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New Orleans businessman Michael Courtland's life is shattered when his wife and daughter are tragically killed in a botched kidnap rescue attempt. Many years later whilst visiting Italy he meets and falls in in love with Sandra Portinari, who bears a striking resemblance to his wife.
For more about Obsession and the Obsession Blu-ray release, see the Obsession Blu-ray Review
Starring: Cliff Robertson, Geneviève Bujold, John Lithgow
Director: Brian De Palma
» See full cast & crew
Obsession Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 15, 2011
Nominated for Oscar for Best Music, Original Score, Brian De Palma's "Obsession" (1976) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Arrow Films. The supplemental features on the disc include the film's original theatrical trailer; Obsession Revisited - a wonderful documentary featuring Brian De Palma, actors Cliff Robertson and Geneviève Bujold, producer George Litto, editor Paul Hirsch, and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond; and two short films directed by Brian De Palma. The disc also arrives with a massive booklet, 4-panel reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork, and two sided fold out poster. In English, with optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature. Region-Free.
New Orleans, 1959. Successful businessman Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson, Charly, The Pilot) is celebrating his tenth wedding anniversary with a lavish party. At the end of the night, his wife Elizabeth (Geneviève Bujold, Coma, Dead Ringers) and nine-year old daughter are kidnapped and a note left demanding a $500,000 ransom. Michael decides to pay the money, but Inspector Brie (Stanley J. Reyes, Mandingo) and his men intervene and a lot goes wrong.
Sixteen years later, Michael still mourns the loss of his wife and daughter. During a trip to Florence, Italy, accompanied by his partner Bob (John Lithgow, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Cliffhanger), he ends up at the same church where many years ago he and Elizabeth met. There he meets Sandra (Bujold), a restorer, an exact double of his late wife.
Michael and Sandra begin seeing each other. Eventually, they decide to get married back in New Orleans, where Bob is convinced that his partner is making a serious mistake. He attempts to talk to him, but is quickly told to mind his own business.
Shortly after the wedding, Sandra is kidnapped and a copy of the original ransom note demanding $500,000 is left in Michael's house. Once again, Michael decides to pay the pay the money.
Clearly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, Obsession is one of Brian De Palma's most stylish films. As far as the narrative is concerned, there are a few obvious flaws - there are three major sequences during the second half of the film that are incredibly easy to dismiss as implausible, thus making the finale quite unbelievable - but to a certain extent these flaws are actually what make the film look so charming. Without them, Obsession would have likely been regarded as an eccentric social drama.
The atmosphere continuously evolves. After Michael meets Elizabeth in Florence, the film gradually becomes darker and quite sinister at times, forcing the viewer to begin wondering where the story might be heading.
The romance is carefully observed. Unsurprisingly, Michael's obsession with Elizabeth does not look awkward; on the contrary, it makes sense because he is placed in a situation where a more casual attitude would simply have collapsed the entire film.
The arguably random comedy bits from the first half of the film, however, are slightly disappointing. The bar sequence in Florence, for instance, where Lithgow (with an awful southern accent) attempts to convince everyone that he is a wild playboy who has seen it all and done it all is terrible.
Legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's (The Deer Hunter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) preference for subdued colors give the film some of the same gothic flavor that is present in Nic Roeg's legendary Don't Look Now, which was also filmed in Italy (Venice). The wonderful score by the great Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, North by Northwest) also adds up to it.
Ultimately, Obsession is not a perfect film, but its energy and style easily overshadow its flaws. It is the type of film one could refer to as an important statement - and in this case a statement from a director who was not afraid to experiment.
Note: In 1977, Obsession earned an Oscar nomination for Best Music, Original Score (Bernard Herrmann).
Obsession Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Brian De Palma's Obsession arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Arrow Films.
Though not flawless, the high-definition transfer respects the integrity of the film and delivers substantial improvements in every single area we typically address in our reviews. I did a few quick comparisons with the old R1 SDVD release of the film, courtesy of Sony Pictures, which is now out of print, and the improvements in terms of detail, clarity, and color reproduction are massive. Contrast levels - especially during the nighttime sequences from Florence, all of which have a tendency to break up on the SDVD release - are also substantially improved. The best news, however, is that there are no traces of excessive denoising. Naturally, there is a layer of light grain throughout the entire film. This is very important to clarify because in Obsession cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's lensing is extremely delicate and even a relatively modest attempt at reducing the grain without respecting the integrity of the film would have resulted in seriously compromised detail. Additionally, there are no traces of heavy edge-enhancement or halo effects. This being said, the film has not undergone a full-blown 4K restoration and certain limitations are still present. Light noise occasionally pops up here and there, and color balance where there is plenty of natural light is not perfect (though the softness and low color resolution are indeed intended), but overall the presentation is of very high quality. (Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray disc. 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).
Obsession Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: English LPCM 1.0 and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. For the record, Arrow Films have provided optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track has a wider range of dynamic, which is why I believe many of you would choose it over the English LPCM 1.0 track. This becomes fairly obvious where Bernard Herrmann's score is prominent. However, I prefer the original mono track. The audio is slightly softer with it, but balance, stability, and clarity are excellent. For the record, I did not detect any problematic pops, cracks, hissings, or audio dropouts.
Obsession Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Note: All of the supplemental features on this Blu-ray disc are perfectly playable on North American PS3s and SAs.
Obsession Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Brian De Palma's Obsession is a small but inspired and very elegant film from the golden era of American Cinema. It was somewhat overshadowed by the massive success of the director's big films, but I find its unapologetic desire to imitate incredibly charming. The film is well acted, impressively lensed and boasting a terrific music score. The Blu-ray disc herein reviewed, courtesy of Arrow Films, looks and sounds very good. It is arguably one of the distributor's best offerings. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Blu-ray bundles with Obsession (1 bundle)
Obsession Blu-ray, News and Updates
• De Palma's Obsession on Blu-ray in June - April 22, 2011
British distributors Arrow Films have announced that they will release Brian De Palma's Obsession (1976), starring Cliff Robertson (Charly, Brainstorm), Geneviève Bujold (Anne of the Thousand Days, Dead Ringers), and John Lithgow (Terms of Endearment, The Manhattan ...
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