Blu Ray Review: The Conversation

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Starring Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford & Cindy Williams

Harry Caul (Hackman), is an introverted surveillance technician and amateur saxophonist.  He is an extremely private, paranoid man, isolated from the world.  After Harry has been contracted to record ‘the conversation’ in question, between his client’s wife Ann (Williams) and her lover Marc (Frederic Forrest), he deduces that providing the client, known to him as ‘The Director’ with the taped conversation would put them in serious danger. He fights bitterly with the director’s assistant Martin (Ford) to keep the tapes away from the client. Once they are taken from him, however, he becomes caught in a web of intrigue and guilt that he can’t escape.

The conversation was released on Blu-Ray this week. The catalogue market seems to be an esoteric one. For those who obsessively feel the need to update their collections to Blu-ray, stop here. This is an essential addition to any self-respecting Blurayphile’s collection and therefore a five star review. For the more scrupulous collector, well, it’s a pretty good deal, but I may well be knocking off half a star.

Coppola’s classic has been lovingly encoded into AVC 1080p as you might expect, but Walter Murch’s Pioneering sound design has really been brought to life by the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. The surround sound was something we had been hoping for, but no expense has been spared here. It’s quite impressive.

The digitized squeaks and squarbles that eventually merge with the score into a fuzzing, jarring cacophony, along with the candidly caught dialogue are, though not brought up to modern standards, remixed with excellent clarity. Personally, I’m disappointed that it’s in 16:9. This disc feels bespoke, as though tailored for the shelf of a connoisseur. I favour the letterbox. That’s just me.

Coppola mentions in the director’s commentary that he was utilizing grain and different lens and stock choices to invoke a candid feel to complement the themes of surveillance. As a result, in under-exposed scenes, the transfer occasionally crushes down the blacks or bumps up the grain, but this is all to enhance Coppola’s verité influences so get over it.

The themes of loneliness, voyeurism and paranoia are just as valid today as they were in 1974 and the pace and tone of the film have aged relatively well. This classic film stands the test of time and this is an essential for collectors or Coppolites, another word I made up to go with blurayphiles.



Along with Coppola’s, the second choice of commentary is sound designer Walter Murch. Murch can also speak with some authority on picture editing (his credits include Apocolypse Now and The Godfather Trilogy) and he’s a man with a deep understanding of the subtle persuasion of cinema. Sound design is a greatly underestimated aspect of cinema and Murch does much to bump up its credibility.

There’s quite a nice interview between Coppola and the composer, David Shire. An interesting on-set featurette with a fair bit of candid conversation between Coppola and Gene Hackman.

The menu is very classy and easy to use, but the scenes aren’t named, only numbered with a small thumbnail image, shaded in red, to identify them. As usual the menus are padded out with pointless gubbins, screen tests and a retrospective slideshow of the film’s locations then and now, which could have been really great, had it not been done by an intern in half a day. We also get to see Cindy Williams read for the part of Harry’s girlfriend, Amy.


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