Blow Out remains a symphony of sight and sound that holds us spellbound from beginning to end. A tightly woven mystery laced with paranoia and conspiracy theories, dynamite performances from John Travolta and Nancy Allen, and above all, De Palma’s electrifying technique and meticulous craftsmanship combine to create one of the best films of the 1980s, and this Criterion edition honors it with a stellar transfer, excellent audio, and array of absorbing supplements. Highly Recommended.
[Excerpt from our Blow Out - Criterion Collection 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray review]
After I saw - and became obsessed by - Dressed to Kill upon its initial theatrical release in mid-1980, I eagerly anticipated writer-director Brian De Palma's next movie. I didn't quite know what to expect when I settled into my seat to watch Blow Out the following summer, but when the lights came up, 19-year-old me instantly deemed it De Palma's best film to date. Sadly, America didn't share my lofty opinion. Blow Out failed miserably at the box office and spent the next couple of decades languishing in the massive shadows of such De Palma blockbusters as Scarface and The Untouchables.
I still can’t understand why. Buoyed by an absorbing story, potent themes, stellar performances, and De Palma’s often electrifying technique, Blow Out delivers on a number of levels, and though it owes Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation a nod for inspiration, it feels far more original than Dressed to Kill. With its subjective camera shots, extreme close-ups, and eerie elegance, Blow Out still exudes a Hitchcockian flavor, but it’s less of a homage than some of De Palma’s other features. The edgier tone and grittier presentation help Blow Out stand apart, and as time passed, the movie gradually gained the recognition and respect it always deserved.
Today, it's more relevant than ever, fitting oh-so-snugly into our current culture of paranoia, conspiracy theories, political corruption, and media saturation. None of those issues are new - movies have been exploring them since the 1930s - but Blow Out seamlessly stitches them together and juxtaposes them against an ironic backdrop of flag-waving patriotism. De Palma employs a red, white, and blue color scheme, sets his film in the birthplace of democracy - Philadelphia - and climaxes the story with celebratory festivities (a parade and fireworks) surrounding a fictional holiday called Liberty Day…all while the film’s hero doggedly struggles to expose and broadcast an ugly truth no one wants to hear anything about.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The remastered Blow Out arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard Criterion case. A 36-page booklet featuring an essay by Victor Fleming biographer Michael Sragow, critic Pauline Kael's original New Yorker review of the film, a frame-by-frame look at the titular accident, a cast and crew listing, transfer notes, and several photos is tucked inside the front cover. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Surround. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the full-motion menus with music and sound effects immediately pop up; no previews or promos precede them.
According to the liner notes, the 2011 Criterion transfer of Blow Out was struck from a brand-new (at the time) 2K restoration of the original 35 mm camera negative that was supervised and approved by director Brian De Palma. Eleven years later, it still looks mighty good, and if Criterion did not decide to remaster the film again, this time in 4K for an Ultra HD release, I highly doubt we ever would have seen another Blu-ray edition. (The 2022 Blu-ray transfer of Blow Out, which was struck from a new 16-bit 4K restoration and looks practically identical to this 2011 transfer is only available as part of the 4K UHD set.)
When compared to the 4K UHD transfer, the Blu-ray exhibits more grain and is less defined, but if I had never seen Blow Out in 4K UHD, I would be very pleased with this 1080p transfer. Sure, the color palette can't match the spectrum and saturation of Dolby Vision, but the hues here are plenty vivid, lush, and true. Clarity, contrast, and shadow delineation are excellent, blacks are rich, whites are bright, the natural grain structure preserves the feel of film, and the source material is practically spotless. Lovely, detailed close-ups, natural and consistent flesh tones, palpable depth, and easily discernible background elements also enhance this first-class effort that faithfully honors Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography and showcases De Palma's arresting technique and superior craftsmanship.
Blow Out on Blu-ray remains an immersive, involving, and often dazzling home video experience. Though this 1080p transfer can't top the 4K UHD presentation, it stands as a top-notch rendering of a beautiful film.
