Review: Blow Out DVD

Blow Out DVD artSTUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Brian De Palma | CAST: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz
RELEASE DATE: 4/26/11 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $39.95
BONUSES: video interviews, early De Palma film, on- set photos, essays
SPECS: R | 108 min. | Thriller | 2.40:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 2.0/DTS-HD Master Audio | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Blow Out movie scene

Soundman John Travolta records something murderous in Brian De Palma's Blow Out.

Blow Out, the 1981 thriller written and directed by Brian De Palma (Carlito’s Way), is one of the filmmaker’s most significant and entertaining movies, and I’m happy to report it receives considerable respect in this new Criterion DVD.

The film stars John Travolta (From Paris With Love) as a Philadelphia-based B-movie sound-effects man who accidentally records a Chappaquiddick-like car accident only to suspect that it might actually have been a political assassination. Taking his audio recording and matching it to footage of the accident taken by a filmmaker who just happened to be on the scene, Travolta synchs up his sounds to the images and deduces that a foul deed has indeed been committed. What to do….?

Blow Out’s subject matter is not nearly as dramatic or richly realized as it appeared to be 30 years ago, but the movie ages well and remains a lot of fun, mostly due to Travolta’s solid performance (the one that launched his “adult” career) and De Palma’s razzle-dazzle mise-en-scene, editing and meticulously designed set pieces.

De Palma has never recorded a commentary track for any of his films, but the bonus features in this edition of Blow Out are still a solid lot. Leading them off is an hour-long interview with De Palma conducted by filmmaker Noah Baumbach (Greenberg). In addition to having known De Palma for years, it’s obvious that Baumbach is a big fan, and there’s a lot of fawning going on.

But a lot of insights also are offered, including De Palma’s thoughts on his filmmaking fetishes (split-screens, tracking shots, Steadicam shots), his collaborations with composer Pino Donaggio and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, and his feelings about the role and responsibilities of the director (“We create illusions for you to fall in love with,” he says at one point). As a film fanatic himself, De Palma also mentions a number of movies that influenced him in the creation of Blow Out, including everything from Hitchcock’s Psycho and Vertigo to Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Michael Powell’s The Red Shoes and Welles’ Citizen Kane.

Other supplements on the disc include a 25-minute interview with co-star (and De Palma’s former wife) Nancy Allen (Robocop), and a shorter but no less interesting chat with Steadicam operator (and creator!) Garrett Brown.

Also notable is a picture-and-essay-filled booklet that includes an essay written by Pauline Kael for The New Yorker back in 1981, wherein she compares Travolta to Brando and declares that Blow Out is “a great film.”

Still, one of these days, I’d like to hear a De Palma commentary. Just one. And he can pick any film he’d like. Personally, I’d love to listen to what he has to say — scene-by-scene — about Dressed to Kill, my favorite. Maybe even that ultimate 1980s voyeuristic sex thriller Body Double. Or, hell, he can go to town on the disastrous Bonfire of the Vanities, which would probably prove to be a murderous act worthy of choreographing for one of his own films!


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.