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Out of Africa(1985)
The most acclaimed motion picture of 1985 stars Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in one of the screen's great epic romances. Directed by Oscar winner Sydney Pollack, Out of Africa is the fascinating true story of Karen Blixen, a strong-willed woman who, with her philandering husband (Klaus Maria Brandauer), runs a coffee plantation in Kenya, circa 1914. To her astonishment, she soon discovers herself falling in love with the land, its people, and a mysterious white hunter (Redford). The masterfully crafted, breathtakingly produced story of love and loss earned Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay (based on material from another medium), cinematography, Original Score, Art Direction (Set Decoration) and Sound.
For more about Out of Africa and the Out of Africa Blu-ray release, see Out of Africa Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on April 25, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Gough, Michael Kitchen, Leslie Phillips
Director: Sydney Pollack
» See full cast & crew
Out of Africa Blu-ray Review
One of the most acclaimed films of the 1980's makes its Blu-ray debut.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, April 25, 2010
Sydney Pollack had one of the longest, most venerated careers in the annals of Hollywood. In fact, Sydney Pollack had three of the longest, most venerated careers in the annals of Hollywood, for this multifaceted talent carved rather respectable bodies of work not only as one of the most acclaimed directors of the second half of the 20th century, but also as producer and actor. It's fun if you're a denizen of TV Land to see Pollack pop up as a bit actor in several late 1950's and early 1960's television episodes, often with either a trademark earnest quality, or interestingly enough with an alternative smarmy, almost edgy feel. He's a background player in episodes of everything from The Twilight Zone (in the charming "The Trouble with Templeton," about an actor trying to regain his lost glory) to Playhouse 90's adaptation of Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Somewhere along the line in the early 1960's, Pollack began directing scores of episodic television, until by the mid-1960's he was starting to make his mark in features with such pieces as The Slender Thread and his first Oscar nominated best director outing, the marvelous They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. In the 1970's, Pollack struck up a rather successful collaboration with Robert Redford, helming several blockbuster Redford films like The Way We Were and Three Days of the Condor, as well as some less successful, but no less interesting attempts like Jeremiah Johnson and The Electric Horseman. Just as some people may have rolled their eyes when I mentioned The Way We Were as a Redford commodity (come on—it's a Babs flick, and we all know it), they may be similarly disinclined to think of Pollack's epic 1985 opus Out of Africa as anything other than a showcase for the redoubtable Meryl Streep, and I don't think I'd be up for much of an argument. Despite Pollack and Redford's long history of working together, the actor delivers an almost alarmingly laconic performance in Out of Africa, perhaps only too aware that Streep was going to chew the scenery to such an extent, relatively speaking at least, that it was pointless to do anything other than sit back and watch.
Out of Africa burst on the film scene in the mid-1980's to almost universal acclaim, culled from the writings of both the Danish journalist (in the literal meaning of the term, one who writes a journal) Karen Blixen (who wrote under the pseudonym Isak Denisen), as well as the authoritative biography of Blixen by Judith Thurman. As Pollack discusses in the incredibly informative and fascinating commentary (ported over from the previous Collector's Edition DVD), an adaptation of Blixen's works had been kicking around Hollywood for years, but no one had been able to come up with the correct approach for such a necessarily reflective piece, one Blixen herself told as a memory. Adding Thurman's more objective voice to the mix allowed the filmmakers perspective and way to get at the character from more than just an interior monologue. As it stands, Out of Africa is still a film filled to the brim with soliloquy almost from the first frame, as Streep, in her "accent on full" mode, leaps into Denisen/Blixen's world with aplomb, giving us an initial peek into her sojourns in Africa while alerting us to the fact she's back in Denmark.
Blixen was caught in a marriage of convenience with Baron Bror (AKA Hans) von Blixen-Finecke (Klaus Maria Brandauer) when she arrived in Africa to supposedly set up a cattle and dairy operation with her husband. She soon meets the dashing Englishman Denys Finch Hatton (Redford, not exactly the model of a modern Major General, or any other iconic British sort), with whom, in the best Hollywood romantic tradition, she begins having an affair. Out of Africa really could have been just another ménage-a-trois, albeit with elephants and the occasional zebra, had it not been for Streep's commanding performance and some very wise directorial decisions on the part of Pollack. First of all, Pollack shepherded the project along an maintained an emphasis on the African side of the story, including Bror's malfeasance and moral turpitude for much of the first part of the film, while the burgeoning Blixen-Finch Hatton romance simmers in the background. Had Pollack not taken this course, this easily could have been a retread of one of the many Warner Brothers romantic melodramas of the 1930's and 1940's featuring Bette Davis making goo-goo eyes at, say, Charles Boyer, especially considering the film's lurid dalliance with syphilis. Instead the story is anchored in the very real failings of people which just happen to be taking place in an exotic locale.
Secondly, once the romantic angle finally flowers, Pollack just as wisely lets Redford be Redford. While this may seem counter-intuitive, in the same way that Kevin Reynolds let Kevin Costner be himself in their flawed Robin Hood, here Redford's very laissez-faire style actually works for the good of the character, lack of English accent and mannerisms be damned. As Blixen slowly begins to realize that Finch Hatton will never commit, Redford's ultra-relaxed approach makes perfect sense, as the too wound up Blixen, under the careful watch of Streep, wants action, so to speak. The dialectic between the fierce, uptight performance of Streep and the almost surfer-dude ethos of Redford is alarming at first glance, but ultimately becomes one of the saving graces of Out of Africa.
