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!