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Out Of Africa - Special Edition

/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 154 mins . M15+ . PAL


The star of this movie is Meryl Streep's Danish accent, as she essays the role of Danish traveller Karen Blixen, as she seeks to establish a home in early 20th Century Kenya.

She has arrived there in 1913. She has just used her wealth to buy herself the title of Countess -- she's that sort of gal. But buying the title brings with it a lazy layabout husband, Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer), who is determined to help her go through her money as fast as possible. The Baron wants her to spend money and personal effort on a doomed attempt to set up a Highlands coffee plantation, while he whoops it up hunting in the jungle and whoring it up in town.

Luckily, Karen meets roving British hunter and safari-leader Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), who becomes quite keen on bagging this bit of game. Unfortunately, the Baron has given Karen a dose of syph. She must return to Denmark for a cure. She comes back, cured, and has a pleasant-enough affair with Denys, until her farm burns down, her dreams are destroyed, and Denys Finch Hatton comes to a sticky end. She goes back to Denmark to write down her memories of life in Kenya, under the name Isak Dinesen. End of tale.

It's pretty boring, mainly because of poor casting. Meryl Streep labours so hard at her so-immaculate accent, that it becomes just about the only thing you notice. And Robert Redford delivers a totally risible and ludicruous performance of the ex-Etonian semi-aristocratic Denys Finch Hatton. He's as British as a glass of coca-cola.

But there are compensations. Photography, by cinematographer David Watkin, is truly spectacular. Africa has seldom looked so sweepingly beautiful. This is compelling stuff, and makes you almost forget the relative tedium of the tale.

John Barry's music (he also worked on Zulu and on several James Bond movies) complements the photography extremely well. Those two ingredients help us endure quite a bit of prosaic story-telling and humdrum acting.


The widescreen anamorphic transfer has not come from a pristine source. There are some signs of age, but the overall effect is still pretty wonderful, doing the fine cinematography proud.


We're given a choice of Dolby Surround or DTS, and the presentation of the 1980s soundtrack is clear and true. There seems little, if any, difference between the DTS or Dolby layer; just take the default option and you'll be happy.


The key feature is a 49-minute new documentary, Song of Africa, which is in fact more entertaining than the feature itself. It features recent interviews with Pollack, Streep, John Barry, screenwriter Kurt Luedtke and Blixen biographer Judith Thurman. Meryl Streep is in relaxed and humourous mode, as she recounts how Pollack tried to have her devoured by a lion -- Pollack of course denies this, but on watching her in the role, I think I believe he might have tried.

There's an audio commentary from Pollack, of a very detailed and quite interesting kind. Finally, there's a full-screen theatrical trailer, to round out this Special Edition.


Lots of people nominate this as one of their very favourite movies. Well, if that's the case, go for it. The fatal casting of Streep and Redford rules it out for me -- the whole thing is pretty tedious, about mostly unsympathetic characters. But yes, the cinematography is wonderful, and the music sweeps along pretty well.

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      And I quote...
    "Meryl Streep gives good accent in this sweepingly-boring epic of old-Africa."
    - Anthony Clarke
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DVD 655A
    • TV:
          Loewe Profil Plus 3272 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Denon AVR-3801
    • Speakers:
          Neat Acoustics PETITE
    • Centre Speaker:
          Neat Acoustics PETITE
    • Surrounds:
          Celestian (50W)
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
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