In 1985 Sydney Pollack’s epic "Out Of Africa" was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and eventually won 7 of them, including that for "Best Picture". Interestingly, lead actress Meryl Streep lost hers as "Best Actress" to Geraldine Page for her performance in "The Trip To Bountiful" that year, but it doesn’t hide the fact that Streep’s performance in this movie is a singular display of acting prowess. Now, Universal Home Video brings us "Out Of Africa" as a Collector’s Edition on DVD, giving everyone the opportunity to fully enjoy the movie at home as it was originally presented in theaters.
"Out Of Africa" is the true story of Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep), a woman from Denmark who enters into a marriage for convenience when she moves to Kenya. Despite their original plans, her husband Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer) has decided in her absence to plant coffee on their farm, as opposed to raising cattle the way they had previously agreed upon - using her money. She accepts the fact and soon realizes that everything surrounding her husband is flaky. Not only does he constantly abandon her and the coffee plantation, philandering for weeks at a time, but he also has no ambitions at all to support Karen’s attempts to help the native people. Before long, the two separate and slowly, Karen feels herself drawn to Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), a hunter in the area. But despite their affection, Denys too, leaves her on her own with her problems running the plantation. Unable to commit to a serious relationship, he too leaves Karen alone for weeks while he is hunting or arranges safari trips for the rich British colonialists. As Karen falls deeper and deeper in love with the country and people of Africa, the problems the coffee plantation causes take their toll on the strong-willed woman.
In breathtaking and romantic pictures and with a compelling and poetic story, "Out Of Africa" brings the real life events of Karen Blixen to life. We get to see her courage as she stands up for her believes, even when it means adversaries in a world that is run by men. She shows us bravery during times of war when she takes supplies through the dangerous wilderness of Africa out of love and the wish to get a glimpse at her husband who hasn’t been home for months.
After seeing and falling in love with Africa, she feels the dire need of the country for change in order to survive the change of times. At the same time she can’t stand the arrogant attitude of the British proletariat that is constantly abusing the African natives and their land. It is interesting to observe how little has changed in the almost 100 years since Karen Blixen lived these events. The attitudes, the self-imposed superiority and the exploitation of people and nature has not stopped since, and I honestly do not expect it to stop anytime soon. As long as there are people who believe they are better than others will we see exploitation continued. Denys puts his finger on it quite poignantly in the film when he says, "You don’t own this farm. We’re all just passing through."
Universal Home Video’s release of "Out Of Africa" on this DVD presents itself as a beautiful transfer. The film itself contains some minor speckles and also exhibits some noise in a handful selected scenes but other than that makes for a beautiful presentation of the movie. The transfer has great color delineation, bringing out even the subtlest hues and shades in the lush images the movie conjures up. Most of the film is held in warm colors with many earth tones and an array of strong greens, all of which are nicely saturated without over-emphasis. The transfer also has a lot of visual depth, due to the good black level of the DVD, which creates deep solid blacks and shadows, without losing definition and detail. This is especially noticeable in some of the nighttime scenes were we are allowed to slightly penetrate the darkness to make out shadows in the distance still, and to clearly distinguish characters and shapes in those scenes. Highlights are also well restored, giving the film a warm and idyllic look throughout. In movie like "Out Of Africa" where the panoramic and breathtaking images of the landscapes are so important to convey the story’s emotions and atmosphere of majestic grandeur, a flawless presentation like this one is essential to give the film the visual impact that its is supposed to have. The DVD also shows no signs of compression artifacts, fully restoring the movie’s original - sometimes intentionally a bit grainy - look.
The DVD contains a 4.1 channel Dolby Digital surround audio track. It is a rather unconventional format that uses monophonic surrounds like the Dolby Surround encoding does, but adds a low frequency channel to the mix. The surround mix is rather restrained for the most part of the movie however, mostly using ambience to expand the sound field and to enhance the spacious images on the screen. Especially in the outdoor scenes this effect is realized very carefully, fully immersing the viewer subtly, without ever having on obvious surround mix. However, the dialogue in the film sounds very harsh for the most time, which seems to be a result of the film’s original dialogue mix. It is always understandable and nicely integrated, also using the stereo panorama to create an impressively wide sound field when people are talking from a far corner of the screen.
You will also find a great commentary track by director Sydney Pollack on this Collector’s Edition DVD. Very analytical, Pollack goes through many aspects of the movie and explains how it came about. Most interestingly, Pollack not only covers specific technical aspects of the production but always keeps the bigger picture in sight, explaining why things were done the way they turned out in the movie to begin with. His detailed explanation of the opening of the movie and the thoughts that went into it will quickly give you a taste for the level of depth that this commentary track has throughout its entirety.
"A Song Of Africa" is a 50-minute documentary that approaches the story from two angles. First it shows off the real Karen Blixen and her life in Africa, exploring many of the events from the movie that have actually taken place in her real life. It also sheds light on the movie production with recollections by the cast and crew about how it was to work on location in Africa.
"Out Of Africa" is a breathtaking and stunning film that has been masterfully brought to life. It is great to see how much effort Universal Home Video put into this DVD, making sure it finds the best possible presentation here. If you are a fan of big cinema, this movie will have you mesmerized in an instant.