The Coen Brothers have become increasingly popular over the years since their 1984 debut, "Blood Simple". Films like "Big Lebowski", "Miller's Crossing" and "Raising Arizona" have never really done remarkable business, but the fans of those films are die-hard lovers of the picture and find they're worth watching again and again; certain elements and scenes are worthy of even further discussion. I still do not understand the complaint leveled at "Blood Simple" that the picture is slow. Yes, it's not a rapid-fire action picture, but there's such an undercurrent of dread and tension that I find the picture riveting. Each of its 97 minutes move without a glance at my watch. This is the "director's cut" of the picture, which reportedly has "tightened" moments and added a rather silly new opening where a "film historian" discusses the picture's restoration. Yet, the running time is apparently the same. As per usual for the Coen Brothers, this seems to be a subtle dig at the idea of "director's cuts".
The film revolves around several main characters: A bar owner named Marty (Dan Hedaya), his wife who's cheating on him (Frances McDormand), the bartender (John Getz) who she's cheating with and the detective who Julian hires to kill the couple. As with the Coen's "Fargo", what can go wrong, will go wrong - badly. To discuss the film's wonderful twists and turns as it reaches its conclusion would be to ruin it for those who have yet to see it.
The Coens lucked out in bringing together a group of a supremely talented actors to fill the roles here. McDormand is especially fantastic in an early role and both Walsh and Hedaya give performances that are easily among the best they've offered in their otherwise equally marvelous careers. "Blood Simple" was the directing debut of the Coen Brothers and it also was their first collaboration with cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, who provides some fascinating camerawork here. Sonnenfeld also went on to direct "Men In Black" and other pictures.
Although the "director's cut" bit seems like more of a subtle joke than any real tinkering, that doesn't matter. The film's power and tension are still most certainly apparent, whichever cut of the film I've just finished watching. "Blood Simple" is simply a triumph and a spectacular debut.
VIDEO: The "restored director's cut" of the picture is offered here in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Universal. I was generally suprised with the image quality - with an independent film from 1984, I was expecting some noticable wear in the image, but I didn't find nearly as much as I'd thought I would. Some very minor speckles appeared now and then and I also spotted a small, infrequent amount of marks. A few scenes appeared very lightly grainy. There were hardly any other problems - I noticed one or two minor traces of pixelation, but no edge enhancement.
Sharpness and detail varied slightly throughout the movie, but the picture could generally be counted on for at least a mildly well-defined and crisp image. Colors still looked superb throughout the movie - although many scenes appeared subdued, there were several scenes, such as the ones at the bar, where the neon colors still appeared bright and vibrant. This picture was also the first pairing of the Coen Brothers with Barry Sonnenfeld, who was their cinematographer for "Blood Simple", "Miller's Crossing" and "Raising Arizona" before going on to direct pictures like "Get Shorty" and "Men In Black". His terrific cinematography on these three Coen pictures really gives them a strong intensity. Universal's new transfer has done the film justice; it's not without a few minor blemishes, but overall, it was better looking than I'd expected.
SOUND: The film's Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is offered here and it doesn't provide a particularly stellar sound experience, nor did I really expected it to. Carter Burwell's extraordinary score is really the one key element of the film's sound design and it sounds marvelous here. Dialogue also came through clearly and cleanly. Although the film was a low-budget piece, the sound still offers particularly good quality.
MENUS:: Although the menus are basic and non-animated, the backgrounds are still rather striking and Burwell's score plays behind the main menu.
Commentary: This is a commentary from Kenneth Loring of Forever Young Films. A British gentleman who sounds as if he's a film historian, it becomes apparent within a few moments of the begining that he's nothing of the sort. Apparently a not-so-subtle joke by the filmmakers, they've gotten someone to do a fake commentary. It's funny for a little while, but I think everyone who watches this DVD would rather have had an actual commentary by the Coens.
Also: Trailer, production notes.
Final Thoughts: Director's cut or not, "Blood Simple" still remains an exceptionally well-crafted and finely acted thriller. It's a masterpiece from the Coen Brothers and absolutely worth checking out if you haven't yet. Universal's DVD does provide fine audio/video quality, but the one main extra really doesn't provide any insight. Still, highly recommended.