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Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, M. Emmet Walsh, Samm-Art Williams, Deborah Neumann, Raquel Gavia
Writing Credits:
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Dead in the heart of Texas.

A rich but jealous man hires a private investigator to kill his cheating wife and her new man. But, when blood is involved, nothing is simple.

Box Office:
$1.5 million.
Opening Weekend
$42.971 thousand on 3 screens.
Domestic Gross
$2.150 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 8/30/2011

• Audio Commentary with Forever Young Films’ Kenneth Loring
• Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Blood Simple [Blu-Ray] (1984)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 5, 2011)

All great film careers must start somewhere, and with 1984’s Blood Simple, we find the debut from the Coen brothers. Also written by both Joel and Ethan Coen, the film takes us to Texas. Bar owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating on him, and he’s right. As proven by private detective Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), she’s having a fling with Ray (John Getz), one of Marty’s employees.

This displeases Marty, of course, and he decides to do something about it: he offers Visser $10,000 to kill the pair. A mercenary sort, Visser agrees. From there we follow intrigue and a mix of complications.

Dating back to their second film – 1987’s Raising Arizona - I’ve gone through a long, complicated history with the Coen brothers. I never saw Simple during its original era, so Arizonawas my first experience with their work. It got lots of hype as a wacky, original comedy – and I thought it was terrible.

My opinion of the brothers improved considerably with the rich, intense Miller’s Crossing in 1990 but dipped again with the erratic Barton Fink the next year. And so it’s gone since then; for me, the Coens have alternated relative hits with moderate misses.

I looked forward to Simple because I thought it played into the Coen genre that I’ve liked the best: dark drama. It’s their comedies that flop the worst for me, but when they’ve been more serious, the Coens have delivered their best work.

A whole lot of people think Simple is a terrific movie, but unfortunately, I can’t quite figure what leads them to this impression. On the positive side, the flick does look great. The Coens weren’t the only later-to-be-notable filmmakers involved with Simple; cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld made his feature debut here. He gave the movie a strong sense of style that belies its “first flick” origins and its budget. This isn’t a movie that ever looks like something from newly-minted aspiring professionals.

And the cast manages to add a sheen of class and quality to the product as well. McDormand made her feature debut here, too, but she shows the depth and self-assurance we’d learn to expect from her. I could live without Getz’s “Sling Blade Before Sling Blade Existed” vocal mannerisms, but overall, the actors work to make the movie seem like something from more seasoned filmmakers.

So what goes wrong? To me, the biggest problem stems from the script. Simple gets a lot of the tone and minutiae of film noir without much of interest around which to build these components. Simple starts slowly and never really manages to kick into a higher gear. I’m sure if I looked, I could find a more uneventful murder movie, but I can’t think of one right now.

I recognize that the Coens weren’t aiming for high drama and pyrotechnics. I recognize that they wanted something more introspective and thought provoking. I recognize that much of Simple deals with the aftermath of murder and the guilt/emotions that come along for the ride.

Unfortunately, they just weren’t mature enough as filmmakers to explore this territory in an interesting way. Perhaps if the Coens remade Blood Simple now, they might be able to develop its story and characters in a more satisfying manner. In the early 80s, however, they bit off more than they could chew, and they made a moderately intriguing but often slow and uncompelling movie.

Note that the Blu-ray gives us the 1999 Director’s Cut of the film. Unlike most alternate versions, it runs a few minutes shorter than the theatrical edition. As far as I can tell, the original has never appeared on DVD or Blu-ray.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus C

Blood Simple appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. An erratic image, the presentation was fine most of the time.

Print flaws created periodic distractions. Throughout the film, I saw more than occasional instances of specks; these weren’t dominant, but they weren’t rare, either. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, though, and I noticed no edge haloes.

Sharpness tended to vary. Some shots offered very nice clarity, and those were more frequent than not. However, more than a few soft elements appeared. Most of these seemed to stem from the source photography; Simple wasn’t exactly a big-budget affair, so inconsistencies became more expected. The majority of the flick offered pretty good definition.

Colors were adequate. The movie went with a fairly deep palette that favored dense tones, and these looked positive; they displayed nice clarity and never became too heavy. Blacks were a bit inky but usually fine, and shadows seemed smooth.

As I watched Simple, I questioned how much digital noise reduction came along for the ride. Grain varied and often seemed natural for what I’d anticipate from a low-budget movie shot in 1983. However, more than a few shots seemed surprisingly free from grain when I examined the settings. I suspected some noise reduction in these, but I didn’t notice the telltale signs of smearing or waxiness that usually come with too much DNR.

Perhaps others will come to a more obvious determination of its use; as for me, I found myself suspicious but without clear indications. In the end, the transfer was up and down but satisfying enough for a “C+”.

I believe Blood Simple had a monaural soundtrack back in 1984, but it got an upgrade for the 1999 Director’s Cut. That’s what we hear represented via the Blu-ray’s DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio. Even with the changes that occurred in technology and standards over the intervening 15 years, the mix for Simple remained… well, pretty simple. Music offered stereo imaging that seemed fine, and effects broadened to the sides in a moderate manner. These delivered basic panning and involvement but nothing especially involving or active.

Audio quality varied but was usually fine. Speech tended to be the most erratic, largely due to some weak dubbing on occasion. Lines were always intelligible and usually appeared reasonably natural, but they could come across as stiff and forced at times. Music seemed fairly rich and full, and effects were pretty solid. I suspect that was the part of the movie that enjoyed most of the re—recording benefits, especially related to the loud, booming gunshots. All of this came across as a fairly satisfying mix given the movie’s age.

Two extras appear here: the movie’s trailer and an audio commentary from “Kenneth Loring” of “Forever Young Film Restoration”. Why the quotes? Because there’s no such thing as “Forever Young”, “Kenneth Loring” is a pseudonym, and the whole thing’s a gag. The flick opens with a 95-second intro from the fake company’s “Mortimer Young” as well; he explains how digital technology and other processes have radically improved Simple along with other false facts.

The commentary from “Loring” follows the same path. He delivers all sorts of movie-related analysis and notes. We hear about various cinematic techniques plus behind the scenes details of abandoned scenes and characters. All of which is wholly false, of course. Almost nothing you hear in the commentary is true, as “Loring” provides one ridiculous “fact” after another.

Some of this seems moderately entertaining, but I think the comedic content becomes too thin and forced to sustain our interest over a 95-minute movie. Actually, I must admit that some of the commentary’s most amusing bits came during the film’s second half, so I can’t claim that it peters out as it goes.

However, by the time the track got to its more clever moments, I was simply ready for it to end. It’s a one-joke premise that probably works best ala the quick intro from “Mortimer Young”; when the gag gets stretched to feature-length, it sags too often to keep us amused.

Kind of like Blood Simple itself. On some levels, the movie represents a strong first statement from the Coen brothers. On others, however, it suffers from a lack of cinematic development and falters. The Blu-ray comes with decent picture and audio as well as the occasionally amusing commentary. I’m sure fans will be happy with this release, though I suspect they’d be even more delighted if the Coens finally let the original theatrical cut of Simple out of the warehouse. As for me, I think it’s interesting to see the Coens’ first feature but don’t feel all that excited about the end result.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4 Stars Number of Votes: 10
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