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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Kramer vs. Kramer [Blu-ray]


(Robert Benton, 1979)



Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Columbia Pictures & Stanley Jaffe

Video: Sony Pictures



Region: ALL (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:44:48.282 

Disc Size: 33,585,697,809 bytes

Feature Size: 29,871,372,288 bytes

Average Bitrate: 27.73 Mbps

Chapters: 16

Case: Standard Locking Blu-ray case

Release date: February 17th, 2009



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video






Dolby TrueHD Audio English 1243 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1243 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby TrueHD Audio French 1177 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1177 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby TrueHD Audio Portuguese 1401 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1401 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps



English (SDH), English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, none



• Making of Kramer vs. Kramer – in SD (48:44)




The Movie: 7
Every once in a while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences honors a relatively little film with its highest kudos Kramer vs. Kramer walked away with 5 Oscars in important categories: Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Adapted Screenplay. This used to be a much more common occurrence for Best Picture (How Green Was My Valley, The Best Years Our Lives, Gentleman’s Agreement, Lost Weekend, All About Eve and Marty spring immediately to mind), but in the past 50 years, we have seen fewer such entries (e.g. Annie Hall, In the Heat of the Night, Driving Miss Daisy, The Silence of the Lambs), the Oscars more often going to movies with relatively huge production budgets.

Kramer vs. Kramer was adapted for the screen by its director, Robert Benton, from the novel by Avery Corman (who, coincidentally, wrote the novel Oh, God! - the popular movie featuring George Burns and John Denver.) Corman’s book (1977) is thought to have been instrumental in rethinking child custody issues in the courts.

With not a moment to lose, Benton put out a movie with a major star, Dustin Hoffman, as the second of the two Kramers in the title, and strongly supported by a striking, rather high strung blonde named Meryl Streep, very much at the beginning of her career (with Deer Hunter and Julia behind her). But the movie is nothing without 8 year old Justin Henry in a remarkably natural performance as the younger Kramer, and the focus of everyone’s attention. Justin is so appealing, without that smartass precociousness that Hollywood child actors were once famous for, that we can easily overlook some of the script’s leaps of consciousness (as when Hoffman tries to explain to his son why mommy left, confessing insights not previously in his field of view, so far as we know.)



The plot is pretty straightforward and not unfamiliar to some of us: Ted (Hoffman) has just been given an ad man’s dream account and comes home to his wife, Joanna (Streep), to share the good news. He’s so excited he can barely decipher her words “I’m leaving you.” No ultimatum. Just the last in a series of last straws. He has ignored her as a person for the last time. But it’s not just Ted she leaves, it is also their son Billy (Henry) who’s on the verge of entering the first grade. Joanna feels she is in no emotional shape to attend to the needs of a young child. For that matter, neither is Ted, but he buckles down to the task with attendant exasperation, comedy, and little resistance. With the many tasks of child care that he takes on himself, dismissing, doubtless more out of guilt than anything else, the question of sending Billy off to relatives for a while - what any sane man would do in his place - he quite naturally loses the account before very long. Months later Joanna reappears, feeling buoyed by her holiday and therapist, and sues her now ex-husband for custody of Billy. Take that, you unfeeling workaholic!

Which brings me to my reservations about the movie: its politically motivated predictability. It’s all very well and, no doubt, overdue at the time, that fathers are recognized as loving parents - able, in many cases, to do the parenting thing, even whilst holding a full time job. But the script stacks the deck against Streep (Joanna’s off to California – of all places – to find herself, and does so in just a few months. I can see her biting her nails whenever the camera is not on her.) Add to this Nestor Almendros’ lighting of Joanna as a Madonna (in court at least), which leads us to feel the heavy hand of manipulation. Such things go against the grain set up so nicely by the priceless and artlessly staged scenes between Justin and Dustin, making the final resolution feel like a cheat.


Image: 9/9  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale.  The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.


Source materials for the movie have held up very well after 30 years. The presentation is very filmlike, capturing the subtleties of Nestor Alemendros’ lighting in every scene. The dynamic range of color and contrast is naturally conveyed with no sense of exaggeration or thinness. Some scenes, like the final embrace between Ted and Billy, are so clear and sharp it produced an audible sigh at my home. Film grain is maintained, though subtle. DNR and over-sharpening seem non-existent. If there were blemishes I didn’t catch them.
















Audio & Music : 7/9

The music for Kramer vs. Kramer, like that for A Little Romance, George Roy Hill’s delightful comedy romance that launched the career of Diane Lane that same year, is largely based on music by Vivaldi – pretty much the same Vivaldi at first hearing. It must have been a case of déjà-vu all over again for audiences who saw both movies. As expected for such a film, the action is very much in front of us, making for little work for the surrounds, except for some ambient cues at the playground or when Ted is catching a cab in a busy downtown. Dialogue and fried french toast, which are of course the most important audio concerns in this movie, come off crispy and clear.


Operations : 7

The disc loads quickly following a brief, skippable promo for the medium. The chapters are nicely, if uneventfully thumbnailed, and there’s only one extra feature to clutter the frame.




Extras : 6

Interviews with Producer Stanley Jaffe, Writer/Director Robert Benton, Actors Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep are woven together, along with footage from the movie to follow events from buying the rights, to casting, to the realization of the movie. Of most interest is the courting of Hoffman, who was going through some painful family issues of his own at the time and was unsure that he could get into the right space to make his performance work. He ended up becoming heavily involved in the process of producing the film in respect to writing and casting. The segment also details how Justin Henry and Hoffman made their connection. The presentation is in good quality SD.



Recommendation : 8

Kramer vs. Kramer is very much an actor’s movie. (Funnily enough, the youngest nominee for Best Supporting Actor, Justin Henry, lost out to the oldest, Melvyn Douglas, for Being There.) While I have reservations about the script, I have none about the performances. Sony’s Blu-ray is a credit to the medium. Warmly Recommended.

Leonard Norwitz
September 19th, 2009



About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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