Blow Out

Blow Out (1981)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz
Extras: Theatrical Trailer

Current conspiracy theorists might get a kick out of watching MGM Home Entertainment’s new DVD of ’Blow Out, ’ Brian De Palma’s paranoia thriller. The 1981 film stars John Travolta as Jack Terri, a sound effects technician who accidentally records a car accident while collecting sounds in the woods outside Philadelphia. Luckily, Jack’s presence and quick thinking after the car crashes into a river saves Sally (Nancy Allen) from the submerged wreck. Jack later learns that the driver, killed on impact, was a presidential candidate and Sally his mistress. Even more intriguing is the mysterious bang that precedes the sound of the actual tire blow out. Piecing together clues from his recording and a home movie circumstantially taken by another bystander, Jack and Sally stumble on a dangerous political puzzle and solving it may have lethal consequences.

De Palma’s strong visual style gets a strenuous workout here. The split screen shots seem a bit gimmicky now, but the way the Panavision frame holds both extreme close-up and far background elements in focus provides just the right uneasiness. The continuous circular pan of the camera when Jack finds his sound library tampered with (Chapter 9) and the kinetic colors of the Liberty Bell Parade scene (Chapter 14) still makes me gasp. The overall narrative thrust reads like a ’sensory’ reversal of Alfred Hitchcock’s ’Rear Window:’ instead of Jimmy Stewart thinking he saw a murder, Travolta thinks he hears one. Cross-cutting danger amidst symbols of American authority can also be traced to Hitchcock finales involving the Statue of Liberty (’Saboteur’) and Mount Rushmore (’North by Northwest.’) Critics to this day charge DePalma with ripping off the Master of Suspense. (Hey, if you’re gonna borrow, at least choose a worthwhile model.) My chief complaint is the film’s unmistakable misogynist streak. Almost all of the violence in the film is directed towards women, and not necessarily to serve the plot.

The disc provides both letterboxed and full frame viewing options. The 2.35 anamorphic transfer exhibits strong color fidelity and detail delineation. The picture looks very good for their age and despite some instances of edge enhancement, the image always reads sharp and clear. The full screen version demonstrates the same physical traits as the widescreen, but severely compromises DePalma’s carefully composed widescreen frame. (That said, I respect MGM’s decision to include both.) The Dolby Digital stereo audio sounds like a run-of-the-mill matrix surround track, with clear dialogue and occasional ambience. Dynamic range and fidelity is limited, but serviceable. An effectively edited theatrical trailer is included.

While ’The Fury’ is still my favorite De Palma movie, I enjoyed revisiting ’Blow Out.’ Perhaps a new generation might realize that conspiracies didn’t start with Mulder and Scully.