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Out of Africa

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 154 mins . PG . PAL


Out of Africa might be classified as a ‘romance’ – that would be perhaps overstating the chemistry between lead Robert Redford and Meryl Streep and the backdrop. It is more an epic spanning close onto half a decade in the African subcontinent.

Streep is Karen Blixen, a Danish aristocrat who moves to the high plains of Kenya after marrying her lover’s brother (Klaus Maria Brandauer). This is a marriage of convenience, they both try to make something of farming away from icy Denmark.

Blixen has affection, if not love, for her husband Bror but he is an adventurer and philanderer. Africa is a playground for Bror who spends most of his time on safari. Blixen is perhaps a bit alienated by the fact that Africa is largely English or Germanic. The setting is the Great War and that tends to divide Africa much like Europe. She does not want any part of ‘their’ war, but Bror does.

She does like one Englishman however, that is Denys Hatton, who is played by an understated but very American Robert Redford. Their relationship is one that cannot satisfy either parties; Blixen wants a traditional marriage among the Masai on the veldt. Denys wants intimacy but also his freedom, that freedom that is expressed by the long safaris, the war for England and the novelty that is the stream train, the automobile and the biplane. Africa is to be explored.

Karen is beset by tragedy in a harsh Africa. Her life is lonely in that she does not have a great deal of company from like (‘white’) folk. She compensates by being a bit of everything to the local natives; a doctor, a farmer a advocate of black rights, which is not looked upon kindly by the English establishment. Here she finds reward in a dignified and warm race of people who are a contrast to the English. Her attempts at agriculture are thwarted, her wish for a family life is not to be and the string of tragic circumstances makes her life in Africa unbearable. Like a lot of lost romances what she has is not enough and never will be.

This is a largely autobiographical film. The Oscar winning screenplay is an amalgam of four books from Blixen. But the interaction between Streep and Redford is largely reserved. The background of Africa and Blixen and the native Africans takes on a bigger picture. I am reminded of Lawrence of Arabia, which has a similar look, feel and sound. It is also a partner disc in the Columbia catalog.


For a 1985 production, this transfer is above average to exceptional. The anamorphic 1.85:1 projection suits the Oscar winning cinematography. Colours are solid with an excellent rendition of Africa.

There are some scenes that do stand out. Most of the ‘safari’ shots are exceptional, with every blade of grass being sharply defined. Large stretches of African plain are rendered perfectly with fine gradations of colour even when the landscape is moving. I have seen other discs artefact on similar settings.

The setting also has an extremely harsh lighting – this is Africa around the equator. This provides for very strong contrast, you often get dark characters against a bright cloudless sky. Be that as it may, this film is singularly devoid of anything but the very lightest and most inoffensive edge enhancement. This is perhaps strange given Columbia’s past catalog which has a reputation for strong edge enhancement artefacts.

The intelligent shooting is a reason why I find the standard of this disc so high. It is not so much the transfer being as good as it is, rather the use of fast film speed for the outdoor scenes gives a good impression of the oppressive, simmering heat of the African wilds. On the other hand, slower yet warmer film is used for interior shots for a more ‘period’ looking piece. This gives the strong contrast of settings of day and night for the film. Shadow details are strong with the numerous night scenes well rendered.

This is a heavily costumed and ‘propped’ film with extensive use of custom sets, live animals and cars. It is no wonder it got the Oscar for art direction.


This is an odd format, Dolby Digital 4.1 at 384k/s. The rear channel is mono like Dolby Pro Logic. This is a very front-centric soundtrack. I could not detect any LFE activity, nor could I detect much surround activity save ambience to reinforce the score, the setting (i.e. in the jungle or the rumble of a train). There is good use of mid bass for the drums in the music and limited effects like rifle shots, however this isn’t a terribly effects heavy film. The Oscar winning John Barry score is quiet most of the times, but it is appropriate given the scene.

Vocals are very clear which is good for a dialogue heavy movie and the variety of accents (there’s Redford’s American, the various English and the faux Danish of Streep and Brandauer). Redford plays an Englishman but doesn’t quite pull it off.


The extras are limited but of good quality. Firstly there’s a full length commentary from director Sydney Pollack. This is a classic technical commentary with excellent detail on Pollack’s interpretation of the screenplay and production. It is rather dry at times, which is common for a ‘serious’ commentary, but there’s no doubt of Pollack’s intention. It is perhaps best to hit the ‘Audio’ button and switch to the commentary on a certain section if one wishes to hear Pollack’s thoughts. It would be hard to sit through in extended stretches. There is also a lot of insight into the book and to Blixen’s life itself.

There is a 50 minute documentary called Song of Africa. Streep, Pollack and others seem to be having a retrospective on the film, it also seems to be quite a while later (I’m guessing a decade?). It is a good retrospective with strong insight, some of it perhaps a bit inaccurate given the length between the film and this documentary. It doesn’t have chapter stops which is not good.

A slightly poorer quality full frame theatrical trailer, cast/crew biography and short set of production notes round things out.


Out of Africa won seven Oscars, Streep was nominated for Best Actress and there is no doubt this is a strong picture. The extras are limited, but given the extended running time of 154 minutes this is perhaps expected. Nevertheless, the disc quality is superb and this DVD sits happily with the rest of the Academy Award Winners...

For 1985:

Picture: Sydney Pollack - Producer

Director: Sydney Pollack

Writing/Screenplay: (Based on material from another medium) Kurt Luedtke

Art/Set Direction: Stephen Grimes, Josie MacAvin

Cinematography: David Watkin

Music/Original Score: John Barry

Sound: Chris Jenkins, Gary Alexander, Larry Stensvold, Peter Handford

Nominated for Actress: Meryl Streep

Nominated for Supporting Actor: Klaus Maria Brandauer

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      And I quote...
    "A beautiful transfer of an epic romance..."
    - Tony Lai
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