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Norma Rae (Blu-ray Review)

Norma-RaeA little side note to my Blu-ray review of Norma Rae to start off.  My screenwriting professor in college’s big claim to fame in his movie making career was working on this movie.  It was an Academy Award nominated film and the one that nabbed Sally Field her first Best Actress statue.  While I don’t think the university was happy with him (he was usually 20 minutes late to a 50 minute class), for the short time we did have him he had terrific stories and was a very positive and informative when it came to writing.  I wrote a sitcom pilot for one of my projects in his class and he kept e-mailing me throughout his read to tell me how much enjoyed it.  Anywho, while Norma Rae is the prestigious one he can flaunt, I think the coolest credit on his resume is being the assistant director on the Chuck Norris epic, THE OCTAGON!

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Film 

In a small town in North Carolina, there’s only one good job and that’s at the cotton mill with tough and harsh working conditions.  A union organizer comes to town with the intentions of making better for the people but is quickly treated like dirt and disrespected.  He catches the eye or Norma Rae, a single mother of two who works at the mill and has seen it take its toll on her and her family.  Norma take up the cause with Reuben Warshowsky and begins rallying folks to join the cause to the dismay of the mill.  She is put through the wringer by the factory with threatening her job and exposing a not so clean past of hers to the public.

Norma Rae is a must see, just for Sally Field’s performance alone.  I don’t think many realize this, as she’s a well renowned and award winning actress nowadays, but this was role was a big leap at the time for Sally Field.  In the 1970s she was mainly a television star and mostly known as the beach bunny Gidget.  She did win an Emmy for a television movie, but TV wasn’t near as a respected an equal medium as it is to film now.  Her film success came in the form of popcorn fun like Smokey And The Bandit.  The goal of this film was to get an A-list big name actress to sell the film on and they all kept turning away.  The director wanted Sally Field and threatened to walk when the studio told him to “no”.  And a many thanks to him for that.  Sally is incredible in this role in the fact that she becomes a part of the film and never detracts in a “look at me and my big performance” type fashion.  She is fully embodied in Norma Rae in the fact that you can’t see Sally Field at all, and her character feels a natural person in the place where this movie’s story happens.

While Sally Field is the main attraction and her performance holds this films legacy, its not to say the rest of the film features slouch performances.  I happen to think Ron Leibman is absolutely terrific in the film.  He comes off almost like an intense Christopher Reeve (also kind of looks like a cross between Reeve and Robert Carradine), but is someone you really want to get behind and can completely see why Norma and others would follow his ideals.  Also solid is Beau Bridges, who just might be playing a little too close to his personality.  One of my favorite actors that used to show up frequently in films back in the day, Pat Hingle, brings on a sweet and compassionate performance.  To round it off you get some effective but smaller roles from Grace Zabriskie and Frank McRae.

Regardless of your feelings over unions and such, I think there’s still enjoyment to be found in the human aspect of the film.  To see a flawed woman overcome extreme prejudice and prevail is something that we always tend to open our soft side on in film.  And for this situation provided in a small town in North Carolina, something absolutely needed to be done.  I also think its great character and drama to watch as Norma busts her ass working for the mill and working to organize the union while also being a mother, wife and daughter.  Its taxing work, and in no way does this film make it look or seem easy.  If anything the movie is packs enough punch dramatically that you could almost tire yourself watching Norma bust her ass and seeing what she is up against.

While some younger audiences probably would find reason to complain over pacing of the film, I disagree.  Its nice that there was a time where we could let a scene just play out and give the actors to find comfort in it.  This really lets them get there and give you those big wonderful dramatic moments and lets an audience member get invested in a scene and character.  As a fight against an adversity, Norma Rae holds up tremendously and its leading lady gives a performance worthy of every award and accolade it has received over the years.  And in today’s cinematic climate, I think its power in performance and story keeps it holding itself to its highest degree.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2:40.1

Clarity/Detail:  While this film does look its age, I actually welcome that.  It has a nice layer or grain and enough sharpness to look pretty damn impressive.  I like the 70s look this film has.  Detail isn’t popping, but it does appear pretty grand when the lighting is right and in close ups.

Depth:  There are some great and impressive moments in this 1979 film.  The scene Norma and Reuben are swimming in the pond has a great sense of scale.  Scenes in the mill also give a wonderful depth of field as well as the shot during the end credits.

Black Levels:  Black levels are good.  There are some instances of too dark, but that more has to do with lighting than anything else.

Color Reproduction:  Depending on the lighting and surroundings.  In the mill and such things were dingy.  But in a diner scene later on, the colors really pop and are pretty bold.

Flesh Tones:  Tones were consistent with a solid level of detail.  Average.

Noise/Artifacts:  There is a healthy and welcome layer of grain intact.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 1.0 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 1.0 DTS-HD, French 1.0 DTS-HD MA, Italian 1.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Dutch, Italian

Dynamics: This is a pretty impressive track for the most part.  I’ll key in on its weakness in the dialogue section.  But, the sound effects in the film are pretty incredible.  They are loud, well-rounded and distinct.  Also impressive is the vinyl-like quality of the song that plays in the feature.

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  The dialogue in the film works great except when we get into loud situations like the mill.  It gets really ugly as the vocals peak and buzz and just sound rather awful.  In other instances however, the dialogue is at a good volume, crisp and clean.

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Extras 

Hollywood Backstory: Norma Rae (HD, 25:13) – A television episode that likely came from some sort of E!-like network, that takes you through the making of and legacy of the film, completely with interviews of the cast and crew reflecting.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:37)

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Summary 

Purchasing this title is likely going to come down to how much you like the film and how big of a fan you are.  I’ll be honest, had I not gotten this for review it probably wouldn’t have been on my “must buy” list.  But now that I do have it I’m glad its in my collection.  The lack of extras and a digital copy is kind of a bummer, but I think the “Hollywood Backstory” is a far climb better than nothing at all.  At the right price this is a solid pickup.  Can you believe I went this whole review without mentioning the terrible cover art?  Oh wait…there I did it.  Below I also provided one of the original theatrical posters which SHOULD have been used for this.  It’s not much (neither is the cover they went with), but its a massive upgrade.  You tell me.

Norma Rae Blu-ray

Norma-Rae Poster

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

2 Responses to “Norma Rae (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Brian White

    No wonder you jumped on this Blu-ray to review!
    I want to read your sitcom pilot. Send it over!

  2. Brandon Peters

    I’d like to read it too, unfortunately it was lost along with everything else on my college computer when it crashed back in 2004 🙁