Kramer vs. Kramer: Columbia Classics – Volume 4 (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Mar 20, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Kramer vs. Kramer: Columbia Classics – Volume 4 (4K UHD Review)


Robert Benton

Release Date(s)

1979 (February 13, 2024)


Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B+

Kramer vs. Kramer (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


[Editor’s Note: Though we’re reviewing the films in the set one by one, Kramer vs. Kramer is currently only available on physical 4K disc in Sony’s Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 4 box set. It’s available on Amazon by clicking here, or on any of the artwork pictured in this review.]

Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 4 (4K UHD)

Robert Benton’s adaptation of Avery Corman’s 1977 novel Kramer versus Kramer touched a nerve when it was released in 1979, going on to become the highest-grossing film from that year at the domestic box office. It managed to top even the likes of The Amityville Horror, Rocky II, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Alien. It also parlayed that success into the Academy Awards, taking home five Oscars including Best Picture—and it was competing against All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, Breaking Away, and Norma Rae. All of that is likely the result of Kramer vs. Kramer tapping into the cultural zeitgeist by addressing changing societal attitudes toward divorce, the family unit, and parental rights. While it doesn’t exactly portray a balanced perspective on the issues that it presents, with the deck clearly stacked in favor of one side, the collaborative and occasionally combative nature of the production resulted in a film that’s a bit more nuanced than it may appear to be at first glance.

Kramer vs. Kramer opens with a closeup of Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep) after she’s made the difficult decision to leave her husband Ted (Dustin Hoffman). She’s quietly saying her goodbyes to their son Billy (Justin Henry) before Ted comes home from work—although precisely when he’ll make it home from work is an open question. Corman’s novel spends several chapters establishing the relationship between Joanna and Ted, and while the narrative is relayed primarily from his point of view, the reader is still afforded glimpses into the dissatisfaction that drives Joanna to leave. Ted has insisted that she be a stay-at-home mother, and it’s not a role that she finds fulfilling. He’s also neglectful of her needs as well as those of his son, since he figures that childrearing is woman’s work. By deliberately eliding all of that context and having Joanna walk out cold, Benton seems to skew his version of the story more in Ted’s favor than Corman did. Yet things still aren’t quite that simple, although it’s not clear whether that was Benton’s original intent, or else a byproduct of the competing natures of his lead actors.

Hoffman was in the middle of a divorce of his own, and as a dedicated Method actor, he used that personal trauma to fuel his performance. He wasn’t just acting; he was acting out. As a result, it quickly becomes clear that Ted isn’t any more sympathetic than Joanna seems to be. He’s pushy, manipulative, impatient, self-centered, and unable to control his temper. He’s physically coercive with all of the women in his life, pushing and pulling them around (he even tries to physically prevent Joanna from leaving). He’s no less pushy with Billy, too, dragging the boy from place to place, picking him up against his will, and even throwing him into bed at one point. When Joanna walks out on him, all that he can think about is what she’s doing to him now, not what he may have already done to her. He even blames their neighbor Margaret (Jane Alexander) for having stirred up Joanna. He just can’t conceive of the fact that he may have borne any responsibility for pushing Joanna away, although Margaret sees through him even while he’s ranting at her:

“I come through this door, to share with my wife who what was going to be one of the five best days of my life and she looks at me and tells me she doesn’t want to live with me anymore! Don’t you understand what she’s done to me?”

“Yeah, she lost her part of one of the five best days of your life.”

Intentionally or not, Hoffman’s very real intensity throughout the film provides the context for Joanna’s choices that Benton’s script otherwise omits. In contrast, the classically trained Streep did her best to find a way to make the underdeveloped Joanna more empathetic than she might have been otherwise. There’s a haunted quality to her, a way that she avoids making eye contact with him, that makes it clear that she’s intimidated in his presence—and Hoffman’s own behavior on set inadvertently fills in the gaps as to why. Streep also rewrote some of Joanna’s dialogue, including her crucial courtroom speech. Joanna’s decision to leave Ted at the beginning of the film is driven by her own depressed sense of self-worth, even seeing herself as a bad mother to Billy. She tells Ted that “I’m not taking him with me. I’m no good for him. I’m terrible with him. I have no patience. He’s better off without me.” Of course, in her distress of the moment, she’s forgetting that Billy isn’t any better off with Ted, since he’s even more terrible with the boy. If she really is a bad parent, then Ted is no parent at all.

