, they scrub the film of all the detail. I hope they got it right with OUT OF AFRICA this time.
     
  4. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    I hear your frustration, Darrell. But I must note that the featurette in question was not about eliminating grain. It was about restoration work. The specific shots from mockingbird were having grain levels adjusted but not eliminated. It's something we've been discussing in the mockingbird review threads. And Universal has been doing a superlative job with the blu rays this year. We're hoping that the mistakes of two years ago have been learned from. Based on the record so far this year, they have.
     
  5. Virgoan

    Virgoan Supporting Actor

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    I totally don't get how you are all missing the greatness of this film. It's all there....it's an intellectually stimulating and emotionally overpowering film experience. It was THE Best Picture of the 1980s, bar none. I mourn for you.
     
  6. Richard--W

    Richard--W Banned
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    I've always found OUT OF AFRICA intoxicating and emotionally moving. Literate writing, exquisite photography, superb performances, brilliantly directed, and an inspired score by John Barry. Meryl Streep's Baroness is a little too chaste, but her performance is absolutely riveting. One of the best films of the 1980s decade, right up there with THE EMERALD FOREST. 100% successful. The Blu-ray does justice to the film and is a must-own.
     
  7. Bob Cashill

    Bob Cashill Producer

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    OUT OF AFRICA is a great film...just not as great as PRIZZI"S HONOR, the movie it beat for Best Picture that year. (RAN and WITNESS were no slouches, either; KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, a matter of taste.)
     
  8. TonyD

    TonyD Who do we think I am?
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    I couldn't agree more. I have only seen once a couple years ago on DVD but I loved it. Ordered the new blu from CH a few days ago but also saw it at Costco. [​IMG]
     
  9. owen35

    owen35 Stunt Coordinator

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    I'm sure this has been stated many times before, but this stinks that I'm now stuck with an inferior pressing that I have no "upgrade" path. Can't they do a disc exchange or something?? Sigh.
     
  10. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Contact Universal. They released a disc that should not have been.


    RAH
     
  11. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    I'll second Robert's statement.
     
  12. Cinescott

    Cinescott Supporting Actor

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    "Out of Africa" is a magnificent film. Whether it's "better" than some of the other contenders of the year for best picture is debatable. Personally, I feel it was a good choice and this blu-ray brings it into the light at last for a proper home experience.

    It seems one of the greatest issues brought up when discussing this film is the casting of Robert Redford. I agree to a point that the chemistry between him and Meryl Streep is kind of cold, but I disagree with those who say he should have feigned a British accent. It would have been more of a distraction to me than the American accent that is naturally his. While his character in life was most certainly British, it's never really made clear in the film and in my mind it works. I don't think it's an insult to the real Denys Finch Hatton, since artistic licenses like this are taken in film all the time. To me, it's no different than a film set in a foreign country with all foreign characters where everyone speaks English.


    Redford, while no match for Streep, gives "Out of Africa" additional gravitas and star power. His long-standing working relationship with Sydney Pollack is well known and his casting choice in my mind understandable.


    Every time I watch this film (which will be more often now with this disc), I'm amazed at what an achievement it is/was with regard to pure cinema and logistics. It couldn't have been a simple matter to put everything together required to make this movie in the middle of Africa in the 80s. Remember, this was pre-internet, pre-international cell phones, pre-GPS, pre-digital everything, etc., etc. An amazing feather in the legacy cap of Sydney Pollack and the entire cast and a favorite of mine.
     
  13. 24fpssean

    24fpssean Stunt Coordinator

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    It was very difficult for Pollack and crew to make the film in Africa, even in the 1980's. Scorsese had the same problem on Last Temptation in Morocco. Location shoots, especially in exotic countries, add endless variables that can go wrong. Some of the roughness of Out of Africa (takes that don't quite match up, dreadful blue screen process shots) just make the film for me more of a cinematic experience, that they were able to pull this massive thing together in spite of those variables. A Passage to India has the same result. And it helps to have a story and characters so compelling that those flaws, rather than become irritants or distractions, become part of the "make up" of the film. I always felt Michael Kitchen (Berkley Cole in OoA) should have played Denys, but again for some reason I don't mind Redford in the role, even sans accent. I remember seeing the film in '85, on its first run, and the small town theater I watched it in had it framed slightly off, so that the boom mike kept bobbing in like an interested parrot. Still, it was like traveling to Africa for a teenager. Reading Karen's book on makes the experience richer. She was truly a great story teller. It's interesting that Stephen Kinanjui, who portrays Chief Kinyanjui in the film is actually Chief Kinyanjui's grandson!
     
  14. Cinescott

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    As another example of video digital "manipulation" that works for me (ala the Cowardly Lion's tail wire), is how in this film there has always been a distracting helicopter blade "shadow" during the final shot of the flying sequence, until now.

    The offending blade appears to have been digitally wiped and has made the whole sequence much better and suspension of disbelief much easier. Universal definitely took a great deal of care with this transfer and I am glad their quality has swung from one end of the spectrum to the other.

    The other subtle improvements made (beyond clarity), help as well. The results of film making limitations in 1985 are still there, but the simple, annoying distractions that could have been fixed 25 years ago are gone and I'm thankful for it. If films are going to be "improved," this is how it should be done. Scratch removal, frame stability, and the occasional wire or helicopter blade wipe are OK with me. I've never seen "Out of Africa" look so good. It could literally have been filmed yesterday.
     
  15. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer
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    I'm going to quote Robert Harris' excellent summation of this release, which you can find HERE.


    Universal has made an exchange program available for people who bought the earlier release. Thank you to Robert for catching this and posting it here.


    UPDATE: 3/27


    Apparently Universal has decided to institute a replacement program for those who purchased earlier Blu-ray releases.


    Here's the info:





    To receive a replacement, please send the Blu-ray disc only, without packaging to:

    Universal Studios Home Entertainment
    Attn: Consumer Relations
    c/o Deluxe Media Management
    P. O. Box 801464
    Valencia, CA 91380 - 1464

    Please send the Blu-ray disc only, via traceable method, and allow 3 - 4 weeks to receive the replacement .



    A nice move. Hat's off to Universal for this decision!


    RAH
     
  16. haineshisway

    haineshisway Producer

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    There would be little to no grain in Spartacus - 70mm - that was the point of shooting large format. The problems with the Blu of Spartacus all have to do with the age of the transfer and the poor job done. Any brand new scan of the negative would yield a spectacular image with no discernible grain.
     

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