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Out of Africa: Collector's Edition

For several decades Hollywood took great pride in producing historical epics of sweeping scope. The studios spent lavishly, transplanting great movie stars to exotic locales, dressing them up in period costumes and pacing them through subtle human dramas set against backdrops of monumental social change. Audiences flocked to the feast, partially for the grand physical trappings, but also to be swept away by the grand storytelling of classic literary or popular works like Dr. Zhivago, Gone with the Wind and Lawrence of Arabia. Of late, that storytelling has been lost. Aspiring epics like The English Patient and (ugh) Titanic have ably imitated the production values of yore, but lose their way amongst unstable narratives, clumsy plotting, and forced relationships. To find the last great epic romance, you have to look back to 1985's superb Oscar-winner Out of Africa. Based on the stories and memoirs of Danish author Isak Dinesen (the nome-du-plume for Karen Blixen), Sidney Pollack's wonderful film is as touching in small ways as it is awe-inspiring in its grandiosity. Meryl Streep stars as Karen, a rich socialite in turn-of-the-century Denmark who approaches her friend Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer) with a marriage of convenience: she wants his title, and he needs her family's money. Together they shake off the stifling Danish society and start a coffee plantation in distant Kenya. It doesn't take long, however, for the newlyweds' incompatibilities to rise to the surface. Bror is aloof, careless, and disappears for weeks on end, while Karen is surprised to find herself unusually dependent and hurt by her husband's absence. As a result, she throws herself into the struggling plantation, maintaining a privileged lifestyle at odds with her surroundings. Enter Denys (Robert Redford), a free-spirited American hunter deeply in tune with the slowly changing country and struck by Karen's stubborn strength. In the wrong hands, Denys might have come off like the smarmy, super-sensitive, drippy ideal Clint Eastwood played in The Bridges of Madison County. But in the hands of screenwriter Kurt Luedtke, and an understated performer like Redford, he's a fascinating study, wise in his specific way, but also poignantly unaware of his own inner-conflicts. Streep, in another of her impeccable accent roles, effortlessly takes Karen through a remarkable transformation. Pollack's skill at crafting delicate, arcing narratives is in full stride, and David Watkins' gorgeous cinematography captures Kenya at its most picturesque. Universal's lovingly produced Collector's Edition sports a glorious 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and 4.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, plus a commentary by the always-entertaining Pollack and the 50-minute documentary Song of Africa. Also, web links, trailers, keep case.
—D.K. Holm

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