Eventually, Joanna finds her own path to mental health and decides that she wants Billy back, which leads to the inevitable courtroom drama over who gets custody of him. Yet for a film with a title like Kramer vs. Kramer, the legal scenes haven’t aged very well, and they weren’t particularly convincing even back in 1979. The details regarding custody law in New York at the time may be accurate, but the actual courtroom procedures being presented are straight out of B-grade of television melodrama. Whatever emotional truth may be on display, there’s plenty of fiction regarding how courtrooms operate. Still, Kramer vs. Kramer isn’t really about the legal case of Kramer v. Kramer anyway, so these scenes aren’t the heart of the story.

That’s because Kramer vs. Kramer doesn’t focus on Ted vs. Joanna as much as it does on Ted vs. himself. Joanna isn’t even present for the majority of the film’s running time—after all, the whole impetus for the story is that she abandoned both Ted and Billy. Her actions force Ted to accept his responsibilities toward the son that he’s been neglecting, and thus to learn how to be a real parent. By the time that she resolves her own issues and wants Billy back, she’s faced with the fact that Ted has finally become the father that he should have been all along. (He’s even replaced Joanna as Margaret’s girlfriend, since the two of them are now part of the same single-parent collective.)

While all of that is laid out on a scene-by-scene basis in Kramer vs. Kramer, Benton shrewdly chose to provide thumbnail sketches throughout the film to define Ted’s growth as a parent. The morning after Joanna leaves, Ted has his first experience making breakfast for Billy, and it doesn’t go well. As Ted learns parenting skills, he demonstrates increasing confidence in making those breakfasts, and by the time that the judge hands down his custody decision, breakfast has come to define the depth of the new bond between Ted and Billy. They’re truly in it together at this point, and however much that Joanna may want Billy back, that forces her to make another difficult decision. All of this results in an abrupt ending for Kramer vs. Kramer that has always felt like a Deus ex machina, but to be fair, Corman’s original ending was no less abrupt. Yet the effort that Streep put into making Joanna empathetic pays off by making it feel at least a little bit more plausible, and the very real chemistry between Hoffman and Henry certainly doesn’t hurt. Whatever issues that Kramer vs. Kramer may have in the way that it handles Joanna, it’s an unqualified success in terms of how it shows a father learning how to love his own son.

Cinematographer Néstor Almendros shot Kramer vs. Kramer on 35mm film using Panavision Panaflex cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. As Grover Crisp lays out in his detailed restoration notes, Sony teamed up with Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Archive back in the Nineties to create new elements that could be used for HD transfers of the film, but because there was some damage to the negative that couldn’t be replaced, Cinetech worked on digital repair, and new YCM separation masters were created for preservation purposes. This version is based on a new 4K scan of the original camera negative that was performed by Cineric, Inc. in New York, which also handled the initial restoration work. Further restoration and grading were performed at Motion Picture Imaging in Burbank, including the new High Dynamic Range grades in both Dolby Vision and HDR10.

As should be expected given the credentials of everyone involved with this digital restoration, the results are simply outstanding. The image is spotlessly clean, but the original grain has been perfectly preserved, without a trace of compression artifacts to mar it. The textures are beautifully resolved—for an example, check out the pinpoint sharpness of Justin Henry’s denim shirt in the shot of Hoffman hugging him at the end of their final breakfast together. Contrast and black levels are excellent, and the colors appear naturalistic (they can vary a bit from scene to scene, but that seems true to the way that Almendros shot them). Kramer vs. Kramer has always had the characteristic look of a film that was shot in the late Seventies, and that look has been replicated perfectly here. This is a paradigm for how new technology can be used to reproduce vintage filmmaking.

Primary audio is offered in English Dolby Atmos, English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio. The new Atmos mix that was created at Deluxe Audio Services in Hollywood builds on the work that Chace Audio already did to create the 5.1 remix in 2004, which is the one that’s included here. The original mono track is also included for anyone who isn’t interested in remixes, but it would be a mistake to dismiss this new Atmos mix without giving it an audition first. The music and effects have been expanded to create subtle atmospherics throughout the entire soundstage on every possible level: room tone and reverberations in cavernous spaces like the lobby of the courthouse; crowd noises in restaurants and other busy environments; and exterior effects like directionalized traffic noises and the chirping of birds in the park. None of it is so obtrusive that it takes away from the dramatic elements that remain front and center, but it still helps to draw the viewer into the story without necessarily being aware that it’s happening.

Additional audio options include French, German, and Italian 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital; and Turkish 2.0 mono Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, Arabic, Chinese) simplified), (Chinese Traditional), Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), Swedish, Thai, and Turkish.

Sony’s 4K release of Kramer vs. Kramer is the third film in their Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 4. The set also includes His Girl Friday, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Starman, Sleepless in Seattle, and Punch-Drunk Love. The packaging is similar to the other three volumes, with two wings that open up, each of which houses three films in individual Amaray cases with slipcovers. (The inserts use the original theatrical poster artwork, while the slipcovers offer new artwork.) At the back of the box is a separate compartment that houses a hardbound book featuring essays on each film by different authors (Esther Zuckerman, in this case) as well as individual restoration notes by Grover Crisp, Rita Belda, and the late James Owsley, who passed away in 2022.

