Kramer vs. Kramer (UK - BD)
Just weeks before his wedding, Scott McKenzie watches this divorce movie...
When Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) returns home after the best day at work he’s ever had, he takes a while to register that his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) isn’t as happy as he is. She can’t handle him putting his work first and tells him she’s leaving him, but she’s not taking their son Billy (Justin Henry) with her. That leaves Ted to be mother and father to his son, at the same time struggling to deal with the fact that his wife is gone. Then, just when things are going well for Ted and Billy, Joanna returns to their lives and the Kramers find themselves in court, fighting for the custody of their son.
As I write this review I’m just a few weeks away from my wedding, so what could be better preparation than watching an all-time classic movie about divorce? To be honest it didn’t leave me worried about my impending nuptials, even though this is probably the most realistic movie about a couple breaking up, certainly when compared with the likes of The War of the Roses and The Break-Up. The title of Kramer vs. Kramer makes it sound like a movie that pitches one party against the other, with all the angst (and potential cheap gags) that may bring, but where this movie succeeds most is in the believability of the situations and the relationships between the characters.
The emotional core is the relationship between Ted and Billy, which develops more than any other throughout the movie. Largely neglected by career-driven father, Billy slowly works his way into Ted’s affections in some scenes that will probably be familiar to parents everywhere. Ted struggles to balance the dual roles of working and caring for his son but his eventual success is best illustrated by a pair of scenes that bookend the development of their relationship. An early moment where Ted struggles to make French toast for Billy is counterpointed by a largely silent scene near the end where they both work together to make breakfast with no problems whatsoever. It’s a very clever piece of writing and tells us more about how far the characters have come without having anyone spout a load of unnecessary exposition.
It’s those kinds of little touches that make the biggest impact on the viewer. For example, in one scene we see that Billy’s toys are kept on higher shelves that Ted’s bottles of liquor and shots of empty rooms and corridors are common early in the movie to illustrate the gap that Joanna has left in their lives. Meryl Streep’s character doesn’t return until quite late in the movie and while she gets some great lines and scenes to show off the presence and acting ability that has won her countless awards (most of all the opening scene), this is without a doubt Dustin Hoffman’s movie as he appears in almost every scene.
Coming just before Tootsie and after the likes of All The President’s Men and Lenny, this is Dustin Hoffman in his prime, being given a character that is as close to a ‘normal’ person as any he’s played, with a lot in common with what the actor himself was going through at the time of production. Kramer vs. Kramer walked away from the 1980 Oscars with five awards, quite rightly for the performances of Hoffman and Streep (and a nod for Justin Henry as Billy) and it beat Apocalypse Now to the best film award. However, on a personal note I'm left wondering whether I would have preferred to re-visit a war movie rather than a divorce movie at this point in my life!
On this Blu-ray disc we get Kramer vs. Kramer in 1080p, but as you might expect of a movie approaching its thirtieth birthday, the print is starting to show its age. Close-up shots look very detailed, but there is a lack of depth in wide shots with a lot going on in the background. The picture is also very grainy at times, although I couldn’t work out whether it was due to problems with the master print or processing of the transfer. I suspect the latter. The colours are bright though, so much so that certain tones were a little too bright. In one of the early scenes where Ted and Billy and shopping for groceries, the neon colours on the detergent boxes are so bright that it looks unnatural.
The main audio track is presented in Dolby TrueHD and as you might expect from a movie of this type, the quality lives or dies by the clarity of the dialogue and the lack of interference during the silent moments. There are no serious problems either way, although the dialogue is a little quiet. Low-key music crops up now and again and unsurprisingly, there are no moments when I thought high definition was the best choice for this movie. With no dazzling effects but also no significant problems with audio quality, looking back at my notes for this movie, all I had written down for this section was ‘quiet’ and ‘silence OK’.
In addition to an odd combination of trailers for Open Season 2 and Sense and Sensibility, the only extra feature is a making-of featurette. At forty-nine minutes long, it’s a fairly weighty documentary that goes into a good level of detail about the production. It turns out that Dustin Hoffman was going through a divorce at the time and he struggled to accept the role, even though he was always the producers’ first choice. Improvisation was common during the shoot and a grown-up Justin Henry is on hand with Dustin Hoffman to talk about the ‘ice cream scene’, which they improvised together.
Anyone out there who hasn’t seen Kramer vs. Kramer should definitely check it out, if only for three standout performances, two of which are from a pair of the best living actors when they were at the top of their game. However, is this the best format to check it out? Well, yes and no. I’m certain that this movie has never looked or sounded as good as this for a long time but the age of Kramer vs. Kramer means that the general standard is well below that of newer releases. There are no exclusive or new extra features either so just bear that in mind before you pick up this high definition release.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Scott McKenzie
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 2nd February 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Italian Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Russian Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: Arabic, Danish, Dutch, English, English HOH, Finnish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish Turkish
Extras: Making of, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Robert Benton
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Justin Henry
Length: 100 minutes
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