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Robert Benton
Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Jane Alexander, Justin Henry
Writing Credits:
Robert Benton

Ted Kramer's wife leaves her husband, allowing for a lost bond to be rediscovered between Ted and his son, Billy. But a heated custody battle ensues over the divorced couple's son, deepening the wounds left by the separation.

Box Office:
Domestic Box Office:

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Monaural
French Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 105 min.
Price: $159.99
Release Date: 11/18/2008

Available Only as Part of ďColumbia Best Pictures CollectionĒ

• ďFinding the Truth: The Making of Kramer Vs. KramerĒ Documentary


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; 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.


Kramer Vs. Kramer: Columbia Best Pictures Collection (1968)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 21, 2015)

As Iíve noted in other reviews, Oscar does tend to prefer his period pieces, which is what made the Seventies an unusual time. From 1971 to 1980, a whopping six of the 10 Best Picture winners took place in then-contemporary settings.

Even the films with older settings didnít always stray far from home. For example, 1978ís The Deer Hunter used the very-recent past, and parts of 1974ís The Godfather Part II went back only a couple of decades. Only 1973ís The Sting and 1972ís The Godfather were firmly set in long-gone eras.

Contrast that with 1961-1970, with three contemporary films (1961ís West Side Story, 1967ís In the Heat of the Night, and 1969ís Midnight Cowboy). 1981-1990 offeered only two then-current settings (1983ís Terms Of Endearment and 1988ís Rain Man). The next decade fared no better; from 1991-2000, we found only two more contemporary flicks (1991ís The Silence of the Lambs and 1999ís American Beauty).

I guess the Academy was a little more adventurous in the Seventies, but I can somewhat understand Oscarís preference for period fare. Movies with then-current settings can much more easily suffer from the wear and tear of aging, as they donít always stand up very well past their eras. Look at older flicks like Gentlemanís Agreement or The Lost Weekend; these seem quite dated by now.

Happily, 1979ís Kramer Vs. Kramer largely avoids those traps, mainly because it has little to do specifically with its era. The movie revolves around the family of husband Ted (Dustin Hoffman), wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) and son Billy (Justin Henry). At the start of the film, Joanna abandons the other two; she seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and she no longer loves Ted enough to remain with him.

Tedís a go-go advertising man, and his work clearly consumes his life. As such, heís not developed much of a connection with Billy, but he now needs to get a crash course in parenting. Much of the film follows the evolution of their relationship, as we see Ted go from helpless and distant to controlled and loving.

Though things eventually go well between father and son, dark clouds loom when Joanna reenters the picture after 15 months away from them. She becomes determined to regain custody of her son, and that sets up a furious battle between her and Ted, who feels equally resolute.

Apocalypse Now remains my pick for the best film of 1979. It offers a much more ambitious and epic form than does Kramer, though it also falls short of many of its goals; the last third of Apocalypse still borders on unwatchability. Kramer shoots lower but hits more consistently. In some eyes, that may make it superior, but Iíll take the greater aim of Apocalypse.

Nonetheless, I do find Kramer to be a surprisingly compelling piece of work. For reasons unclear to me, I went into it with a modestly negative mindset. Iíd seen it before, but itíd been many years, so that prior experience didnít count for much.

Perhaps I retained the memory of the filmís most famous scene, the one in which Billy disobeys his father and eats ice cream. Out of context, that segment seems awfully cute and cloying, and I may have feared the whole film would work in such a way.

Happily, it doesnít. Instead, we get a fairly engrossing examination of the developing bond between father and son, and the movie convincingly depicts the strain put on a single parent, especially one with so little experience. Actually, much of Kramer reminds me of the Jim Carrey comedy Liar Liar, which also features a crummy father who learns to appreciate his son. Of course, the latter goes for a wilder tone, but some similarities exist.

Both Hoffman and Streep won Oscars for their work in Kramer, and costars Henry and Jane Alexander received nominations as well. I donít know how much I agree with the awards, at least in the case of Hoffman. Streep receives fairly little screen time, but she makes the most of it; you feel as though Joanna plays a much stronger role than she actually does. Streepís work here doesnít match up with stellar performances like her turn in Sophieís Choice - for which she won another Oscar - but she does make Joanna a much more prominent and memorable character than otherwise might have been likely.

As for Hoffman, I must admit Iíve never been a great fan of his work. To be sure, I like him to a degree, but Iíve always found his performances to contain a showy element that made them seem moderately forced.

The same elements emerge during Kramer, particularly in the earliest scenes. Hoffman tries to so hard to compress all of the aspects of Tedís personality into little balls that it doesnít flow naturally. His work improves as the movie progressed, however, and he gets more deeply within the characterís skin.

Speaking of Hoffman, as an aside I was interested to note his unusual string of Best Picture winners. For three straight decades, he starred in an Oscar-winning flick about every ten years: 1969ís Midnight Cowboy, 1979ís Kramer, and 1988ís Rain Man. Too bad 1999ís The Messenger had to break his run!

