Blow Out Review

Whereas Alfred Hitchcock was restricted by censorship and the tameness of Hollywood whilst making his lurid cinematic masterpieces, Brian De Palma, obviously a keen student of the Hitchcock style of filmmaking, had a freer, more creative reign over his films. Thus, his films were far more adult in content as a result, and De Palma took over the reigns from Hitchcock as the master of taut, psychological horror/thrillers.

Enormously under-appreciated, De Palma's 1981 Blow Out, manages to work as a successful murder thriller despite being openly derivative of Hitchcock, Antonioni's sixties classic Blow Up and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation. The plot is a cut-and-paste job of other, more worthy thrillers, but De Palma isn't interested in the development of the plot, but rather how the plot is technically executed on screen. Indeed, to watch Blow Out is to witness an example of an expert student demonstrating all of the skills he has learned.

The film's story involves a sound recording engineer named Jack Terry (John Travolta) who has a job recording creepy sound effects for a cheap-budget horror film studio. One night, whilst out late recording some 'realistic' wind noises, Jack witnesses a car suffer a tyre blow-out and plummet off a bridge into deep water. Jack dives in and manages to rescue a young woman named Sally (Nancy Allen), but unfortunately an older man who was also in the car has been killed. News soon breaks that the man was in fact a leading presidential candidate, Governor George McRyan. Jack instinctively detects something extremely suspicious about the whole accident, and swears to the police that he heard a gunshot a split-second before the tyre blow-out of the car. Fortunately, Jack managed to record the accident audibly, and this plunges him into an intricate web of murder and deceit. With the help of Sally, Jack realises that there are many elements trying to cover up the truth of what happened.

Brian De Palma's only weak-point as a filmmaker seems to be his lack of creativity when it comes to scripting dialogue for minor characters. Being that De Palma scripted Blow Out himself, you can almost sense his desire to quickly push the script along so that he can move on to the set pieces of the film. You'd be forgiven for thinking the film was a cheap B-movie horror based on the first ten minutes of the film, as the dialogue is trite and delivered in a wooden fashion. Thankfully, the lead stars John Travolta and Nancy Allen deliver the goods better than you would hope them to. It's almost hard to understand how Travolta became such an acting flop in the nineteen eighties, since he is clearly capable of holding a serious lead role without the need to strut his stuff. Nancy Allen's character Sally is deliberately bimbo-esque and annoying, but this persona helps to plunge Travolta's Jack in over-his-head into the dangerous world of events he has just witnessed. Being that Sally isn't a suitable 'detective' accomplice for Jack, it renders him alone on his quest for truth, even if Sally is his loyal accomplice. Dennis Franz and John Lithgow provide good acting support, and would both later move away from films and towards successful television shows.

The real talent on display however, is Brian De Palma. Through effective use of crane overhead shots, split-screen and slow motion, we are given almost unlimited access to the thought-processes of Jack's mind as he stumbles along the investigative journey of piecing together the truth of the accident. The whole concept of Jack using his sound recordings as evidence to the case could have been confusing to a mass audience ignorant of sound recording processes, but De Palma presents the sequences in a way that is both simple and masterful. De Palma and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond seem such a capable combination for a thriller genre piece, as Blow Out is often moody, intense and dangerous in tone, without ever pandering to a dark, noirish feel.

The film has its flaws. Pino Donaggio's music score is much too overblown and dated, and uncomfortably sits with the film more than twenty years later. Also, the film is too derivative (although deliberately) and unoriginal to ever be considered a true masterpiece. However, Blow Out is still an underrated classic of the thriller genre, and is certainly one of De Palma's most assured pieces of cinema from what was his most successful period of the mid-seventies to mid-eighties.

Presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1, the Region 2 version seems to be a direct port of the R1, and is quite a watchable transfer with few blemishes. However, a few shots are slightly out of focus and some digital artefacts are apparent. Even so, this is an acceptable transfer and the PAL resolution seems to suit the film slightly better than the R1.

Presented in 2.0 stereo, the film has been given a sound track full of clarity and mostly without any hiss to detect. Dialogue is essentially mono in presentation and some effects and the film's score are given spatial channelling. Many have argued that this film requires a 5.1 mix, but to be honest the 2.0 mix does the job well and at least is the film in its original form.

Menu: A silent, static and boring menu featuring a few promotional images from the film.

Packaging: The usual MGM release, with a transparent amaray housing an inlay with chapter listings printed on its reverse.


Original Theatrical Trailer: A very good and concise trailer, which seems to accurately represent the period of intense, early eighties thriller cinema with a moody tone and paranoid narration. The only pity with regards to Blow Out on DVD is the fact that the film has been criminally ignored by MGM in terms of Special Edition treatment.


A classic of early eighties cinema that throws in elements of Hitchcock, Antonioni, Coppola, parodies of Watergate plumbing, horror, violence, murder and intense thrilling excitement, Blow Out will certainly please anyone seeking a suitable late-night film to savour. The disc is uninspired, like most of MGM's releases of Orion's catalogue, but the film is worthy of purchase on its own merits.

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