Blue Sky [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (24th January 2021).
The Film

"Blue Sky" (1994)

Major Hank Marshall (played by Tommy Lee Jones) is a science officer in the US Army who is researching about nuclear testing. His latest transfer has his family move to Alabama in a poor rural area, which dismays his wife Carly (played by Jessica Lange"), who has an emotional breakdown on arrival to their new home. Daughters Alex (played by Amy Locane) and Becky (played by Anna Klemp) have seen the behavior before with their mother yelling uncontrollably while their father tries to calm her down, and seemingly this situation is no different from other past happenings. Hank is having issues at work as well, with Colonel Johnson (played by Powers Boothe) being not interested in bad test results, and willing to cover up any errors. For Carly, fitting in with the other military housewives proves fine at first, but certain incidents cause rifts in various relationships. As for their daughter Alex who is a young teen with a slightly rebellious eye starts falling for Johnson's son Glenn (played by Chris O'Donnell).

Writer Rama Laurie Stagner based the story of "Blue Sky" around her own life growing up in a military family, with a father that worked in nuclear testing and a mother who was emotionally unstable. An unpublished autobiography by her father Clyde Stagner was the base for the script which was also cowritten by "Arlene Sarner and Jerry Leichtling. There seem to be three different stories to highlight in "Blue Sky". There is the dynamically manic relationship between Hank and Carly, in which the relationship is close to that of "A Woman Under the Influence", one of the most horrifying and realistic films ever made about a family struggling with a mother's mental breakdown. Lange's portrayal of Carly is an aggressive and exaggerated performance, yet somehow grounded in reality all the way. Her use of sex appeal and attention grabbing, how she centers so much on herself rather than the surroundings, being outspoken and outrageous, she is prone to embarrassing herself and her family. The kids may sometimes be sickened and embarrassed, but there is something different about how her husband sees her. He is not a yeller or abusive, but he does do things to help her keep in place, at one point even throwing her into a swimming pool while she was fully clothed. But most of the time, it is by making her feel comfortable, whether it is just holding her hand or by passionate lovemaking. Their relationship is the strength of "Blue Sky" and what keeps the audience fully interested seeing how this badly balanced relationship would or could hold together. But is that where the center stage should be?

It seems the two other plot points are slightly less examined and due to that imbalance, the film falls slightly short on where it could have gone. Hank's work and his opinion being silenced, including that of local cowboys being physically affected by the nuclear tests and the Army covering up the issue, is a key element in the drama yet the threat doesn't seem to be quite strong. The cowboys affected with radiation barely make an appearance in the film and Hank's time dedicated to uncovering the issue is on the backside of events rather than at front (as the original theatrical trailer would perceive things). There are plenty of films that showcase the dangers of atomic and nuclear power whether in a serious or a comedic tone from "Godzilla" to "Dr. Strangelove" respectively. In "Blue Sky" the threat doesn't feel as imminent unfortunately. Is it because the scenes with Lee and Lange are that much stronger? Perhaps. but the scenes of nuclear threat doesn't seem to be as handled as well as they should be. This also goes for the viewpoint of young Alex who is going through changes herself as a young teenager, discovering love and rebellion. The scenes between her and Glenn are very sweet and even comical, such as the bench scene and the grenade scene, but how far do things get along? Not very far actually. Considering the main screenwriter was basically the character of Alex, it does seem odd that there wasn't as much of the story told from the daughter's viewpoint. In addition, the final climax of the film seems to go in the wrong direction with the wrong character.

Spoilers!
The climax of "Blue Sky" has Hank committed to a mental hospital by Johnson as Hank was ready to come forward with evidence of wrongdoing by the military testing. Carly tries to set the record straight with Hank's notes and going out to the test site to prove the damage caused. While the audience could see the things she does as noble and redeeming, considering she was the one that was mentally instable for most of the film, what exactly made her put all the pieces together to plan things out the way she does? If these things actually happened in writer Stagner's real life, then all props to the mother for helping her husband in need. But for a cinematic standpoint, the daughter Alex should have been the one to truly shine in the last act. She should have been the one planning how to free her father, she should have been the one on horseback at the end, as she was the straight rebellious character that would have made sense to piece everything together. An additional spoiler, but in the very last scene in which the family gets a new car and is ready to move again, why is Glenn even there? Wouldn't he be mad at Mrs. Marshall just as he was with his own father at that point? It is one of the oddest moments in the film and unclear if things were just shot out of order or changed later on with the story.
End Spoilers

