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In the enthralling Blow Out, brilliantly crafted by Brian De Palma, John Travolta gives one of his greatest performances as Jack, a movie sound-effects man who believes he has accidentally recorded a political assassination. He enlists the help of Sally (Nancy Allen), a possible eyewitness to the crime who may be in danger herself, to uncover the truth. With its jolting stylistic flourishes, intricate plot, profoundly felt characterizations, and gritty evocation of early-1980s Philadelphia, Blow Out is an American paranoia thriller unlike any other, as well as a devilish reflection on the act of moviemaking.
For more about Blow Out and the Blow Out Blu-ray release, see Blow Out Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on November 24, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Brian De Palma
Writer: Brian De Palma
Starring: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz, Peter Boyden, Curt May
» See full cast & crew
Blow Out Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, November 24, 2012
Brian De Palma's "Blow Out" (1981) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of French distributors Carlotta Films. The supplemental features on the disc include original trailer for the film; short introduction to the film by writer Samuel Blumenfeld; critical analysis of the film by critic and film historian Jean Douchet; video interview with producer George Litto; video interview with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond; video interview with actress Nancy Allen; and video interview with Italian composer Pino Donaggio. In English, with optional French subtitles for the main feature. Region-B "locked".
Jack Terry (John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever) is a sound-effects specialist in a small company specializing in cheap horror films. He is handsome, self-confident and single. He is also a perfectionist.
While recording outdoor noises not too far off of a small country road, Jack witnesses a "freak accident" - a car veers off the road and overturns into a deep creek. He immediately jumps into the cold water and rescues one passenger, a beautiful blonde named Sally (Nancy Allen, Dressed to Kill). The driver drowns.
In the nearby hospital, Jack is told that the driver was Governor McRyan, an incredibly popular politician whom many believe would have been the next president of the United States. Moments later, another politician, supposedly a good friend of Governor McRyan, warns Jack that it would be best if he never ever mentioned Sally before the media or his friends.
Annoyed but intrigued by the warning, Jack attempts to talk to Sally, but she politely rejects him. He offers to buy her a drink when she gets better.
Later on, while listening to his recordings Jack recognizes a "gunshot" seconds before a tire blow-out. He begins reconstructing the "freak accident" and eventually concludes that what he witnessed is in fact a brilliantly staged political assassination.
Soon after, Jack meets Sally and warns her that unless she helps him expose the people behind Governor McRyan's assassination she is guaranteed to end up like him - in a body bag. The warning produces the desired result and Sally unenthusiastically confesses to Jack that she was part of a blackmail stunt against Governor McRyan put together by a shady photographer with a serious drinking problem named Manny (Dennis Franz, City of Angels).
But Jack isn't fully convinced that Manny's stunt was all about money - which is why he decides to put together the scattered pieces of what he is convinced is a much more elaborate plan to eliminate Governor McRyan designed by a brilliant mind. Shortly after, a man with many skills (John Lithgow, Terms of Endearment) goes after him and Sally.
Brian De Palma's Blow Out is a fascinating film that works on multiple levels for multiple reasons. It effectively builds its plot around different themes which continue to evolve right until the dramatic finale. Like Jack, the viewer gradually begins to realize the significance of the information the main protagonists convey.
There are many important clues and twice as many false leads. Naturally, separating the two isn't easy. De Palma is so good at misdirecting that even the obvious becomes incredibly difficult to see unless he points it out. And he doesn't, not until the very end.
Blow Out also works exceptionally well as a process study. Jack's analysis of the recordings and the detailed reconstruction of the "freak accident" might look somewhat dated – because of the specific equipment he uses - but his thought process most certainly isn't. On the contrary, his rationalizations are absolutely brilliant.
The cast is outstanding. Travolta is terrific as the sound-effects specialist who becomes suspicious of everyone and everything around him. Allen is just as impressive as the naive and unstable blonde who suddenly finds herself surrounded by people she cannot trust. Franz's time in front of the camera is limited, but it is more than enough to for the viewer to develop a genuine dislike for his dishonest character.
Legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's (The Deer Hunter) lensing is excellent, while Pino Donaggio's (Don't Look Now) wonderful music score greatly enhances they sense of paranoia that permeates the film.
Blow Out Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Blow Out arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of French distributors Carlotta Films.
Unlike the Criterion release of Blow Out of Blow Out, which uses a brand new high-definition transfer created on a Scanity Datacine in 2K resolution from the original 35mm camera negative, which was supervised by director Brian De Palma, this release uses a high-definition transfer which appears to have been struck from a dated source. Needless to say, the film does not look as fresh and healthy as it does on the Criterion release.
Clarity and detail range from decent to good. However, during sequences where light is restricted, depth is somewhat problematic (compare screencapture #7 with screencapture #1 from the Criterion release). Contrast levels are also toned down. Color reproduction is satisfactory, with most close-ups looking rather good (see screencapture #5), but the Criterion release clearly boasts healthier, better saturated, and ultimately far more pleasing organic colors. This is very easy to see when one compares daylight panoramic shots (compare screencapture #17 with screencapture #4 from the Criterion release). The best news here is that there are no traces of excessive sharpening corrections. There are no traces of excessive post production degraining corrections, but the age of the master used to produce the high-definition transfer for this release clearly shows. Lastly, there are no serious stability issues to report in this review. There are no large cuts, debris, warps, or stains. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Blow Out Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two standard audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and French DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. For the record, Carlotta Films have provided optional French subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
There are no serious technical issues to report with the lossless track. Clarity and dynamic movement are very good, though it appears that depth is ever so slightly on the lossless track from the Criterion (the one specific sequences I compared was the car crash in the beginning of the film). Some extremely light background hiss occasionally sneaks in as well. Still, the lossless track is solid.
Blow Out Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Blow Out Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This French release of Brian De Palma's Blow Out is the best alternative for folks residing in Region-B land who cannot play Region-A releases. However, the French release does not use the new and approved by the acclaimed director high-definition transfer that is on the Criterion release. The supplemental features on it are also very different. To sum it all up, currently the best presentation of Blow Out is in the United States. RECOMMENDED.
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