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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

King of the Hill [Blu-ray]


(Steven Soderbergh, 1993)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Bona Fide Productions

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #698



Region: 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:43:22.779

Disc Size: 49,678,861,794 bytes

Feature Size: 24,891,887,616 bytes

Video Bitrate: 26.95 Mbps

Chapters: 21

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: February 25th, 2014



Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



DTS-HD Master Audio English 3459 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3459 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)



English (SDH), none



• New interviews with Soderbergh (19:25) and source memoir author A. E. Hotchner (21:10)
Against Tyranny, a new video essay by :: kogonada exploring Soderbergh’s unique approach to narrative (10:39)

• 6 Deleted Scenes (8:47)
The Underneath (1995 - 1:39:11 in 1080P), Soderbergh’s follow-up feature to King of the Hill, with an interview with the director (22:33)
Trailer (2:31)
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Peter Tonguette, a 1993 interview with Soderbergh, and an excerpt from Hotchner’s 1972 memoir

2 DVDs of, both, the feature and all supplements of the Blu-ray





Description: For his first Hollywood studio production, Steven Soderbergh (whose independent debut, sex, lies, and videotape, had won the Palme d’Or at Cannes a few years earlier) crafted this small jewel of a growing-up story. Set in St. Louis during the Great Depression, King of the Hill follows the daily struggles of a resourceful and imaginative adolescent who, after his younger brother is sent to live with a relative and his tubercular mother to a sanitarium, must survive on his own in a run-down hotel during his salesman father’s long business trips. This evocative period piece, faithfully adapted from the A. E. Hotchner memoir, is among the versatile Soderbergh’s most touching and surprising films.



The Film:

Steven Soderbergh, after the success of sex, lies, and videotape and the commercial failure of Kafka, pulls a rabbit out of his hat with this quiet and evocative recollection of a childhood lived in the Depression, based on A. E. Hotchner's memoir. Twelve-year-old Aaron Kurlander (Jesse Bradford) is coming of age in a rotting working class section of St. Louis in 1933. As the film begins, Aaron's family is coming apart at the seams due to the increasingly bleak economy. His father (Jeroen Krabbe) ekes out a living with a series of failed sales jobs as the family lives in the dilapidated Empire Hotel in a seamy section of town. When his younger brother (Cameron Boyd) is sent to live with relatives to save expenses, his consumptive mother (Lisa Eichhorn) goes away to a sanitarium and his father abandons him to sell watches in Iowa. At first Aaron retreats into a concocted fantasy world but he gradually becomes drawn into the shattered lives of the tenants of the hotel. Aaron sees the rotting social fabric laid bare and discovers he must temper his childhood dreams with the hard-hitting realities of adult existence. 

Excerpt from MRQE located HERE

St Louis, 1933. The Great Depression. Twelve-year-old Aaron (Bradford) has the richest imagination in the class and the poorest parents. They board in a dilapidated hotel in the wrong part of town. Mother (Eichhorn) goes into hospital, suffering from what looks like general malaise. Father (Krabbé) sends away Aaron's younger brother to live with his aunt, and when a job finally comes his way, he has no choice but to go on the road as a travelling salesman. That leaves Aaron to fend for himself, with some help from his steetwise pal Lester (Brody), and the kindly concern of the odd sympathetic adult. If Soderbergh could be said to be playing safe here, who could blame him after the ambitious but neglected Kafka? True the coming-of-age scenario holds few surprises, but this beautifully played film's sensitivity speaks volumes; Soderbergh lets his camera do the talking. What seems initially a nostalgic hue eventually becomes a harder, tougher tone. The result is both heartening and astringent.

Excerpt from TimeOut Film Guide located HERE


Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

King of the Hill looks excellent on Blu-ray from Criterion. It is from a new restored 2K digital film transfer, supervised by director Steven Soderbergh. It looks extremely impressive with tight detail and pristine contrast.  This is dual-layered with a reasonable bitrate and we can guess that it is a solid representation of the 1 3/4 hour film. I see no flaws whatsoever, and there is plenty of depth. The film's art direction is exemplified by this pleasing 1080P transfer. It is in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and, on is extremely clean without speckles or scratches of any kind. I noted no instances of noise. This Blu-ray is definitely 'top-shelf' when it comes to the video presentation.


















Audio :

The audio is as strong as the video. Criterion use a DTS-HD Master 5.1 surround at a whopping 3459 kbps supervised by sound editor and rerecording mixer Larry Blake. The film is mostly dialogue with a few, more assertive, extraneous effects. Establishing the timeframe there is music by The Mills Brothers, The Dorsey Brothers, Kate Smith, and Rudy Vallee. The score by Cliff Martinez (Contagion, Traffic, sex, lies and videotape) also benefits from the lossless transfer sounding very crisp with a rich, deep resonance. There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'A' disc.


Extras :

There are new interviews with Soderbergh (conducted by Criterion in October of 2013) and source memoir author A. E. Hotchner - King of the Hill is an adaptation of the first of novelist and playwrights A. E. Hotchner's memoirs, publish in 1972. In this interview, conducted by Criterion in September 2013, Hotchner, at age 93, reflects on his years growing up in St. Louis just after the Depression. Both interviews are approximately 20-minutes in length. Against Tyranny, is a visual essay on Soderbergh's early works, filmmaker :: kogonada looks at the director's distinct approach to the representation of mental states - an approach that he would continue to refine over his 25-year career in film. It runs just over 10-minutes. There are 6 deleted/alternate scenes - material cut in the final scenes of editing - running about 8.5 minutes but the major supplement is Soderbergh’s The Underneath (1995 - 1:39:11 via AVC at 15.99 Mbps in 1080P). The plot involves a recovering gambling addict attempts to reconcile with his family and friends but finds trouble and temptation when caught between feelings for his ex-wife and her dangerous hoodlum boyfriend. It stars Peter Gallagher, Elisabeth Shue, Shelley Duvall, and Joe Don Baker. It is Soderbergh’s follow-up feature to King of the Hill, and Criterion include a new 22-minute interview with the director who has a surprising perspective on his fourth feature. There is also a trailer (for both King of the Hill and The Underneath) and the package contains a liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Peter Tonguette, a 1993 interview with Soderbergh, and an excerpt from Hotchner’s 1972 memoir. This is another Dual-Format release and also contains 2 DVDs of, both, the feature and all supplements of the Blu-ray.



King of the Hill is a great film. I had never seen it before and it was such a pleasure seeing it now - as well as The Underneath (quite the bonus! and also in 1080P). The Criterion Blu-ray package offers an amazing a/v presentation with valuable extras. Very strongly recommended! 

Gary Tooze

February 1st, 2014


About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

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Gary W. Tooze






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