Customer Reviews: Blow Out (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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on April 23, 2011
Fans of this film can finally get rid of the bare bones edition that was released years ago. In addition to the extras on the DVD, the accompanying booklet features Pauline Kael's original review and a reproduction of the magazine in the film that published the photographs of McRyan's car crash.

"Noah Baumbach Interviews Brian De Palma" features the New York filmmaker talking to De Palma for almost an hour. He talks about the genesis of Blow Out. He also touches upon using the Steadicam for the first time, the film's score, various key scenes, and recounts some fantastic filming anecdotes in this excellent conversation between two filmmakers.

"Nancy Allen Interview" features the veteran actress talking about meeting Travolta for the first time on Carrie (Special Edition) and her impressions of him. She recalls her initial reaction to the script for Blow Out and how she approached her character. Interestingly, Allen wasn't going to do the film but Travolta wanted her to do it.

"Garrett Brown Interview" features the inventor of the Steadicam system recalling how he shot the cheesy horror film at the beginning of Blow Out. He also talks about and demonstrates how one works. Brown comes across as an engaging and candid guy.

"Louis Goldman Photographs" is a collection of stills taken on the set and for publicity purposes.

In a real treat for De Palma fans, his 1967 experimental film Murder a la Mod is included in its entirety. Like Blow Out, the film is a thriller that takes place in the filmmaker world. It is fascinating to see the director's emerging style still in its infancy and how the film is very much of its time.

Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.
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on October 11, 2001
Brian DePalma has been (sometimes correctly) accused of manufacturing little more than brilliant pastiche (which is another way of damning him with faint praise). I confess to be as guilty as anyone of this practice, finding films like Dressed to Kill slick, fun, but ultimately less works of art than of skillful post-modern artifice.
Blow Out is a haunting exception. Yes, it has clear antecedents in Antonioni's Blowup and Coppola's paranoid classic, The Conversation. But it is unfair to judge Blow Out by its similarities to these films. One need only pay minimal attention to realize DePalma has his own goals in mind. No mere retread of the standard paranoid political thriller, Blow Out is a bravura exercise in nuanced, multi-layered story telling.
Low budget movie soundman Jack Terry (John Travolta) is in the right place at the wrong time - while out recording some nature sounds for a B slasher flick (in which DePalma seems to poke fun at some of his own earlier work), he catches the sounds of an auto accident. In an incident reminiscent of Chappaquiddick, a car driven by a presidential candidate suffers a tire blowout and careens off a nearby bridge. The candidate dies, but Terry manages to rescue his "lady friend", a party girl named Sally (Nancy Allen). Key to the story is his recording, which seems to contain a double-bang - perhaps the blowout preceded by a gunshot? Naturally the story leads Terry into a web of intrigue featuring slimy political operatives, corrupt cops, and nefarious CIA henchmen.
Blow Out's visual style has drawn criticism from some quarters as being too flashy. Ridiculous! The camera movements are precise and deliberate; designed to communicate story points with great efficiency. The visual technique draws no more attention to itself than anything directed by Scorsese. Raging Bull (released about the same time) is far more "flashy" and nobody complains about it.
The DVD itself lacks any special features, but the film transfer is vivid and detailed, with good color fidelity (essential, since the art-direction is a major "star"). It is also double-sided, with a pan-scan presentation on one side, and enhanced widescreen on the other. Don't even bother with the pan-scan; DePalma and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's compositions are edge-to-edge, making full use of the Panavision frame.
Blow Out is not perfect. Some of the dialogue is contrived and sophomoric. Assassin Burke's (John Lithgow) golf pants in one scene make him look silly when he should seem sinister. But, on balance, John Travolta's solid performance and Brian DePalma's skilled direction more than make up for such lapses. With Blow Out DePalma reaches deeper than usual - with a disquieting sub-plot about guilt, unrequited love, and the futility of seeking redemption. Its conclusion is the punch line to a bitter, existential joke. Read closely, it's a scathing commentary on the Hollywood film industry itself, and the vampiric way it often feeds on very real, sometimes very sad, lives.
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Brian DePalma--you either love him or hate him it seems with one group always attacking him for "borrowing" from other directors and still others praising him for vividly echoing others work while creating something memorable of his own. I come here not to "blow out" DePalma but to praise him. "Blow Out" was one of the first films to use the Steadicam extensively for long tracking shots and DePalma used the device wisely throughout the film.