The liner notes state the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround track was "remastered from a 35 mm magnetic track." While I’m sure a 5.1 remix could really maximize all the nuanced sound that’s such a huge part of Blow Out’s story and presentation, this 2.0 surround track totally delivers the goods. Crisp, clear, and well-modulated, the track supplies sonic oomph when necessary (the final scream cuts like a knife and the bang before the blowout wields appropriate power), but really caresses all the subtleties, like rustling leaves in the wind, a hooting owl, a croaking frog, the rattle of film running through a projector, a heartbeat, the din of the hospital emergency room, and all the ticks and clicks of the recording equipment. Palpable stereo separation across the front channels and a few noticeable bleeds to the rears widen the soundscape and create an enveloping experience.
A wide dynamic scale gives Pino Donaggio's elegant score plenty of room to breathe, while superior fidelity helps it fill the room with ease. Dialogue is often competing with effects and music, but it's always well prioritized and easy to comprehend. No distortion creeps in and no hiss, pops, or crackle distract from the constant barrage of stimulating sounds that complement almost every frame of this sensory thriller.
An impressive supplemental package enhances this Blu-ray release.
Interview with Brian De Palma (HD, 58 minutes) - Filmmaker Noah Baumbach chats extensively with De Palma about such topics as the story's genesis (a combination of Blow-Up and The Conversation), his first use of the Steadicam, how he devised and shot certain scenes, and how he constructs and executes his trademark split-screen shots (and the purpose behind them) in this essential 2010 interview. De Palma also talks about his obsession with the conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination, how the theft of a portion of the original Blow Out negative necessitated extensive reshooting, Hitchcock's genius and how it influenced him, Nancy Allen's crippling claustrophobia, Travolta's warmth and generosity, and how the downbeat ending likely contributed to the movie's financial failure.
Interview with Nancy Allen (HD, 25 minutes) - In this revealing 2011 interview that includes a number of rare production stills, Allen recalls working with Travolta on Carrie and how their terrific chemistry carried over into Blow Out, relates how she developed her "little rag doll character," notes the differences between the original script and finished product, recounts the harrowing experience of filming in the submerged car, and expresses her wish that Sally and Jack could have had a more overt romantic relationship. She also talks about De Palma's penchant for extensive rehearsal and respect for actors, sings the praises of Dennis Franz, and rues the movie's poor marketing campaign.
Interview with cameraman Garrett Brown (HD, 15 minutes) - The inventor of the Steadicam system demonstrates how the camera is used, shows off a variety of models, and discusses the challenges of shooting the cheesy horror movie that opens Blow Out and making it look as bad as possible. Brown calls it "a great, fun bit of filmmaking" and lauds De Palma's understanding of and brilliant use of the Steadicam in several movies.
On-Set Photographs by Louis Goldman (HD) - Twenty-four black-and-white production stills featuring Travolta, Allen, De Palma, Lithgow, and others are included in this photo gallery.
Murder à la Mod (HD, 80 minutes) - This weirdly fascinating 1967 experimental film, written and directed by De Palma and shot in black-and-white, mixes elements of Psycho and Rear Window into a bizarre-o narrative about a novice filmmaker, his sleazy low-budget movie, and the brutal killing of his leading lady. (Is it just my imagination or does the elevator in the filmmaker's building look almost exactly like the one in which Angie Dickinson gets slashed to death in Dressed to Kill?) De Palma blends slapstick comedy, non-linear storytelling, and multiple character points of view with nudity, gore, and lots of technique (fast-motion photography, overexposed frames, a handheld camera, and dream sequences), but the finished product only provides glimmers of the craftsmanship that would soon define this visionary director.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - "It began with a sound no one was ever supposed to hear." That's the voiceover line that opens Blow Out's original preview that contains snippets from the film's most intense scenes.
Brian De Palma’s riveting tale of political skullduggery, paranoia, and one man’s dogged effort to expose corruption and murder remains just as dazzling - and relevant - today as it was four decades ago, and the excellent 1080p transfer beautifully showcases the film’s power and impact, as well as De Palma’s craftsmanship, artistry, and invention. Terrific audio and a comprehensive supplemental package add to the appeal of this quality Criterion release. If you've never seen De Palma's masterpiece, it's high time you do, and if you don't have a 4K UHD set-up, this Blu-ray more than suffices. Highly Recommended.