As a whole, Kramer Vs. Kramer offers a fairly satisfying drama. It takes a rich and honest look at the collapse of a relationship and a fatherís bond with his son. Overall it provides a well-executed piece of work that deliveres an interesting experience.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B-

Kramer Vs. Kramer appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A product of its era, Kramer looked okay but no better than that.

This meant that the crummy film stocks of the late 70s caused the image to appear pretty bland. Sharpness was decent for the most part. More than a few shots displayed mild softness, though, and the movie rarely came across as particularly concise. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, but some light edge haloes manifested themselves through the flick.

As for source flaws, they were absent, at least in terms of the usual suspects like specks and marks. I noticed no extraneous defects of that sort. However, Kramer provided an awfully grainy experience. Most of this stemmed from interior shots, where lighting conditions contributed to the graininess, but I still thought the flick suffered from more muck than it should.

As a low-key drama, Kramer didnít feature a bright palette, and the colors remained consistently subdued throughout the movie. That said, I thought they appeared decent. While the tones were dull, they werenít absurdly so, and they came to life better in daylight exterior shots.

Black levels looked a little drab but usually were reasonably deep and dense, while shadow detail could seem mildly thick. In general, the interior shots - of which the movie largely consisted - came across as a bit murky, while exteriors looked positive. Nonetheless, I felt that Kramer Vs. Kramer provided a watchable image.

And the winner for the prize as 2008ís Most Pointless Multichannel Remix goes to the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Kramer. The movie originally offered monaural audio, and that version appears on the DVD as well. Why did the suits at Columbia decide that a chatty character flick like Kramer needed a 5.1 reworking? I have no idea.

As one might expect, the results came across as subdued. The movieís simple score seemed to stay monaural; I noticed no indications that the music spread to the side speakers.

I did hear some mildly directional dialogue at times, though, and effects broadened to the sides. Those usually cropped up during street scenes, as they added light environmental information to the experience. None of this affected the movieís impact in either direction; the film didnít benefit from the added breadth of its soundfield.

Audio quality was just fine for a 36-year-old flick. Speech was a little thin but usually remained reasonably natural and concise. Only a smidgen of edginess showed up in a few louder lines. Music was acceptably full and rich, while those minimal effects seemed decent. They showed good clarity and lacked any concerns. Nothing here stood out from the crowd, but the audio satisfied.

How did the picture and sound quality of this 2008 Special Edition compare to those of the original 2001 DVD? Although the new disc added that 5.1 remix, I didnít think it improved on the prior releaseís audio. Kramer worked just fine in its monaural incarnation; the 2008 version may have included a new multichannel remix, but that didnít mean I thought it seemed more satisfying in the auditory realm.

Matters became more complicated in terms of visual comparisons. On one hand, the 2008 transfer showed fewer source flaws, and it also came with less edge enhancement. On the other hand, the 2001 presentation looked sharper and brighter, and it also suffered from lighter grain. In the end, I thought it was a wash. Both images had ups and downs, so neither surpassed the other.

Only one extra appears here: a documentary called Finding the Truth: The Making of Kramer Vs. Kramer. This 48-minute and 20-second program also appeared on the 2001 disc. It combines film clips, stills from the set, and modern interviews with writer/director Robert Benton, producer Stanley Jaffe, author Avery Corman, and actors Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Jane Alexander, and Justin Henry.

Those latter elements are what makes ďTruthĒ truly special. The interviews go far beyond the usual ďheís great, sheís great, weíre greatĒ nonsense found during most pieces of this sort. Instead, we learn a great deal about the production, from its genesis to the production to fine notes about the characters.

While all of the participants seem compelling, I must give special appreciation to Hoffman, who provides a wealth of honest and fascinating details about his work. He and Streep remain two of the most noted actors alive, and itís fantastic to hear them talk about their performances.

Since Hoffman plays a much bigger role in Kramer, he dominates the documentary, and thatís fine with me; I canít recall the last time I heard such an engrossing discussion. Across the board, ďFinding the TruthĒ is a wonderful documentary that adds immensely to my appreciation of the film.

Does the 2008 release drop any extras from its predecessor? Yes, but it doesnít lose anything scintillating. It omits filmographies, production notes and trailers. Itís too bad these got the axe, but theyíre not horrible losses.

While I donít believe that Kramer Vs. Kramer was the best film of 1979, it did provide a reasonably engaging and vivid experience. The movie offered generally solid acting and an involving and believable story. As for the DVD, its provides decent but unexceptional picture and audio along with a very good documentary. Ultimately Kramer Vs. Kramer merits your attention as a well-made drama.

Note that this edition of Kramer appears as part of ďThe Columbia Best Pictures CollectionĒ, an 11-movie set that also includes It Happened One Night, You Canít Take It With You, All the Kingís Men, On the Waterfront, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, A Man for All Seasons, Oliver!, From Here to Eternity and Gandhi.

While some of the other exclusives found in this set demonstrate substantial improvements over their predecessors, that isnít the case with Kramer. Neither one looks notably better than the other, and the addition of this releaseís 5.1 remix doesnít add anything to the table. This is a competent release but not one that surpasses its predecessor.

To rate this film visit original review of KRAMER VS. KRAMER

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