With "Blow Out" DePalma managed to elicit one of John Travolta's finest performances of his career reaching beneath the surface performance that Travolta often presents to get a sense of genuine emotion. A skewed paranoid thriller that uses the classic film "Blow Up" as its touch point, "Blow Out" focuses on a sound engineer named Jack (Travolta) who believes he recorded evidence of murder. Jack is determined to find out the truth but puts himself and Sally (Nancy Allen)a woman passenger in the car who survived and directly in the path of an assassin (John Lithgow).

The Criterion Blu-ray personally supervised by director DePalma is a huge improvement over the previous regular DVD edition. Fine detail is a huge improvement while clarity and contrast look much improved throughout. The film also went an extensive restoration and clean up which is most notable in the lack of scratches that were evident in the previous DVD presentation. This is a film that will never look perfect (some of the shots are extremely grainy but that's due to the film stock and the lighting choices for the film--it's a typical early 80's film but it looks the best it has ever looked here).

Audio sounds quite strong but keep in mind that this is presented in its original 2.0 NOT in a remixed or repurposed 5.1 mix. We get optional English subtitles. Dialogue and the marvelous music score by Pino Donaggio sound exceptionally crisp and clear.

Criterion rolls out some nice extras for this edition as well. We get DePalma's 1967 feature film "Murder a la Mode" which provided part of the inspiration for "Blow Out". Viewers should keep in mind that DePalma's film is experimental in technique at times and some of the visual choices, motifs, etc. that show up in "Blow Out" were first put on display in DePalma's earlier film.

We get an interview with Garrett Brown who created the Steadicam (and a demonstration for those who don't know how or what it is used for).

We also get an interview with DePalma conducted by director Noah Baumbach which is enlightening allowing DePalma to discuss the thought process behind shooting the film the way he did.

Nancy Allen appears in a new interview as well discussing her first impressions of Travolta (with whom she had worked on "Carrie"), her preparation for the role, etc.

Finally we get the original theatrical trailer (my how times have changed when it comes to theatrical trailers, (theatrical trailers should play like a mysterious seduction NOT quickie in the backseat of a car which is how most are presented today), production stills and, of course, a booklet with an essay by critic Michael Sragow as well as Pauline Kael's original interview with DePalma from the New Yorker.

DePalma often borrowed from other directors--so did Hitchcock, Welles, Ford, Spielberg and Scorsese. Like all of these directors DePalma sometimes managed to make what he borrowed into something uniquely his own while other times you could see the inspiration peaking out from under the covers almost like a child playing peek-a-boo. Regardless of whether DePalma was always successful at disguising his influences or hiding them, at his best, DePalma made intelligent, interesting and sometimes thought provoking thrillers.

Highly recommended.
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on May 24, 2012
One of Brian DePalma's best films, BLOW OUT, has arrived on Blu-Ray and DVD in a superb Criterion package. Mostly praised by critics though a box-office failure, "Blow Out" was one of the director's more fully-formed early features in terms of character development.

While DePalma's visual flourishes are still on full display throughout (use of split-screens, Steadicam, etc.), the movie isn't just a Hitchcock homage (nor a basic riff on Antonioni's similarly-titled "Blow Up"), with the filmmaker's original script following a B-movie sound effects editor (John Travolta) who catches on tape an accident that claims the life of an aspiring presidential candidate. Travolta manages to save the life of a girl (Nancy Allen) who was in the car with him, but soon finds out the accident was an assassination attempt when he plays back his audio recording, audibly picking up a gun shot prior to the incident.

DePalma's scenario is equal parts JFK and Chappaquiddick, and Travolta's attempts to uncover the truth leads to endless pain and no way out; even his relationship with Allen, playing a simple-minded, easily influenced young woman, never becomes overtly romantic as he crusades to get to the bottom of the conspiracy, but is stopped by forces beyond his control, including a devious killer (John Lithgow) committing crimes just to lead the police away from his main goal.

There are contrivances in DePalma's screenplay to be certain - why Travolta's character would ever give the original film over to Allen without making a copy first, or why he lets Allen go down into the Philadelphia subway system alone, are gaping plot holes that enable DePalma to craft a number of exciting set-pieces (including a dynamite car chase through a Philly "Liberty Day" parade), yet ultimately detract from the film's dramatic power. There are also times when DePalma the writer gets sidetracked - the picture primarily serves as a commentary on politics, corruption and conspiracy in the post-Bicentennial era, yet goes off track to incorporate a spoof on modern slasher films, while the entire Lithgow subplot also doesn't feel entirely at home with the film's other aspects either.

Still, there's much to admire in the film, from Travolta's excellent performance (it's still one of his best), to the crackerjack editing and cinematography, with Vilmos Zsigmond providing DePalma with a neverending supply of beautifully composed widescreen images. Pino Donaggio's score is also one of his best efforts for a DePalma picture, while the entire movie has an authentic, atmospheric backdrop having been shot entirely on location in a city where the director spent a good deal of his youth. It's energetic and always entertaining, even if the screenplay is uneven and at times unbelievable.

