The American Society of Cinematographers

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In Time
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Blood Simple
Jean Vigo
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Blood Simple (1984)

Blu-ray Edition

1.85:1 (High Definition 1080p)

DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

MGM/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, $19.99

On a dark, deserted Texas highway, Ray (John Getz) drives Abby (Frances McDormand) through a torrential downpour toward Houston, where she hopes to make a break from her controlling husband, Julian (Dan Hedaya), who owns the tavern at which Ray is employed. Tight-lipped Ray admits that while he really likes Abby, he is not “a marriage counselor” and is not sure how to help. After a pause, Abby demands Ray stop the car because she suspects they are being followed. Behind them, a pair of headlights slows and then slides through the wet downpour, hesitating next to their car for just a moment before speeding into the darkness ahead. Later that evening, Ray and Abby end up at a roadside motel. The phone rings in the morning, and although the caller does not identify himself, Ray recognizes Julian's voice.  

Meanwhile, private detective Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) pushes lurid motel-tryst photos of Ray and Abby across Julian's desk with a wink, suggesting “a great place to have them framed.” Disgusted by the photos, Julian throws what he owes the smirking detective at him and banishes him from the tavern, saying he will “look under a rock” if he ever needs Visser again. Unfortunately, it will be sooner rather than later that Julian begins to turn rocks over in search of Visser. The unsavory detective is happy to oblige Julian’s request to kill the couple, but, unbeknownst to all, he has a secret plan of his own.   

American cinema was changing in the mid-1980s, when a handful of independent films garnered critical acclaim and found supportive audiences who were tired of Reagan-era studio fare. Among the indies released in that period, perhaps none has been as consistently acclaimed as Joel and Ethan Coen’s Blood Simple, their first feature film.

The low-budget neo-noir was written by the brothers, with Ethan taking additional credit as producer and Joel as director. The Coens tapped cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, a friend from New York, to shoot the movie, which they storyboarded meticulously. Thanks to Sonnenfeld's complicated and layered lighting, unexpected camera angles, and remarkable camera moves, Blood Simple looks like it cost much more than it did (less than $2 million). Sonnenfeld was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for his work on the picture, and he went on to film the Coens’ Raising Arizona and Miller's Crossing.

In 1998, the Coens produced a director's cut of Blood Simple, trimming scenes, replacing much of the existing soundtrack with fresh effects in stereo, and clearing up some music-rights issues. This Blu-ray release of that cut is a marked improvement over the standard-definition DVD released in 2001. The movie’s generally dark tone has far greater detail in high definition, and Sonnenfeld's lighting, particularly in the final sequences, looks rich and striking. Despite a few source-related picture flaws, such as occasionally excessive grain or minor softness in some of the darkest sequences, the overall presentation is extremely crisp. Contrast and color balance are remarkable throughout, with particular attention to primaries and flesh tones in low light. It’s hard to imagine this film looking better on home screens.

The DTS 2.0 audio is clean and satisfying, with most directionality happening across the right, center and left soundstage, and surrounds only kicking in on ambient tracks and music cues. 

The supplemental materials are all borrowed from the 2001 DVD. Apart from the film's theatrical trailer, the extras focus on the fictional Forever Young Film Restoration Foundation, whose jovial president, Mortimer Young, introduces the director’s cut as being “tastefully restored and digitally swabbed, with the boring parts taken out.” In the same vein, a feature-length audio commentary by Ken Loring, artistic director of Forever Young Film, constantly states the obvious and offers patently absurd “insights,” including memorable bits about an animatronic dog and the initial casting offers made to Rosemary Clooney and Fred Astaire.