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"…He Began Our Friendship With A Gift…” - Out Of Africa on BLU RAY (2012)
on 11 August 2012
*** THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE ‘2012’ BLU RAY COLLECTOR'S SERIES BOOK PACK VERSION ***
In April 2012 Universal Studios was 100 years old - and to celebrate that movie-making centenary they had 13 of their most-celebrated films fully restored for BLU RAY. 1985's "Out Of Africa" is one of them and like the other titles in this series so far - the print quality of this beloved film is extraordinary and the presentation classy (a full list of titles in the 100th Anniversary BLU RAY Series is in the attached 'comment' section - including DVD releases).
Issued in the US 6 March 2012 (later given a UK release) - "Out Of Africa Collector's Series" comes in a gorgeous limited edition 44-page hardback 'Book Pack' (use Barcode 025192127793 on the Amazon search bar to get the right issue). It's a 2-disc set with the BLU RAY to the front and the Anamorphic Widescreen DVD to the rear. There's also a foldout insert included that has a code for a Digital Copy via download from Universal's website valid until 31 December 2013.
But the really great news for film fans everywhere is a stupendously good print and a REGION FREE release - so it will play on ALL BLU RAY machines and PlayStation 3 Consoles too (there was a preceding version on BLU RAY that received bad reviews re print - this version is not that one). Also note: there is a cheaper standard packaging version due 4 September 2012 in the USA with slightly altered front artwork - again it has a BLU RAY, DVD and Download - so check you're using the Barcode provided above to get the 'best' version).
Digitally remastered and Fully Restored from Original Film Elements - Universal are reputed to have stumped-up over $300,000 for the restoration - and the results have already received huge praise on web sites dedicated to the format. This overhauled 2012 "Out Of Africa" print is a full 1080p High Definition release with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. What that means is the picture fills your entire screen without stretching - and combined with the gorgeous transfer - the effect is truly cinematic. For example the movie opens with a sunrise on the African Plains - all yellows and gold and browns. With the natural heat haze the land would produce and the semi-lighting conditions - this is a very difficult moment to get right - yet it is fantastically clear and clean. But even this is aced a few moments later when a bi-plane flies over the open plains during the daytime and it's little short of gobsmacking (dialogue from it titles this review). There then follows a scene in Denmark in snowy fields at a shooting party where I swear it looks like Dr. Zhivago (it's that good). In fact it's in these outdoor scenes (of which there are many) that the beautiful 'look' of "Out Of Africa" really excels - and it does so right through to the very end when Karen (Streep) bids farewell to her trusty steward Farah (played by Michael Bowens) at the train station.
It should be stressed however that it isn't perfect at all times by any means - there is some shocking fuzziness and grain on indoor shots - sequences at night around campfires and tents with Redford. There's a scene where Michael Kitchen as the dapper Englishman Berkeley Cole is talking to Meryl Streep at dinner in her home - the camera cuts to Streep and the print is perfect - but it then flicks back to Kitchen and the shot is suddenly covered in speckles of grain. They were either filmed apart or on two cameras - but the cleaned up print has only made the discrepancy more apparent and not less so.
But for the most part this is a joy to look at and at last gives full reign to David Watkin's sumptuous cinematography and Milena Canonero's crafted outfits (aristocratic European fashions alongside the colourful garments of African tribesmen). Throw in John Barry's most magisterial score ever - and as you can imagine - the impact is properly beautiful. A good example of all three occurs when the credits role - a steam train trundles across the wide-open expanses of 1913 Kenya in East Africa as we see the Danish Baroness standing at the back of her carriage in her immaculate outfit - then John Barry's score just nails it as the title of the film goes up onscreen. It's both fabulous to look at and moving too...a rare combination indeed.