Pollack also had the wisdom to assemble a top notch crew, many of whom, along with Pollack himself, walked home with Oscars as a result of their stellar work. Cinematographer David Watkin captured the "Dark Continent" in an up close an intimate style which augmented the personal story being told, instead of turning the film into a travelogue of sorts. Though I am on record stating I personally feel Bruce Broughton should have taken home the Academy Award for his Silverado score, there's no denying that John Barry's Oscar winning music provides a big, romantic and lushly orchestrated feel to much of the film, and remains one of the most fondly remembered underscores from the era.
Out of Africa managed to tread a fine line between being a traditional "chick flick," heavy on romance and exoticism, while providing at least a taste of action and adventure which appealed to a fair number of males. What the film ultimately achieved, however, was something a bit more remarkable if perhaps unexpected. It put a well respected, if by then largely forgotten, Danish writer permanently on the map of classic literature. (Two years after Out of Africa, Dinesen's writing would inspire another Oscar winner, Babette's Feast). For an art form like film which sometimes goes out of its way to eschew any literary ambitions, that is an achievement to make Pollack, Streep and Redford justly proud.
Caveat: This Blu had a very hard time loading on either of my PS3's, both of which are up to date on firmware. There was a noticeable grinding noise on both players, not only when the film loaded, but throughout the first few chapters and again at the last chapter. The grinding also was very noticeable if I used the Pop Up Menu to access various features.
Out of Africa Blu-ray, Video Quality
I'm about to commit heresy, if not outright blasphemy, so I am prepared for the brickbats. I never saw Out of Africa in the theaters, but I have owned it on both VHS and DVD, and I have found each home video incarnation to be remarkably ugly from an image standpoint, something that has nothing to do with Watkin's exceptional cinematography. Unfortunately, that trend continues with a lackluster Blu-ray presentation, delivered via an AVC codec in 1080p and an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. First, the good news: contrast is noticeably better than the SD-DVD, though that is offset somewhat by a rather peculiar color shift toward the red side, especially in the skin tones. But the many night scenes offer a new wealth of detail due to wonderfully rich black levels and good, solid contrast. The bad news is sadly more dramatic. First of all, some of the disappointment is simply due to the superior resolution of the Blu-ray, which offers a sometimes unwanted peek into the filmmaker's craft. For instance, I had never before realized that the two shots of Streep and Brandauer early in the film were obviously made before either a green screen or rear projection, something that is all too apparent in this incarnation. But even more troubling is an omnipresent softness, coupled with a lot of grain, that just gives a sort of dirty feel to a lot of the film. There are also the ugly halos of edge enhancement, which you can spot as early as in the scene with the biplane, where the support struts clearly show the effect. The source elements themselves also show occasional specks and other damage.
Things aren't uniformly depressing. There is certainly an uptick in clarity and depth of field is quite dramatic at times. Close-ups certainly fare better in the detail department, as might be expected, but overall there is a noticeable improvement, albeit slight, over the SD-DVD. I just don't think it's enough of an improvement for anyone to get too excited about.
Out of Africa Blu-ray, Audio Quality
This isn't the most robust or immersive DTS-HD MA 5.1 track you've ever heard, but it gets the job done rather nicely, and in fact does provide some wonderfully rich and satisfying recreations of the African soundworld. From the quietest buzzing of insects to the thundering roar of a devastating fire, we're offered a perhaps somewhat subdued rendering, especially in the low end, that nonetheless is clear and for the most part quite convincing. Dialogue is uniformly front and center, with foley effects and underscore filling the surround channels. Some of the ambient effects are very pleasing indeed, from the rustle of leaves and gurgling of water to the sounds of African wildlife. Barry's score and the source cues are all mixed very well into the proceedings, though I found the balance between dialogue and score to be a bit unevenly weighted to the score's detriment. There's not a lot here that is going to set your subwoofer jumping across your floorboards, but all in all this is a crisp and nicely directional outing that calmy envelops the listener in the soundfield.
Out of Africa Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Two superb extras have been ported over from the Collector's Edition DVD, a really excellent commentary track from Pollack, and the equally superb documentary Song of Africa (SD; 72 minutes) which gives us a lot of fascinating background on the real Blixen before launching into a remembrance of the film itself. Deleted Scenes (SD; 15 minutes) and the Theatrical Trailer round out the extras on the disc itself, which is also equipped with BD Live capability. And of course the SD-DVD is offered on the "flip side" of this BD 59.
Out of Africa Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Out of Africa is that rare film which is able to recreate not just a place, but a time. Africa between the two world wars was a place of mystery and intrigue, and this film admirably recreates that alien feeling, coupling it with the time-honored tradition of starcrossed romance. The Blu-ray itself is marred by a lackluster image, but there may be enough of an improvement, however minor, over the SD-DVD to make this recommended for the film's many devout fans.
Out of Africa: Other Editions
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