Directed by Tony Richardson, the film is not at all flashy in style but is focused on the characters and their interactions which is what the director was always known for. "Blue Sky" does have some of his signatures on the product, but it falls short of being a classic in comparisons to many of his earlier works such as "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" or "Tom Jones". Shot in the summer of 1990, the film was Richardson's final work, as he died just over a year later on November 19th 1991 from AIDS complications. What was more unfortunate was that the film was not released during Richardson's lifetime. Production company Orion Pictures filed for bankruptcy and the film sat on the shelf for more than three years after it was completed in 1991. Even though it had a massive hit with "Silence of the Lambs" in 1991 and "Dances with Wolves" in 1990, a slate of their films were suddenly taken off their schedules until the company was restructured, and "Blue Sky" was one of the casualties. It was finally released in the United States on September 16th 1994 and barely made an impact with audiences, though it did received positive praise critically. During the time the film sat on the shelf, Tommy Lee Jones won an Oscar for "The Fugitive", Jessica Lange made an impact in the remake of "Cape Fear", Chris O'Donnell became a young face in hits such as "Fried Green Tomatoes" and "Scent of a Woman". And Amy Locane became a regular on the TV series "Melrose Place" as well as having a part in "School Ties" alongside Chris O'Donnell. It was a surprise that the film received one Golden Globe and one Oscar nominations, and both were wins for Lange, for Best Actress. Yes, her performances was quite the highlight of the film, even if disregarding the final act which she still does commendably. By no means a masterpiece of filmmaking, there are still great highlights to enjoy in "Blue Sky" with the stellar performances.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray

Video

The BFI presents the film in the theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The HD master comes from rightsholders MGM. The transfer looks good, but nothing particularly spectacular. Skin tones, background details are fine and there is little damage to be seen throughout while still keeping a good amount of film grain with the cleaned image. There are some minor speckles and other inconsistencies with this slightly dated master (which looks to be the same as the one used for the US Blu-ray from Olive six years ago). The picture looks fine but there shouldn't be any high expectations as seen with many restorations found on many BFI in-house restorations as this isn't one of them.

The film's runtime is 101:15.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English LPCM 2.0 stereo

There are two audio options for the film, with a lossless 5.1 track and a stereo 2.0 track. The film was originally mixed with Dolby Stereo and the LPCM track reflects that, while the 5.1 track spreads out the sound a bit more, though it is still mostly center based. Being dialogue heavy, the center area gets the most workout, but with some music cues including the opening and ending credits plus the score by Jack Nitzsche get more workout in the surrounds. The audio tracks are well balanced with the dialogue, music, and effects, not drowning out any dialogue. There are no particular issues with dropouts or hisses leaving a clean track throughout.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font. They are well timed and easy to read.

Extras

Audio commentary by Nick Pinkerton
Journalist and film programmer Nick Pinkerton gives a solo commentary for the film, in which he gives information about the cast and crew with biographical information, details on the script, the troubles with Orion and the end of Tony Richardson's life. He also points out some of the weaker aspects of the film in addition to the strong points, but a lot of the commentary is focused on biographical information rather than on the film itself. In addition, he annoyingly pronounces "Nuclear" wrongly as "Nu-cu-lar".
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

"Operation Hurricane" 1953 documentary short (33:13)
This Ministry of Supply documentary looks at the complicated process and safety in the detonations of three atomic bombs in the Monte Bello Islands in Australia. From the construction of a special high speed camera, shipping everything from Britain to Australia, and the careful preparation made before the detonations and the aftermath are all shown in this short. Approximately 30 miles of film was shot for the making of the documentary, but only 8 minutes were originally shown for the public in a very condensed form. The 1953 Edinburgh film festival was where the 33 minute version was shown, including color footage of the explosion from the high speed camera at the very end. The color footage seen here on the Blu-ray comes from the only known print, and is very faded to say the least. The black and white does look quite good with clarity, with the usual speckles and scratches seen alongside some hisses and pops in the narrated soundtrack.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Atoms at Work" 1952 documentary short (10:40)
This Ministry of Supply short film looks at examples of how research of radioactive isotopes has led to various benefits for man, including agriculture, medical treatment and much more in this informative narrated short. Obviously all are the benefits and none of the negative aspects here.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Image Gallery (4:35)
A series of behind the scenes stills, promotional stills, and poster art is presented in an automated silent slideshow
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4

Trailer (2:03)
The original trailer, which took the military coverup angle is presented here, not doing a particularly good job in setting up the film.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Booklet
A 28 page booklet is included with the first pressing. First is the essay "Sunset Sky" by filmmaker and film historian Jim Hemphill which looks at the film and its filmmaker. Biographies of Jones and Lang by Ellen Cheshire are next, plus information on Richardson's filmmaking period in the United States by by Dr Martin Hall. This is followed by credits, special features information, transfer information, acknowledgements, and stills.


A clip from the film is embedded below, courtesy of the BFI.



The film previously received a Blu-ray release in the United States by Olive in 2015. There were no extras and only featured the 2.0 audio track, making this BFI release quite ahead in presentation and in the extras.

Overall

"Blue Sky" features some stellar performances especially from Lange and Lee, but the narrative does strike as inconsistent relying too much on the pair's tumultuous drama rather than other aspects that could have strengthened the film. The BFI has a good amount of extras included and a good presentation of the film.

The Film: B- Video: B Audio: A- Extras: B Overall: B

 


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