Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is an intriguing political thriller that plays with the ideas of perception and cinema. These themes are hinted at in the opening sequence as Blow Out opens with a POV sequence taken from Coed Frenzy, a low-budget slasher film, which it turns out is being watched by a producer and sound editor Jack Terry (John Travolta).
One night while out in the wilderness recording natural effects, Jack happens to be in the right place at the right time as a car blows a tire and crashes into a lake. Jack jumps in but is only able to save the passenger, a young woman named Sally (Nancy Allen). While answering questions at the hospital, Jack discovers the deceased driver was Governor McRyan, who was likely to be the next President of the United States considering how well he was running in the polls. An associate of McRyan convinces Jack that since Sally is not Mrs. McRyan, it would be best for everyone if no one knew she had been there.
While going through his recording of the night of the accident, Jack hears a sound before the tire blowout: a gunshot. He takes on the role of detective, piecing together what actually happened. While attempting to prove a conspiracy involved in McRyan’s death, Jack worries that he and Sally might meet a similar fate to McRyan’s if she doesn’t help him. And right Jack is, as those responsible, particularly their point man, Burke (John Lithgow delivering a chilling performance), who is more of a sociopath than his employers realized, are working to clean up all the loose ends. As Jack’s investigation progresses, he discovers, like the accident, many things are not as they appear.
De Palma delivers the goods here as writer/director. The script has a captivating plot with turns and misdirections that are believable and keep both the characters and the viewers guessing. The conclusion works very well as it breaks from the norm. De Palma has always been a director that maximizes his use of tools to tell his story and Blow Out is no exception with scenes utilizing a split-diopter lens and split-screens to increase the amount of information.
He also imbues Blow Out with allusions to films and then-recent history. Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up being the most obvious with the similar title and plot device, as a photographer thinks he may have discovered a murder through a photo. With an assassination of a presidential nominee and a political figure crashing a car into a lake, the Kennedys unfortunately come to mind. Also, after just having gone through the ’70s, which saw America citizens lose faith in its leaders, from the corruption of the Nixon Administration to the disappoint in the Ford and Carter administrations, the climatic scene involving chaos amidst the Liberty Bell centennial celebration offers political commentary on the times.
Criterion presents Blow Out with a 1080p/ MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1, supervised and approved by Brian De Palma per the booklet. As typical for Criterion, the following systems, MTI’s DRS, Pixel Fram’s PFC Clean, and Digital Vision’s DVNR, were used to improve the image. The strong hues of Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography are rendered well, particularly the bright colors seen during the parade sequence. Blacks are solid with shadow delineation as good as the source allows. Objects are clear and texture apparent, though softness appears on the side of some frames.
The audio comes in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. It was remastered from a 35 mm magnetic track and suffers no effects from its age. The effects are precise. The dialogue is always clear and is balanced well with Pino Donaggio’s score.
Special features accompany the film with three sets of interviews being most integral to learning about the making of Blow Out. “Noah Baumbach Interviews Brian De Palma” (HD, 58 min) Recorded in October 2010, the directors sit down for an in-depth discussion about the making of the film. De Palma reveals enough that it makes up for the lack of a commentary track. “Nancy Allen Interview”(HD, 26 min) – Recorded in January 2011, Allen reveals her impressions working on the film and reteaming with Travolta and De Palma, her husband at the time. “Garret Brown Interview” (HD, 15 min) – Brown is the inventor of the Steadicam system and shot the Coed Frenzy scenes. He offers a demonstration of the device. This feature is a highlight for fans of the work behind the camera.
Murder a la Mod (HD, 81 min) – Shot in black and white, one of De Palma’s earliest films finds him already playing with form in this murder mystery. “Louis Goldman Photographs” are a gallery of still photos taken on the set of Blow Out. Also included are the original trailer and a booklet that includes an essay by Michael Sragow, Pauline Kael’s review of the film, and a recreation of the prop magazine that contained photos of McRyan’s “accident”.
Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is a worthy addition to the Criterion Collection and this Blu-ray is a worthy addition to your collection.