[Excerpt from our Blow Out – Criterion Collection 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray review]
After seeing – and becoming obsessed with – Trained to kill when it first hit theaters in the mid-1980s, I looked forward to writer-director Brian De Palma’s next film. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got into my seat to watch Switch off the following summer, but when the lights came back on, I, 19, immediately considered it De Palma’s best film to date. Unfortunately, America did not share my noble opinion. Switch off failed miserably at the box office and spent the next two decades languishing in the massive shadow of De Palma blockbusters such as scarface and The Incorruptibles.
I still don’t understand why. Driven by a gripping story, powerful themes, stellar performances and De Palma’s often electrifying technique, Switch off keeps its promises on several levels, and although it owes the work of Michelangelo Antonioni Explode and Francis Ford Coppola The conversation a nod to inspiration, it’s much more original than Trained to kill. With its subjective shots, extreme close-ups and uncanny elegance, Switch off Still exudes a Hitchcockian flavor, but it’s less of an homage than some of De Palma’s other hallmarks. The bolder tone and grittier presentation helps Switch off stand out, and over time the film gradually gained the recognition and respect it always deserved.
Today, it’s more relevant than ever, fitting right into our current culture of paranoia, conspiracy theories, political corruption, and media saturation. None of these questions are new – films have explored them since the 1930s – but Switch off seamlessly stitches them together and juxtaposes them against an ironic backdrop of flag-waving patriotism. De Palma uses a red, white and blue color scheme, sets his film in the birthplace of democracy – Philadelphia – and culminates the story with celebratory festivities (a parade and fireworks) surrounding a fictional party called Liberty. Day… while being the film’s hero doggedly struggles to expose and spread a horrible truth that no one wants to hear about.
Vital Disc Stats: Blu-ray
The remastered Switch off arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard Criterion case. A 36-page booklet containing an essay by Victor Fleming biographer Michael Sragow, the original by critic Pauline Kael New Yorker film review, a frame-by-frame preview of the titular accident, a cast and crew list, transfer notes and several photos are hidden inside the cover. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Surround. Once the disc is inserted into the drive, animated menus with music and sound effects appear immediately; no preview or promotion precedes them.