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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.78:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New interview with Morris
  • New interview with filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing)
  • NBC report from 1989 covering Randall Adams's release from prison

The Thin Blue Line

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Errol Morris
1988 | 101 Minutes | Licensor: IFC Films

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #753
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: March 24, 2015
Review Date: March 9, 2015

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SYNOPSIS

Among the most important documentaries ever made, The Thin Blue Line, by Errol Morris, erases the border between art and activism. A work of meticulous journalism and gripping drama, it recounts the disturbing tale of Randall Adams, a drifter who was charged with the murder of a Dallas police officer and sent to death row, despite overwhelming evidence that he did not commit the crime. Incorporating stylized reenactments, penetrating interviews, and haunting original music by Philip Glass, Morris uses cinema to build a case forensically while effortlessly entertaining his viewers. The Thin Blue Line effected real-world change, proving film's power beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Errol Morris’ documentary The Thin Blue Line receives a high-definition upgrade over MGM’s previous DVD edition. The Criterion Collection presents the film in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The film’s presentation is presented in 1080p/24hz.

An unorthodox documentary for the time, it’s more staged with set up “talking head” portions and “dramatizations” of the various stories and testimonies, so the film has a far more polished feel than most “conventional” documentaries since everything was filmed far after the fact in professional, controlled settings. Despite all of this, though, I was still rather surprised by how good this looks. The amount of detail in particular is staggering. An early sequence presents a long aerial shot of the Dallas area presents so many intricate details of the city scape, and close-ups of various documents, maps, and newspapers clearly render the grain of the paper so you can almost feel the textures. The various talking head sequences are also sharp and clear without an ounce of fuzziness to the image. Film grain is present but it looks completely natural without any issues with pixilation or noise, helping the image retain a very filmic look. Colours also look fantastic, surprisingly vibrant and rich, and black levels are nicely balanced, lending to the noirish look of some of the dramatizations.

The restoration work is also strong, so strong in fact that other than damage that shows up in some of the used stock footage and film clips that are just part of it, I don’t recall a single blemish. The print is clean. In all it’s a superb transfer, easily the best I’ve ever seen the film look.

10/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Since it’s a documentary one would probably not expect it to go all-out in the audio department but the 2.0 DTS-HD MA surround track does an exceptional job. Dialogue is of course focused to the center channel and comes off incredibly clear if a bit flat in places (I blame this more on just general shooting conditions) but Philip Glass’ score and the various sound effects liven things up. The dramatizations make a great use of sound to convey what is going on while at times also creating a dreamlike effect.

Glass’ score, though, is easily the track’s shining point, nicely split between the speakers (with the rear speakers working in unison of course). The audio overall is rich and full, featuring superb range and volume levels.

For a documentary it has a surprisingly immersive audio experience and the Blu-ray beautifully delivers it.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Another fairly big title gets a surprisingly sparse set of supplements but they’re at least of decent quality. The best feature would easily be the 41-minute interview with director Errol Morris recorded exclusively for this release in October of 2014. It’s an incredibly illuminating discussion with Morris first talking about the dramatizations and why he used them before moving on to the origins of the film, which actually started out as a project on the death penalty for PBS. He states how he heard a lot of “I’m innocent” speeches while talking to inmate but there was something off about Randall Adams’ case. Looking into files and even court transcripts he was shocked to find that not only was it plainly obvious that Adams had nothing to do with the murder, but that one of the key witnesses, a then 16 year old David Harris, was the actual killer. This fascinated him and using the skills he picked up while working as a private investigator (I was actually shocked by that statement) he actually tracked down Harris (before he would be convicted of another murder) and decided to go ahead with the film on Adams. He knew early on that Harris was guilty and Morris is convinced that Harris was more than likely thinking about killing him. He also talks a bit about the aftermath of the film, including a lawsuit that Adams brought against Morris, with Morris admitting he did stupidly handle things. After all of this he then shares his thoughts on the death penalty, with this case opening up one of the key issues with it: in this case the police, the prosecution, and even the judge, needed to have someone killed for this crime, and because of this fact it blinded them to the actual truth. The interview is an absolutely fascinating recount as to how the film came together and the many hurdles he had to get through, particularly in actually getting an interview with Harris.

Criterion next presents an interview with director Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing) who talks about the impact The Thin Blue Line had on him and documentary filmmaking as a whole. He defends the dramatizations which he believes help in conveying the “truth” more than something in the fashion of Cinéma vérité (Morris also shares his feeling on this type of documentary in his interview) since they’re being used to visualize the inconsistencies of the various testimonies (it’s pointed out in the features that we never actually do see a dramatization of what more than likely actually happened and we never actually see Harris commit the crime). He even talks about the film’s film noir style. He gives other thoughts on documentary filmmaking and on Morris’ work as a whole. It’s an incredibly passionate discussion by Oppenheimer making it a nice addition to the release.

In what is sadly the only feature on the aftermath of the film’s release (with some home video footage of Adams returning home edited into Morris’ interview) we get a 5-minute excerpt from a 1989 episode of Today featuring Adams, his lawyer Randy Schaffer, and Morris. Here Adams briefly talks about his incarceration and his recent release, only touching on his plans from that point on (he’s obviously still getting used to the idea he is free) while Morris briefly chimes in from another location. It’s good to have some documentation of Adams’ release because of the film but I guess I was expecting more material. The essay by film scholar Charles Musser, which is found in the included insert, does get into more detail about this, along with the film’s style and impact.

Criterion has interestingly not carried over the one special feature found on the old MGM DVD, a full episode of Morris’ television program, First Person. The episode on there was actually an interview with forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Stone, with a playful title called Mr. Personality: the title fits because Stone specializes in studying evil and the type of people that commit horrible and evil acts, but he’s also about as dry and serious as they come, so I sort of saw it as poking a little fun as well. The lack of this feature isn’t a huge loss in and of itself since the episode actually had nothing to do with anything in The Thin Blue Line other than it was crime related, and it was also a somewhat off-putting interview since he gives details about some horrible crimes, reminding me of his television program from a few years ago called Most Evil, which has been brought back in an even more sensationalistic and horrible incarnation on the Investigation Discovery channel.

At any rate, Criterion’s release still upgrades nicely over the previous DVD in the supplement department, though I was surprised there wasn’t even more about Adams’ actual release from prison.

6/10

CLOSING

I’m surprised there’s barely an hours’ worth of extra material on here since one would have expected a little more on the aftermath of the film’s release (it did, after all, aid significantly in freeing a wrongfully convicted man) but past that it’s a solid release, delivering an exceptional high-definition transfer. Well worth picking up.


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