Release Date(s)1966 (March 28, 2017)
Studio(s)Bridge Films/Carlo Ponti Production/MGM/Warner Bros. (Criterion - Spine #865)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A-
Long before Francis Ford Coppola and Brian De Palma gave audiences a taste of aural and visual detective-like films with The Conversation and Blow Out, respectively, Michelangelo Antonioni had already established the idea with Blow-Up (granted both Coppola and De Palma freely admit to using the film as inspiration). Released in 1966, the film stars David Hemmings as Thomas, a professional fashion photographer who accidentally snaps pictures of what turns out to be a potential murder in progress. Winning the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film (or Palme D’Or) at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as defying the soon-to-be-dead Hays Production Code, it influenced a generation of filmmakers and became one of the director’s most well-known films.
Criterion’s Blu-ray debut of Blow-Up sports a new transfer of the film taken from a 4K restoration of the original 35mm camera negative and an additional 35mm interpositive element. There’s been some confusion about what the actual aspect ratio of the film is supposed to be. While IMDB lists it as 1.85:1 (which is how it is presented here on this release), other sources argue that it was original presented 1.66:1, meaning less information on the left and right of the frame but more on the top and bottom. Which one is the correct one is beyond my knowledge. I personally find that the 1.85:1 aspect ratio suits the look of the film, but to each their own.
Regardless, Criterion’s presentation is the best that the film has ever looked – possibly better than when it was originally released. The grain structure is perfectly balanced from shot to shot while fine detail is consistent, particularly in the shadows. Textures on objects, clothing, and skin – even in backgrounds, are sharp and precise. The color palette is also remarkably improved, with lush greens and reds on display with naturally appearing skin tones. Black levels are thoroughly deep while contrast levels are virtually perfect. There are no stability issues to report, and I could see no major (or for that matter minor) damage leftover; not to say that it isn’t there, but it’s certainly not visible without a meticulously thorough inspection. The sole audio option available is the original English mono via a linear PCM track. For a single channel of audio, it too lacks anything worth complaint. Dialogue is perfectly audible throughout while sound effects and score have even more clarity than ever before. Subtle atmospheric activity is even more pronounced now, and while the mix itself isn’t the best available, it’s reproduced here in the finest quality possible. In other words, this is a beautiful 4K-sourced presentation that does the film considerable justice. And if they’re needed, subtitles in English SDH are also available.
For the supplemental materials, there’s an excerpt from the documentary Michelangelo Antonioni: The Eye That Changed Cinema; Blow-Up of “Blow-Up”, a new documentary about the film; two interviews with David Hemmings, one on the set of Only When I Larf from 1968, and the other on the TV show City Lights from 1977; 50 Years of Blow-Up: Vanessa Redgrave/Philippe Garner, a 2016 SHOWstudio interview; an interview with actress Jane Birkin from 1989; Antonioni’s Hypnotic Vision, featuring two separate pieces about the film: Modernism and Photography; both the teaser and theatrical trailers for the film; and a 68-page insert booklet containing an essay on the film by David Forgacs, an updated 1966 account of the film’s shooting by Stig Björkman, a set of questionnaires that the director distributed to photographers and painters while developing the film, the 1959 Julio Cortázar short story on which the film is loosely based, and restoration details. Unfortunately, the Peter Brunette audio commentary and Herbie Hancock music-only audio tracks couldn’t be carried over from the Warner Bros. DVD release.
Criterion’s treatment of Blow-Up on Blu-ray makes it a must-own release for films fans. The film’s overall execution and style, as well as its performances, make it an all-time classic. And now it’s readily available in the best quality you could ask for in high definition. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons