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Obsession – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Decades later, it feels the films of Amercian director Brian De Palma are rightfully be reanalyzed and more are finding the appreciation in his work. Long thought to be just a guy who kept knocking off Hitchcock, we’ve come around to see him for his own enhancements and volition, an extension of Hitchcock and fantastic filmmaker in his own right. Why not borrow or utilize the work of the best. Heck, the stuff De Palma was doing then is something we discover or appreciate filmmakers for doing in our modern climate. In terms of caring Blu-ray releases, his catalog in the US seems to be split between Shout! Factory and Criterion. Scream Factory has done Phantom of the Paradise and Carrie previously, and now will be adding the almost forgotten film in his oeuvre, Obsession, on January 15th. It will feature a couple new interviews and is available for pre-order to have when it releases.

Film 

A tenth wedding anniversary celebration ends tragically when Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson, Charly) discovers that his wife (Geneviève Bujold, Dead Ringers) and nine-year-old daughter have been kidnapped. When an attempt to thwart the captors goes awry, Courtland’s wife and daughter are never recovered. Several years later while vacationing in Florence, Courtland falls in love with a young woman who is an exact double of his dead wife. On the eve of their wedding, the woman disappears and Courtland finds a ransom note … a duplicate of the one found several years earlier.

Yup. This is Brian De Palma’s take on Alfred Hitchock’s Vertigo. Nobody is denying that. Now, let’s move on and check out the film that we’ve received. De Palma’s film carries the same overall idea of a man’s failure costing the life of a significant other, only to find her exact replica and enter her life with the constant wonder if this is all some sort of charade, later finding an opportunity in the same situation to try to right his wrong that has haunted him ever since. That’s pretty much where it ends as this one wanders in business, ransoms and such. And borrowing from Vertigo is only luring you into thinking this film is going to play out similar. And as Tarantino has always said, De Palma is able to go and take things where Hitchcock wanted to, but wasn’t able.

Despite any kind of misgivings or just how good this film is, the sign of the artistry on display makes the film wildly entertaining. De Palma’s eye is reason enough to check out the film. Everything is always so carefully played out and speaks on its own volition. The camera moves with purpose and every shot has a reason, never feeling forced or heavy handed. Just regular establishing shots in the Italy segments are quite gorgeous. The New Orleans setting adds some neat areas not particularly depicted in other De Palma films. Overall, the film has a unique flavor and stands out in the De Palma canon.

The score of the film is also a standout. De Palma incorporates longtime Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Hermann into the fold that makes this both feel modern and more epic than it probably is at many corners of the film. There are some wonderfully grand, commanding moments that make the film feel classical and huge. If you heard the score just by itself, you’d possibly think it was for a notable piece of film history rather than one that’s been sort of forgotten over the years.

Helping elevate the film are the performances as well. John Lithgow is a complete hoot in the film as a big southern business man with a hefty mustache. He chews up scenery at every corner of the frame. Genevieve Bujold is also fabulous in the film and is probably the MVP of the whole thing. Cliff Robertson is pretty good too, but after watching the De Palma documentary a few years ago and hearing how Robertson was intimidated by Bujold and kept trying to steal every scene in the film, it now stands out. And its a little humorous at times. It never full detracts from the film, but it is there if you know what you’re looking for.

Obsession might be in the middle tier or lesser area for many with the De Palma filmography, but its still quite entertaining and for a majority of filmmakers, it would be the greatest thing they ever made. Its beautifully shot and well acted with a solid enough story enhanced by the many creative factors. And its likely a De Palma film many have never seen. But, one should really rectify that as its thoroughly entertaining and should impress in many aspects.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 108op

Aspect Ratio:

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Scream Factory’s US debut of Brian De Palma’s Obsession is likely using the same transfer seen on the Arrow Video release from many years ago. That particular version was terrific, so why mess with it if you aren’t able to do a 4K transfer. The film retains a nice grain structure to accentuate the natural softer look the film has. Details are pretty strong and the natural details push through quite well.

Depth:  There are times where the photography in this film just takes command and comes across with quite the depth of field on display, but there are many other moments a bit flatter than others. Overall, while up and down, every scene looks natural to the filmic origins. Not motion issues occur.

Black Levels: Blacks are quite deep and can carry a heavier layer of grain to them. Some things do lose detail, but its mostly well saturated throughout with no crushing instances witnessed on this viewing.

Color Reproduction: This isn’t the most luscious of color efforts, but portrays them in a very natural, used sense. Blues look very nice here, but nothing really just jumps out in the film by design. Everything just has a nice, lived in feel to it.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent start to finish. Make-up, freckles, lip texture, wrinkles and more come in quite good in close ups and majority of medium shots.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: Obsession comes with the option of the 5.1 mix and a mono track. The 5 channel mix features a grand, boisterous display of Bernard Hermann’s lovely score that fills the room. The other elements, the effects and vocals feel much more in tune with their time but blend quite well and natural with good layering and feel. No real hissing or analog elements detected when viewing.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Most of the deeper tones come from the score. There are some natural bumps in the effects, but their “oompf” factor isn’t quite what they could be.

Surround Sound Presentation: Most of this hangs out up front, but there are some nice ambient elements that contribute from the rear channels.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and plenty audible and crisp at all times.

Extras 

Obsession – Collector’s Edition comes with reversible cover art featuring an original theatrical poster design. Which, I must point out, is a really awesome poster.

Producing Obsession With George Litto (HD, 26:19) – A patient interview where he talks his history in playing music leading him to movies, his early relationship and spotting De Palma as well as his personal perspective on the ins and outs of Obsession.

Editing Obsession With Paul Hirsch (HD, 20:30) – A very straightforward speaker, he discusses his history of cutting trailers leading to him meeting De Palma as the trailer editor on Greetings which led him to working on 11 films with him and also editing Star Wars. He’d only work with De Palma on films done in California and Obsession was one of his favorites due to the stunning cinematography and score.

Obsession Revisited (SD, 37:31) – A Vintage featurette featuring interviews with director Brian De Palma, Cliff Robertson and Genevieve Bujold.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:35)

Radio Spots (HD, :59)

Image Gallery (HD, 6:17)

Summary 

Obsession is on the underseen and lower end of Brian De Palma flicks, but its still fascinating and wonderfully entertaining. Scream Factory has done it some good in this new Collector’s Edition. The film looks and sounds as it did on the Arrow release, but they’ve added some new interviews to compliment the film. I wish they had included the two short films from De Palma that appeared on that release, so I’ll have to hold onto that one and this one because of non-crossover bonus materials. If you’ve never owned or seen Obsession and are a fan of De Palma, Hitchcock or just suspense thrillers in general, you should consider this release.

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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).

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