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In New York City, the brother of infamous Nazi war criminal Dr. Christian Szell, "the White Angel" of Auschwitz, dies in a fiery car accident. Szell is forced out of hiding in South America to retrieve valuables safeguarded by his late brother, but first he must be certain he is not in danger. Szell's suspicions focus on Thomas "Babe" Levy, a Columbia graduate student, marathon runner, and the brother of Henry "Doc" Levy, one of the couriers employed by Szell's now-dead brother. One day, the unsuspecting Babe, unaware of his brother's activities, finds himself tied to a chair and interrogated by Szell, a former concentration-camp dentist who knows how to inflict pain. Szell repeats a single enigmatic question, "Is it safe?"
For more about Marathon Man and the Marathon Man Blu-ray release, see Marathon Man Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on June 26, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Director: John Schlesinger
Writer: William Goldman
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider, William Devane, Marthe Keller, Fritz Weaver
» See full cast & crew
Marathon Man Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, June 26, 2013
John Schlesinger's "Marathon Man" (1976) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Paramount Pictures UK. There are no supplemental features on this release. In English, with optional English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, German, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish subtitles for the main feature. Region-Free.
Babe (Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate), the main protagonist in director John Schlesinger's Marathon Man, is a doctoral student at Columbia University who loves jogging. He also loves politics but tries hard not to show his classmates and professors what he really thinks about his country and its leaders. While jogging in Central Park, he witnesses a terrible car accident.
Babe's brother, Doc (Roy Scheider, The French Connection), is a businessman who spends most of his time traveling. Early into the film, he meets a client in Paris who promises to provide him with valuable information about something rather important. But before he does someone detonates a bomb in front of his antique shop. After the explosion, Doc meets Peter Janeway (William Devane, Rolling Thunder), a C.I.A operative with plenty of contacts in Paris, who assures him that no one is after him.
Soon after, Doc comes home to New York and meets Babe and his new girlfriend, Elsa (Marthe Keller, Black Sunday), a beautiful foreign student. They try to have dinner together, but Doc quickly frustrates Elsa with his questions and she leaves. After the dinner, he meets a man with a German accent who stabs him multiple times with a sharp object. He manages to get back to Babe's apartment and dies in his hands.
The shocked and stunned Babe is visited by Janeway, who reveals to him that Doc was not in the oil business as he had assumed but in the business of "providing" – meaning that he would do dirty jobs neither the CIA nor the FBI would touch. Janeway then asks for permision to use Babe as bait to attract and get the people that killed his brother. When Babe reluctantly agrees, all hell breaks loose.
Based on William Goldman's novel, Marathon Man blends the paranoia from Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation with the moodiness of Sydney Pollack's 3 Days of the Condor. The result is an atmospheric but notably inconsistent film with a very strange narrative structure. Large portions of it, for instance, focus on relationships that are so utterly unbelievable that even viewers who love crazy conspiracies will likely have a difficult time tolerating them. There are also all sorts of different political overtones attached to these relationships that further destabilize the film and make it look like a giant mess of ideas that never really make much sense. And in the final third, where one would expect to see at least some sort of justification for their existence, the film quickly settles for a cliched finale which almost makes one feel cheated.
Hoffman is the only actor that leaves a lasting impression. There are a couple of sequences where he looks genuinely perplexed and bewildered. Olivier, Devane, and Scheider never quite manage to be the stars they were in other films from the same era. Olivier's sadist, in particular, undergoes a character transformation at the end of the film that is beyond disappointing.
Michael Small's claustrophobic soundtrack, however, is fantastic. The music is very dark and very intense, and it is used in a manner that actually creates and sustains much of the paranoia which makes this film somewhat enjoyable.
Marathon Man was lensed by cinematographer Conrad L. Hall (George Roy Hill's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Stuart Rosenberg's Cool Hand Luke).
Note: In 1977, Marathon Man earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Laurence Olivier).
Marathon Man Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, John Schlesinger's Marathon Man arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Paramount Pictures UK.
Please note that the main menu of this release can be set in one of the following languages: English, Danish, German, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), French, French (Benelux), Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Finnish, and Swedish.
The high-definition transfer has been struck from a dated source, but the basics we typically address in these reviews are in decent shape. Excluding some extremely light noise as well as sporadic artifacts, image depth and clarity are indeed pleasing. The daylight footage, in particular, looks quite good. Colors are stable but never as well saturated as they could be. However, no attempts have been made to digitally boost them. Furthermore, there are no traces of problematic degraining corrections. Some minor fluctuations are present, but they are source related, not the product of compromising digital corrections. There are no traces of problematic sharpening corrections either. Overall image stability is good. There are no large damage marks, debris, warps, cuts, or stains to report in this review. All in all, while there is most definitely room for improvement, Marathon Man does have a rather pleasing organic look. The inherited source limitations, however, are occasionally easy to spot. (Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray release. Therefore, you will be able to play it on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location. For the record, there is no problematic PAL or 1080/50i content preceding the disc's main menu).
Marathon Man Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are seven standard audio tracks on this Blu-ray release: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, German Dolby Digital 2.0, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0, Spanish (Latin America) Dolby Digital 2.0, French Dolby Digital 2.0, Italian Dolby Digital 2.0, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0. For the record, Paramount Pictures UK have provided optional English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Spanish (Latin America), Portuguese, Japanese, German, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish subtitles for the main feature.
Depth and clarity on the 5.1 track are very good. The overall dynamic intensity is also good (see the explosions in the beginning of the film). Michael Small's claustrophobic soundtrack also benefits greatly from the lossless treatment - there are various ambient sounds throughout the film that are very well enhanced (see Babe's fist run in the park). The dialog is crisp, stable, and easy to follow. Also, there is no annoying background hiss. This being said, I would have preferred to have the original mono mix instead of this new 5.1 track. Or at least have the original mix offered together with the new 5.1 track.
Marathon Man Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Most unfortunately, there are no special features to be found on this Blu-ray release.
Marathon Man Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I am not a big fan of this film. Excluding Michael Small's claustrophobic soundtrack, everything in it could have been a lot better. None of the supposedly important relationships are believable, which is why the tension and paranoia the film tries to sustain are also quite underwhelming. The high-definition presentation is pleasing, but there is clearly room for some sizable improvements. RENT IT.
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