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DirectorBrian De Palma
Release Date(s)1981 (April 26, 2011)
Studio(s)MGM (Criterion - Spine #562)
While out recording ambient sounds for a movie, sound effects engineer Jack Terry witnesses a car accident and accidentally records it with his sound equipment. He dives into the water to help and eventually finds himself caught up in a plot of political conspiracy and possibly murder.
Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is one of cinema’s great paranoiac thrillers, one that didn’t do so well on its initial release. It later garnered respect from critics and filmmakers over the years thanks to film revivals and home video. The plot could almost be seen as a cliché by today’s standards, but in actual fact, it’s vastly superior. It utilizes the techniques of filmmaking and integrates them into the main plot of the film. For instance, when John Travolta cuts pictures of the car accident seen in the film out of a magazine, makes a stop-motion film with them and syncs it up with the audio he recorded that night, it’s a really fun and albeit geeky moment for film fans. The main cast really shines: John Travolta, Nancy Allen and John Lithgow all turn in top notch performances, but it’s ultimately De Palma who wonderfully composes what is considered by many to be his greatest and most important work.
Criterion’s brand-spanking new Blu-ray release features an extremely clean transfer: very sharp with high contrast and full of image detail. The grain level of the transfer is textured and even, giving the it a very film-like appearance. The flashback scene during the car ride involving the guy who’s been wired by Jack is the only scene where the grain is extremely prevalent and literally brightens the film up. Being such a darkly lit scene, it’s not hard to understand why, but it detracts a bit from the overall presentation. All in all, it’s a solid transfer with an enormous amount of visual personality. To my eyes, the film has never looked better, and there should be very little to complain about. The featured audio is a DTS-HD 2.0 track. In this particular film, enveloping sound is absolutely crucial, and this soundtrack has that, and then some. The booms are huge, the dialogue is clear and even, the music is beautifully-integrated, and the more subtle sound effects are amplified appropriately, and to great effect. It’s an impressive track, to say the least.
The extras that have been included aren’t an enormous amount, but there are some genuine treasures to be found. They start with three great interviews: one with Brian De Palma by fellow filmmaker Noah Baumbach, another with Nancy Allen, and perhaps the most interesting of them all, an interview with Steadicam operator Garrett Brown. It’s also worth noting that these interviews were all newly recorded just for this release. Another great treasure is an early film by De Palma from 1967: Murder à la Mod. Next is a set of on-set photos taken by the late Louis Goldman, the film’s original theatrical trailer, and a 32-page booklet, which features an essay by critic Michael Sragow, Pauline Kael’s review of the film as originally seen in the New Yorker, and a reproduction of the car accident photos as seen in the magazine that Jack Terry reads in the film.
Taking elements from Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, and of course, just about anything from Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma reached a creative apex with Blow Out. It truly consummates everything about the form perfectly and delivers a rewarding movie-going experience. With a fantastic-looking transfer, an equally-fantastic soundtrack, and some nice supplemental material, Criterion’s release of this modern film classic is not to be over-looked.
- Tim Salmons