Criterion's Blu-Ray package preserves Zsigmond's cinematography in a newly remastered AVC encoded 1080p transfer with 2.0 DTS MA stereo audio, reproducing the film's original 2-channel Dolby Stereo mix. Both are effective, while extras include an hour-long, informative interview of DePalma by filmmaker Noah Baumbach that was conducted last October; a half-hour conversation with Nancy Allen, who recalls working on the film, with DePalma (then her husband) and Travolta; a particularly interesting segment with Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown talking about his process and how it has evolved over the years; the original trailer; and DePalma's avant garde 1967 indie feature "Murder a la Mod," presented in HD. Highly recommended!
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on October 16, 2011
Blow Out was a pleasant surprise. After watching Carrie and Scarface, I really enjoyed De Palma's
style and blind buy this film. The reviews were positive and worth of mouth was enthusiastic. After
watching it, I have to say that Blow Out has become my favorite De Palma film (so far) and one of
the best thrillers ever made.

When a B-movie sound recorder is requested to record new sounds, he goes out and start
recording. While he is there, a car is going through a bridge and suddenly its tire explodes and the
car goes down to the river. The sound recorder goes to the river and rescues a girl. When they go
to the hospital, he discovers that she was with an important candidate to the presidency. He died
in the accident and the police advises him to forget the girl and forget about this whole thing.
When he is hearing the recordings he hears a gun and is convinced that this was no accident. He
contacts the girl and together they tried to uncover the mystery while avoiding a killer who is
behind all this complot.

Blow Out is a very well constructed film that elevates the tension in every scene. John Travolta and
Nancy Allen are great in the lead roles and John Lithgow is superb as the murderous conspirator.
The movie is also fascinating as it uses the mechanics of filmmaking to uncover the complot. Many
scenes are memorable especially the 4th of July scene which is amazingly well staged. The final
scene is unexpected and shocking at the same time, you'll never guess what happens. Blow Out is
a great movie that will maintain you at the edge of your seat all the time.

Video & Audio
Blow Out comes to BD courtesy of Criterion and the results are amazing. Detail is strong, contrast
is sharp and color reproduction is well done. I didn't notice any signs of print damage, aliasing,
edge enhacement or any other anomaly. Even better, a fine layer of grain has been maintained
and there are no signs of DNR. A spectacular transfer.

The 2.0 DTS-HD MA is also great with astounding clarity and no signs of hiss. Dialogue is always
clear as are the effects and the music.

Bonus Features
There is plenty of bonus material in this set that is sure to delight all fans:
The best one is an hour long interview with Brian De Palma by Noah Baumbach. It deals with the
production of Blow Out and De Palma shares some light about some decisions in certain scenes,
casting choices and more. It's a must see feature.
Then you have newly recorded interviews with cameraman and steady cam creator Garret Brown
and actress Nancy Allen. Both are very enlightening.
Then you have a still photographs gallery by Louis Goldman.
One of the best features is De Palma's experimental second film Murder a la Mod, it is presented in
full HD and deserves at least one viewing.
Last you have the original theatrical trailer.

A booklet is also included that features a new essay by critic Michael Sragow and the great original
interview by Pauline Kael.

