Blow Out (UK - BD RB)
Marcus records a car crash on tape and tries to solve a mystery with Travolta...
Bored horror movie sound designer Jack Terry (John Travolta) is in search for better sound effects for his current low budget slasher film. Late one night, while recording the sounds of wind on a bridge, he witnesses a car crash but when listening back to his audio recording he realises that this might not be an accident and that the local governor that died in the crash may very well have been assassinated.
Brain De Palma’s 1981 suspense thriller may have been under appreciated on its original release but it’s a film that's audience has grown over the last thirty years, with many a film lover sighting it as a film that really grabbed them. Of course Quentin Tarantino is a big help in that, calling out Blow Out as a reason he wanted to cast Travolta in Pulp Fiction and even pinching the score for use in Death Proof.
De Palma is working his strengths throughout this intriguing tale. His camera work is fantastic and his ability to build tension and drive the plot forward is a big part of what makes Blow Out feel so focused and compelling a mystery to solve. He adds layers to the unraveling conspiracy well and never lets it get too carried away with itself, keeping the film grounded with real world nuisances, such as Jack Terry taking the time to turn off his editing equipment before rushing off to chase another lead. This sounds like a silly thing, but so many modern thrillers have no time for little things like that and then wonder why we feel a disconnect to the characters as they fall deeper down the rabbit hole of their problem.
At the centre of it all Travolta is the perfect lead. From his first moments on screen, watching back the current horror he’s designing the sound for, it’s not difficult to see why JT was such a much loved star in the late 70s / early 80s. He does “likable everyday guy in a bad situation” perfectly but his uniquely Travolta dialogue delivery and “cool” screen presence screams movie star and to going back to Tarantino casting him for Pulp Fiction, you can totally see the roots of where the Vincent Vega character comes from within Travolta’s many traits in Blow Out.
Blow Out still holds up thirty years after its release, despite the many elements that have become cliché in thrillers since 1981. John Lithgow plays a wonderfully weird and twisted bad guy. A serial killer but seemingly only out of necessity to make his self induced cover up work and Nancy Allen, though the pretty typical dame with a heart, is very easy to like and her importance is felt enough for the wonderfully bleak ending here to work.
Speaking of the end, Blow Out really becomes its own thing in the world of thrillers because of it. I’d say it was probably an ending that no Hollywood studio would go near in today’s movie climate. It creates such a feeling of hopelessness and sorrow that it’ll just stick with you. How it ties into to Jack Terry’s past and indeed the film he’s working on, as he's searching for the perfect scream is just gut wrenchingly brilliant and it’s a mystery why studio’s are so scared of this sort of ending when they resonate as powerfully as what happens here. Blow Out may be thirty years old but you can still feel the tortured soul in Travolta’s performance today and it’s no wonder this film is such a cult favourite.
Blow Out comes with image that feels very much representative of the year it was made in. The image is bright and full of natural colour but those of you who don’t like grain all that much are going to be seeing it here, so be warned (or just get over it already). The presentation is gritty and has a veil of grain over it which can makes some of the colours feel a little underwhelming but detail is there none the less. Edges can often feel quite soft, well outside of the awesome De Palma close ups that that look great.
Blacks are a little muted with only elements like Travolta’s slicked back hair and the occasional black elements on a neon lit sign feeling as deep as they should. The key bridge scene is a tad grimy, with black not as deep as you would hope they would be but cutting to the hospital with its strip lighting is a whole different visual. Sharper edges glow with the light reflecting off of them and this pattern continues throughout the film. Scenes set in the day, look great, the night ones, pretty good but struggle to really impress.
This is all acceptable for the age and the style of the film and there’s really only one scene that lets the presentation down. The flashback to the corrupt Police Commissioner is pretty awful to look at. The scene with the three characters in the back of the car combines darkness and grain and it results in a pretty substantial looking mess. Thankfully that doesn't happen again and generally speaking Blow Out is a good looking Blu-ray but really only good for the film’s age.
The LPCM 2.0 is played with well and rightly so given the central character being a sound designer for films. The score feels well placed in the stereo track and sets the mood or underpins the visuals whenever required. The dialogue is a little muffled in places but is clear and strong enough to feel more than what has been available previously. The show off audio moments, such as the opening scene showing the current editing of the slasher film being made or the spin around scene of Jack Terry’s studio, where the sound elements build and build to create a tension are very well handled. Elements feel like they are happening all over the room and their combinations really add a lot of ambience. This is a great showcase of the film’s sound design and how important sound is in the film.
'Black and White In Colour'(27:41 HD) is a chat with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. He talks about his collaborations with De Palma as well as Blow Out growing appreciation over the years.
'Rag Doll Memories' (21:28 HD) is an interview with Nancy Allen from 2012. She talks about her co-star and his rise to fame since they first worked together on Carrie and of course Blow Out in general. It has to be said that the promotional shots of Travolta and Allen from the time are insane and don;t represent the film’s style at all.
'Return to Philadelphia' (18:37 HD) is an interview with producer George Litto and 'Multitracking Blow Out' (28:06 HD) is a chat with composer Pino Donaggio.
Last up is the trailer, and image gallery, a DVD Copy and those that were luckily enough to get it a rather awesome steelbook edition.
I hadn't re-watched Blow Out for too long and sitting down to review this Blu-ray was a great excuse to re-visit this Travolta gem. This is a thriller that uses cliché plot tricks you’ll probably not be all that surprised with but De Palma adds elements or turns that makes it a more interesting to watch unravel. It also helps that he has a great cast to do it with too. The Blu-ray is great for its age but don’t be expecting miracles and the extras are the usual great Arrow interviews with whoever was willing to talk about Blow Out, even if the lack of De Palma or Travolta is pretty disappointing.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 20th May 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 English
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras: Interviews, Trailer, Photo Gallery, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Brain De Palma
Cast: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow
Genre: Drama and Thriller
Length: 107 minutes
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