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Brian De Palma
John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz, Peter Boyden, Curt May, John Aquino, John McMartin
Writing Credits:
Brian De Palma

Murder has a sound all of its own!

In the enthralling Blow Out, brilliantly crafted by Brian De Palma, John Travolta gives one of his greatest performances, as a movie sound-effects man who believes he has accidentally recorded a political assassination. He enlists the help of a possible eyewitness to the crime (Nancy Allen), who may be in danger herself, to uncover the truth. With its jolting stylistic flourishes, intricate plot, profoundly felt characterizations, and gritty evocation of early-1980s Philadelphia, Blow Out is an American paranoia thriller unlike any other, as well as a devilish reflection on moviemaking.

Box Office:
$18 million.
Domestic Gross
$13.747 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 119 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 4/26/2011

• Video Interview with Director Brian De Palma
• Video Interview with Actor Nancy Allen
• Video Interview with Cameraman Garrett Brown
Murder a la Mod Feature Film
• Trailer
• Stills Gallery

• 32-Page Booklet


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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Blow Out (Criterion Collection) [Blu-Ray] (1981)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 6, 2011)

Itís funny how some movie-going experiences stay with you. During the summer of 1981, my father and I went to a local multiplex for a double feature of Blow Out andÖ I donít know. I maintain some vague impressions of the latter flick, but I doubt Iíd be able to name it to save my life. Nonetheless, I remember the trek, and I know that I took home a positive impression of Blow Out, which was the first Brian De Palma film Iíd seen in my then-young life.

Actually, I think I took in a TV showing of Carrie by 1981, but that shouldnít really count. The flick required substantial editing to appear on commercial television, which really must have made it a different experience. As such, Blow Out stood as my first experience with the directorís work.

It was a positive start. In later years, I rarely cared much for De Palmaís flicks, but I really enjoyed Blow Out. A loose remake of Michelangelo Antonioniís 1966 hit Blowup, it tells the story of Jack Terry, a sound effects engineer who works on cheesy slasher movies. Jack seems too talented for this milieu, and he is, but weíll need to wait until midway through the film to found out how he ended up in such a place.

After our introduction to Jack and his world, we see him as he attempts to gather new material. He goes out to a bridge and tapes environmental sounds. In the midst of this session, a car careens off the bridge and heads into the drink. Jack dives in and attempts to save the inhabitants; although itís too late for the driver, he manages to extricate a woman, Sally (Nancy Allen).

As it happens, the deceased person was a very prominent politician, and his handlers seek to cover up the details of the accident so his dalliance with Sally the floozy wonít sully his reputation or harm his family. However, Jack has other concerns, as he feels convinced that the event wasnít caused by a simple tire problem. He seems sure that a gunshot preceded the blow out, and he tries to prove this. Eventually, he annoys the wrong people, and much of the film shows Jack and Sally as they attempt to stay one step ahead of danger.

At its heart, Blow Out offers a fairly conventional thriller, but the audio angle helps spice up the action. This isnít a tremendously original move; it alters the Antonioni flick only in that Blowup used a photo at its core, while Blow Out has an audiotape. Still, the suspense generated as Jack tries to prove his impressions makes the movie fairly exciting and compelling.

Unfortunately, it doesnít take too long for Jack to convince himself - and us - that he heard what he thought. From there, we learn more about the filmís conspiracy, though the story stays with Jackís point of view for the most part, which means we donít find out too much about this aspect. Whatever the case, the film seems more conventional from that point, especially as Jack and Sally develop a predictable love affair.

While the second half of Blow Out offers few surprises, De Palma stages the action effectively enough to maintain interest. The movie also benefits from an unusually deep performance by Travolta. On the page, Jack is a fairly thin, clichť character, but Travolta helps bring him to life with depth and reality. The personality seems much better developed than it actually is, as Travolta creates a fairly winning role.

Unfortunately, Allenís Sally takes away from some of those positives. She adopts an extremely annoying Betty Boop voice for the part; I suppose she thought itíd add a regional believability to Sally, but I didnít buy the intonations as anything other than silly affectations. Allen stays with a cartoony tone in other ways, and she never makes Sally very sympathetic or interesting.

Nonetheless, the combination of Travolta and some compelling action are enough to make Blow Out a reasonably entertaining experience. It didnít impress me now as much as it did 30 years ago, but I still think Blow Out seems generally exciting and fun. Itís not a classic, but it offers a good thriller.

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

Blow Out appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not a killer presentation, the movie usually looked pretty good.

I suspect the imageís issues stemmed from the source photography, which I doubt was ever particularly vivid. Sharpness was an occasional concern, as some shots appeared a little soft and limp. However, those didnít create a lot of problems, as the majority of the movie demonstrated positive accuracy and delineation. Jaggies and moirť effects didnít become a factor, and I noticed no edge haloes or digital noise reduction. Source flaws were essentially absent; I mightíve noticed a small speck or two, but that was it.