Closing Thoughts
Blow Out was a very pleasant susprise and one of the best thrillers I've seen. It keeps you
interested and has a likeable cast that you care about. This Criterion BD set is amazing as well with
terrific picture and sound and lots of great bonus material. Highly Recommended for lovers of
suspense and good movies in general.
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on February 6, 2003
Brian De Palma rips off Michaelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation and comes up with a decent thriller about a film sound engineer (John Travolta) who records an automobile accident and becomes involved in a coverup when it turns out the driver was about to be elected President of the United States.
Jack Terry (Travolta) is on a city bridge recording ambient sounds for his latest schlock film's soundtrack when he hears a blow out and sees a car go off the road and into the lake. He dives in to find a woman, Sally (Nancy Allen), still alive in the car. He rescues her and takes her to the emergency room, where he finds out that the candidate was driving the car--and Sally isn't his wife. The police proceed to get Jack to "forget" what he saw.
Later, going over his tapes, Jack becomes convinced he heard a sound *before* the blow out--a gunshot. If there was a gun, then this was no accident.
After Carrie and Dressed to Kill, Blow Out continues Brian DePalma's reign as king of the Hitchcockian thriller/rip-off. Although style often triumphs over substance, often the style comments on the substance. His trademark split-screen (which specifically influenced Run Lola Run's Tom Tykwer) is used effectively to present two simultaneous sets of action that would otherwise be unknown. DePalma has also used this method of technical storytelling in Phantom of the Paradise and Sisters.
The acting is solid, as well, with Nancy Allen (then Mrs. DePalma) as the prototypical love interest (or is she?) and an early John Lithgow playing Burke, a homicidal maniac hired to take out Sally (as he takes out seemingly every woman who resembles her). DePalma would use Lithgow to greater effect in Raising Cain, and here he shows the promise of that later film.
I must comment on the ending and say that it is one of the most heartbreaking I have seen, and yet works entirely in the context of the film. It really could not have ended any other way, and I laud DePalma for avoiding the typical Hollywood happy ending.
(and so does this review)
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on June 21, 2000
Brian DePalma is one helluva showman, and when he nails the material with as much nerve, bite and sensual flourish as he does with this paranoid thriller, the results are breathtaking. Nancy Allen is heartbreaking and unusually character-driven as the prostitute; John Lithgow is all menace and glowering evil as the madman. But John Travolta is a jolt to your senses as the emotional sound engineer: his character goes through a wild series of transformations, brought on by a paranoia that is more than justified, and the Kennedy-like murder that begins the movie in such a stylish way. Along with Carrie, this is one of DePalma's bleakest films, and somehow that seems completely right; although it does not share that film's horrific, nightmare-inducing final shock, it has its own nasty trick up its sleeve. Prepare to remember Blow Out.
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on December 7, 2015
There are a vocal minority of cinephiles (like Pauline Kael and Quentin Tarantino) who see Brian De Palma as one of the all-time great directors, and while I don’t quite share that view, I do love a fair number of his films, and Blow Out is at the very top of the heap. On some level, this film plays like Alfred Hitchcock remaking Antonioni's Blow-Up, and the results are spectacular.

John Travolta gives one of his best performances as Jack Terry, a sound technician who works on low-budget horror movies. Quentin Tarantino’s decision to cast him in Pulp Fiction was largely based on his performance in this film, and it’s not hard to see why; he’s absolutely brilliant here. Similarly, Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography is exceptional; this is one of the best-looking films I’ve ever seen, and his use of a split-focus diopter lens (which allows objects in the foreground and background to simultaneously be in sharp focus) is stylistically dazzling.

Like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, Blow Out seems to tap into a kind of post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, post-Kennedy assassination level of paranoia; what does it mean to discover that people in positions of power have done horrific things and have covered it up successfully? How does it feel to try to be a whistleblower and expose truth while powerful people are actively monitoring and surveilling your activities? The film has a lot of interesting ideas and it raises many interesting questions, but above all else, this is just a blast; it's the rare film that is both technically astonishing and hugely entertaining. Brian De Palma's Blow Out is a masterpiece, the best film of 1981, and one of the essential films of the 1980s.
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on November 25, 2011
I have always liked this film, but until this excellent high definition Blu-ray release from Criterion, the movie has really looked bad on television, home video, laserdisc and DVD. Now the film has come back to life (in the way it worked so well on the big theater screen). This murder/political thriller practically teaches you the basic technique's for making moving images -- I would recommend this for every film student.
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on March 7, 2005
Brian DePalma's Blow Out is a taut thriller that would make Hitchcock proud. The Master of Suspense loved to put his characters in situations where they had to sit by helplessly while events occur beyond their control - the best example of this is Rear Window - and DePalma uses that technique to great effect in the finale of Blow Out.

John Travolta plays Jack, a Philadelphia movie sound man who witnesses a car accident one night while he is out recording audio on a bridge. He manages to rescue Sally (Nancy Allen) from the wreckage, but another man - who we later find out is the front-running Presidential candidate McRyan - is left for dead.

After reviewing his recording of the accident, Jack determines that this was no accident. He believes that somebody deliberately shot out the tire, but who, and why? When video of the accident surfaces, shot by a man named Karp (Dennis Franz), Jack begins to suspect that both Sally and Karp know more than they're letting on.

We also see glimpses of a vigilante psychopath, played by John Lithgow, but who is he, and what are his motives? Jack is determined to find out the truth and unravel the conspiracy, but despite many clues that this wasn't an accident, nobody else seems to want to investigate any further. Jack is also scared that now that the assassins have achieved their goal, anyone who might discover that this was no accident must be eliminated, including himself and Sally, to whom he has developed an attachment.

Blow Out is an excellent film that entertains on many levels - plus it takes place in my fair city of Philadelphia. It doesn't dumb anything down for the audience, and the characters manage to act like any of us could see ourselves acting if placed in the same situations. Thumbs up.
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