The 44-page booklet inside the hardback outer is pure eye candy as you can imagine. It opens with a 2-page appreciation by film-critic and historian Leonard Maltin, has reproductions of several script pages, US, Polish and East German advert posters, a Cast of Characters, a piece on the political makeup of Kenya at the time - the British to the North and the Germans to the South and essays on the principal leads Streep, Redford, the Composer John Barry and Director Sydney Pollock. There's interesting trivia items dotted throughout the text - for instance Redford initially played the Englishman Denys Hatton with an English accent - but Pollock felt no-one would accept Redford as a Brit so he had him re-record all of the parts in American. Or that during the tender hair-washing scene wild Hippos were in the river nearby and they kill more people than lions if they feel their territory is threatened - so Streep was more scared of them than bullwhipping lions. The quality of the colour photos is top-notch too.
Clocking in a whopping 1 hour and 12 minutes Charles Kiselayk's "A Song Of Africa" is a substantial bonus feature that has charming, insightful and witty contributions from Streep, Redford and Pollock - intermixed with archive footage of the young, older and near-death Karen Blixen. It fills out a lot of the gaps as to what happened before and after the films' parameters where she left Africa in 1931 after 17 years - 46-years old, childless, penniless, divorced and broken-hearted. She then wrote over 10 books under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen between 1935 and 1996 and suffered from Syphilis all her life. This extra is also in standard 480p definition - so when you see the washed-out widescreen stock footage - you begin to realize just how astounding the cleaned-up 1080p fullscreen print really is. The only mild irritant is the overly wordy narration where the speaker wants to prove he's Kahlil Gibran every few moments, as he waxes lyrical about the lady's journey. The 15 or so Deleted Scenes (Widescreen and in Standard Definition) come fast and furious – they’re very short and although one or two with the Farah character are interesting - you can see why most were cut...
With 18 Oscar nominations and 3 wins to her name - you can't imagine any other actress ballsy enough to take on such a difficult, willful and frustrated woman. Yet Streep chews it up. Her accented Karen Blixen is wholly believable - vulnerable, proud, literate, deep, religiously repressed yet wanting to be sensually liberated - and reaching for it with the man she grew to adore and love - the English and debonair African hunter Denys Hatton. This is a big and romantic canvas - and both principals have affection for each other and respect for their various skills - their on-screen chemistry being a lovely thing to see. The scene where Denys takes her up in the bi-plane and flies across the landscape of mountains, rivers, waterfalls, zebras, giraffes and a lake full of birds to show her the real beauty of Africa - is breathtaking and even a little spiritual. Pollock's use of the indigenous tribes is superbly done too. Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Gough, Leslie Phillips, Shane Rimmer and the sorely missed Irish actor Donal McCann as her Doctor - all wonderful. Blink and you'll miss IMAN - David Bowie's wife - nursing the Michael Kitchen character whose contracted black water fever...
To sum up - clocking in at 2 hours and 40 minutes - "Out Of Africa" may seem a tad indulgent by today's standards of chop-em-out-fast-and-leave-em-panting blockbusters - but it works precisely because its epic. It was a mammoth undertaking at the time made by maverick people (Pollock worked on the script with Kurt Luedtke for over a year - Pollock sadly passed away in 2008) and this BLU RAY reissue does it proud.
And as with the other titles in this series - it's also heartening to see Universal Studios finally throw some proper money at the preservation of their movie legacy and be proud about doing so too. I'm collecting the whole series and live in hope that other studios respect their past in the same glorious way.
BLU RAY and DVD Specifications:
1. Deleted Scenes - over 15 short segments (about 15 minutes)
2. A Song Of Africa - An Original Full-Length Documentary On The Making Of The Film and Karen Blixen's Life by Charles Kiselayk (72 minutes)
3. Theatrical Trailer
4. Feature Length Commentary With Director Sydney Pollack
5. My Scenes
6. BLU RAY Exclusive: Pocket BLU - For Tablets and Smartphones - take the content on the go
7. BLU RAY Exclusive: BD Live - Internet-Connected Feature
VIDEO: 1080p High-Definition Widescreen 1.85:1
BLU RAY AUDIO: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and French 5.1 DTS Surround
DVD AUDIO: English Dolby Digital 4.1 and French Dolby Digital 2.0
SUBTITLES BLU RAY: English SDH (Deaf and Hard-Of-Hearing), Spanish and French SUBTITLES DVD: English SDH (Deaf and Hard-Of-Hearing)