All of the films in the collection include a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film, most of them based on the same 4K masters as the UHDs (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Kramer vs. Kramer are the exceptions.) There’s also a paper insert tucked inside with Digital codes for each film. This Blu-ray is just a repressing of the 2009 Sony release, right down to the outmoded BD-Live option on the menu, but a different slate of extras has been added to the UHD:


  • Audio Commentary with Jennine Lanouette
  • Deleted Scenes:
    • Joanna’s Bathroom Cabinet (Upscaled SD – :34)
    • Joanna Makes a List (Upscaled SD – 1:34)
    • Margaret Calls Ted (Upscaled SD – 1:31)
    • Conversation at the Park (Upscaled SD – 2:04)
    • Finding Billy (Upscaled SD – :45)
  • Featurettes:
    • Robert Benton on Acting (Upscaled SD – 2:41)
    • Justin Henry on Acting (Upscaled SD – 2:45)
    • Mothers and Daughters (Upscaled SD – 2:45)
    • Points of Pride (Upscaled SD – 3:00)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 1:39)

The new commentary track features Screentakes founder Jennine Lanouette, who teaches screenwriting and script analysis. She says that she loves analysis more than anything else, and considers herself a story structure geek. She describes Kramer vs. Kramer as having a three-act structure, and explains how the story develops through each act. She traces the shifting power dynamics throughout the film, from the opening image of the maternal figure of Joanna to how the film eventually becomes Ted’s story instead. Kramer vs. Kramer starts with an inciting incident, then gradually reveals the backstory, which means that Ted has to earn sympathy from the audience. He has to travel a long distance in his journey to becoming a real parent. Lanouette is prone to narrating and describing what’s happening on screen, and she does lapse into silence occasionally, but she still has some strong insights into what makes Kramer vs. Kramer tick.

The Deleted Scenes are all transferred from black-and-white videotape, and the original audio couldn’t be located, but background noises were added along with subtitles from the script. They’re mostly trims that don’t serve an essential purpose to the story, so it’s easy to see why they were cut, but it’s still nice to have them collected here. They’re all brief, but fortunately there’s a “play all” option. The Featurettes are all from a Q&A that followed an unidentified screening of Kramer vs. Kramer (there’s a mockup of the 2009 Blu-ray next to the questioners, so it may have been from a screening to promote the Blu-ray release of the film. Robert Benton and Justin Henry answer questions from the audience, the most interesting of which comes from Melissa Morell, who played Jane Alexander’s daughter in the film. Once again, there’s a “play all” option that you’ll want to use.


  • Finding the Truth: The Making of Kramer vs. Kramer (SD – 48:44)
  • Previews:
    • -Blu-ray DiscTM is High Definition! (HD – 2:27)
    • -Stranger Than Fiction Trailer (HD – 2:36)

Finding the Truth is a documentary that was originally included on the 2001 DVD release of Kramer vs. Kramer. Directed by Michael Arick and co-edited by CineSavant’s Glenn Erickson, it features interviews with Robert Benton, Avery Corman, producer Stanley Jaffe, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Justin Henry, and Jane Alexander. Since Hoffman was in the middle of his own divorce, he drew on his real personal pain, while Streep tried to have sympathy for her character while juggling work between this film and Manhattan. The entire process of making the film involved open collaboration between Benton and his cast, so there was plenty of improvisation on the set. (The deservedly famous ice cream scene wasn’t scripted, but Benton allowed the improv even though it delayed the production to have Almendros relight the set.) The downside is that Hoffman also improvised doing things like smashing his glass against the wall during his lunch reunion scene with Streep, and while he warned the cameraperson, he didn’t tell Streep. Hoffman admits that he was acting out his feelings toward his own wife against Streep, and she paid the price. While some of Hoffman’s actions on the set are indefensible, the results were still tangible on film.

Kramer vs. Kramer (4K UHD) Kramer vs. Kramer (4K UHD)

Aside from vintage filmographies and trailers for other films, that’s all the previously available extras for Kramer vs. Kramer, along with a few new ones. It’s nice to have some value-added content like the new commentary and the deleted scenes, but Finding the Truth is still the centerpiece of the package. One good making-of documentary is always worth its weight in static interviews and/or EPK fluff. While some people are inevitably going to be dissatisfied with the selection of titles included in each volume of the Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection series, there’s more than enough memorable ones in Vol. 4 to make the set worth the hefty purchase price. As always, though, your own mileage may vary.

- Stephen Bjork

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