Colors looked fairly vivid and accurate, though they never seemed particularly special. The movie offered a reasonably natural palette, and the tones came across as reasonably vibrant and clean. Some red lighting appeared a bit strong, but as a whole, the hues were fine. Black levels also seemed to be fairly rich and deep, while shadow detail was usually find; a couple of shots were a smidgen thick, but most demonstrated good clarity. Again, the source created some inconsistencies, but it usually provided a nice presentation.

I also felt pleased with the DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack of Blow Out. The soundfield offered a surprisingly broad and engaging spectrum of sound. Music showed good stereo separation, and effects spread accurately and distinctly across the front. Localization seemed to be solid, as elements appeared in appropriate places, and they blended together cleanly. The surrounds added a good sense of reinforcement to the package; they didnít present much individual information, but they seemed to accentuate the mix well.

Audio quality showed some signs of age, but it appeared reasonably positive. Dialogue sounded a little thin and reedy with a bit of sibillance, but I thought the speech was relatively natural and distinct, and I discerned no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility.

Music seemed a little thin and flat, but it demonstrated acceptable fidelity. Effects lacked terrific highs, but they were fairly accurate and deep, as the low-end added a nice kick to the package. Bass could have been better defined, but it seemed strong for the era. Overall, I thought Blow Out offered a pretty fine auditory experience.

How did the picture and sound of this Blu-Ray compare with those of the 2001 DVD? Audio was pretty similar; the lossless track was a bit cleaner, but it didnít offer a tremendous boost over the original Dolby Surround mix.

Visuals provided a more obvious step up in quality. The Blu-ray was notably tighter, cleaner and more film-like than the DVD. The old DVD was pretty mediocre, so even with its inconsistencies, the Blu-ray offered substantially stronger visuals.

While the DVD provided virtually no extras, this Criterion release packs in quite a few. Conducted by filmmaker Noah Baumbach, an Interview with Director Brian De Palma runs 57 minutes, 48 seconds and discusses the movieís origins and development, influences, sets and locations, the fake movie that starts the flick, cast, characters and performances, camerawork and the use of Steadicam, music and editing, stunts, costumes and production design, and other aspects of the filmís creation and De Palmaís career.

While itís too bad we donít get a full commentary, the interview compensates nicely. Baumbach asks good questions that benefit from the insights another filmmaker brings. The pair interact well, and De Palma throws out plenty of nice notes throughout this strong conversation.

Two additional video interviews follow. The first involves actor Nancy Allen and lasts 25 minutes, 25 seconds as Allen chats about her history with De Palma and John Travolta, what led her to Blow Out, her character and performance, and aspects of the film and her career. Allen digs into her experiences well, as she makes this a consistently informative and insightful piece.

For the second interview, we hear from cameraman Garrett Brown. During his 15-minute, three-second chat, he discusses his invention of the Steadicam and aspects of its use and working on Blow Out. Brown delivers nice thoughts about camera usage in this tight, brisk featurette.

Possibly the Blu-rayís most intriguing extra, we get a 1967 film called Murder a la Mod. De Palmaís first feature, it lasts one hour, 20 minutes, and three seconds as it tells about Karen (Margo Norton), a girl dating Chris (Jared Martin), a married man who works in porn to make enough money to divorce his wife. When Karenís friend Tracy (Andra Akers) withdraws some valuables from a safe, Karen decides to steal these and use the proceeds to finance Chrisís freedom. This ultimately ends poorly.

Expect a long, slow trip to get there. Firmly entrenched in the experimental side of the era, the movie mixes cinematic pretensions with odd gimmicks and doesnít really go much of anywhere. Itís interesting in the way it hints at De Palmaís later efforts Ė obviously the themes and characters would reappear in the future Ė and it also offers intriguing experiments with chronology, but it usually tends to be amateurish and silly.

In addition to the filmís trailer, we get a Still Gallery. This presents 24 of Louis Goldmanís shots from the set. Itís not an extensive collection, but it adds some good photos.

Like all Criterion releases, this one includes booklet. In this 32-page affair, we find essays from film historian Michael Sragow and critic Pauline Kael. It also features a reprint of the frame-by-frame car accident photo article in the flick. This ends up as another fine booklet.

Blow Out suffers from De Palmaís usual lack of creativity, but it works better than most of his retreads. The movie maintains a decent level of suspense, though I feel it gives away some of its secrets too easily. A good lead performance from John Travolta makes the movie more successful. The Blu-ray offers good picture and sound along with a nice collection of supplements. While no classic, Blow Out is an entertaining thriller, and Criterion creates a fine Blu-ray for it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.25 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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