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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Obsession (Blu-ray)
Obsession (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory // PG // January 15, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $34.93 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted January 9, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Brian De Palma's 1976 thriller Obsession would seem to be doomed to live forever in the shadow of the director's better-known films but the truth is, this picture, written by Paul Schrader, is every bit as good as any of the other thrillers that he made in the 1970's.

The film takes us to the New Orleans of 1959 where Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) plans to celebrate a decade of marriage to his beautiful wife Elizabeth (Geneviève Bujold) with a fancy party. Things are great at first, but when the party finishes Michael finds a ransom note: Elizabeth and their young daughter have been kidnapped and if he wants to see the again, he needs to come up with a half a million dollars in cash. Michael is lucky enough with his lot in life that he's able to pay the ransom but the police, led by Inspector Brie (Stanley J. Reyes), step in at the last minute and it all goes to Hell. Elizabeth and their daughter are never seen again.

A decade and a half later and Michael is in Florence with Bob (John Lithgow), his business partner. Seemingly by chance, he visits the church where he and his wife met all those years ago. This time around, he meets a woman named Sandra (Bujold again), who might as well be Elizabeth's twin: she's essentially her doppelganger. They hit it off and quite quickly, romance blossoms. Before you know it, he's taken her back to New Orleans to put a ring on her finger. This occurs despite Bob's warnings against it. And isn't it just his like that shortly after the wedding proper, Michael finds his new wife missing and a copy of that original ransom note left in her place. Again, he decides to pay the ransom, but this time the results are different.

De Palma's Hitchcock influence has never been more apparent than it is in this film but if it flirts with imitation at times, at least it does so really, really well. The movie is tense, allowing us to look past a few spots that don't quite exist in the realm of the possible, and it's beautifully shot. Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography is reason enough to want to watch the film. There is no shortage of perfectly farmed moments in the film and some genuinely creative and stirring compositions are on display throughout the film. The fact that none other than the great Bernard Herrmann contributes a memorable and stirringly effective score certainly doesn't hurt matters either. If Schrader's script and De Palma's direction sometimes feels like they are borrowing Vertigo a little more than they needed to, the movie is entertaining and engaging enough to let us enjoy it, even while acknowledging the very obvious influences.

Performances are strong across the board. Cliff Robertson makes for a solid leading man here, he's got charm and charisma and, most importantly, we like him enough to care about what happens to him. Geneviève Bujold handles her ‘dual role' really well. She's pretty, delicate even, but manages to keep an air of mystery about her that makes us want to know more about her character once Michael meets Sandra in Italy. Stanley J. Reyes does a fine job as the lead cop, while John Lithgow, a talented actor by anyone's standards, in fact proves to be the weak link the cast having been tasked with delivering some awkward lines intended to bring some comic relief to the first half of the film. It doesn't work, and this is not the actor's finest moment.

Still, if imperfect Obsession is, at the very least, quite good. The tension in the final act of the picture is strong and the production values are excellent. It'll never stand as the most original film ever made but that doesn't make it any less interesting or enjoyable.

The Video:

Obsession comes to Blu-ray from Shout! Factory in a 2.35.1 widescreen transfer in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc looking very nice indeed. The cinematography in this one is intentionally soft in spots and the transfer does replicate that, as it should, but detail is typically pretty strong here, and occasionally seriously impressive. There's good depth to the image and colors are reproduced accurately and very nicely. We get strong black levels and good flesh tones and the picture retains its film-like appearance throughout, showing the expected amount of natural grain and no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement. The transfer is also free of compression artifacts and is presented with very little noticeable print damage at all. There's nothing to really complain about here, the film looks great.

The Audio:

Additionally, the DTS-HD Mono track, in the film's native English, is also solid. The dialogue is always clean and clear and easy to understand. The levels are nicely balanced throughout and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to complain about. The score in particular sounds really good here. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

The Extras:

Extras start off with an all new audio commentary with author Douglas Keesey, the man who penned Brian De Palma's Split-Screen: A Life in Film, wherein he provides a deep dive into the history of the film and the people who made it. He does a nice job of putting this into a historical and social context, explaining where De Palma was at as a filmmaker at this point in his career, and explaining how and why he manages to explore certain themes the way that he does. There's also lots of info here on De Palma's personal history, the score and the cinematography and of course the cast and crew. It's informative and well-done.

There are two new featurettes on the disc as well, the first of which is the twenty-six-minute Producing Obsession interview with producer George Litto wherein he spends a good but of time detailing how he got into the film business, how he first came to know De Palma, how and why he produced this film and his thoughts on the quality of the project these many years since it was made. The second featurette, Editing Obsession is a twenty-minute interview with editor Paul Hirsh who speaks about his collaborating with the director on this project as well as what he did before he started editing features, his relationship with De Palma, other projects that he's been involved with over the years and his thoughts on Obsession (which he understandably remains quite fond of).

Shout! Factory also includes a vintage featurette entitled Obsession Revised, which clocks in at thirty-eight minutes and it made up of interviews with director Brian De Palma and cast members Cliff Robertson and Genevieve Bujold as well as producer George Litto, editor Paul Hirsch and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. Lots of good information here about what Schrader's original script brought and what needed to be changed, the casting of certain characters, who De Palam and Zsigmond collaborated, the editing process and lots more.

Rounding out the extras on the disc is a theatrical trailer, a handful of radio spots, menus and chapter selection. For those interested, the first pressing of this release comes with a collectable slipcover.

Overall:

Obsession is clearly De Palma at his most Hitchcockian but so too is it very well made and entertaining. The production values are impressive and the movie is a tense one. Throw in a great score, gorgeous camerawork and some solid performances and it's easy to see how and why the movie holds up as well as it does. Shout! Factory's Blu-ray release gives the movie its due, presenting the film in gorgeous shape and with some quality extras too. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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