Kramer vs. Kramer (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
February 8, 2009 by Dennis Amith
“Heartwarming and just overall fantastic! Well-written, well-acted and deserving of each of its five Academy Awards. The Blu-ray transfer of this film really looks great considering this film was released 30 years ago. A definite classic worth owning on Blu-ray!“
TITLE: Kramer vs. Kramer
DURATION: 105 minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), English, French, Portugese Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Spanish 5.1 (Dolby Digital)
COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: February 17, 2009
Written for the Screen and Directed by Robert Benton
Based on a novel by Avery Corman
Produced by Stanley R. Jaffe
Director of Photography: Nestor Almendros
Dustin Hoffman as Ted Kramer
Meryl Streep as Joanna Kramer
Justin Henry as Billy Kramer
Jane Alexander as Margaret Phelps
JoBeth Williams as Phyllis Bernard
Howard Duff as John Shaunessy
George Coe as Jim O’Connor
Heartwarming and overall fantastic! This five-time Academy Award winning film is well-written and well-acted.
“Kramer vs. Kramer” was released in theaters back in 1979 and is about the Kramer family. The film starts off with Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep) with her 7-year-old son Billy (Justin Henry) and watching him go to sleep at night. Ted Kramer is a busy advertising designer who works his tail off to provide for his family and is eventually recognized by the advertising firm he works for and selecting him to take on a major account.
Excited about the new developments for his work, you realize that Ted is a workaholic and dedicated to his job. Once he gets home, Joanna tells him that she is leaving him and Billy. She doesn’t where she’s going but she’s leaving and not coming back. She also tells him that she doesn’t love him anymore.
Ted doesn’t understand what is going on. He just got this major account, an account that could bring more income to the family but now he’s faced with a wife that left him and now having to raise his son by himself.
We watch the transformation of Ted Kramer within a 18-month period, as he struggles and becomes a good father for his son while trying to maintain his job. His boss is not too happy with Ted’s personal life and how it’s now starting to creep into the job. He has suggested to Ted to leave Billy with relatives but Ted believes he can maintain both his job and being a single father. Something unfortunately he is unable to balance.
Ted really doesn’t have a social life, but he does have the support of his neighbor and friend Margaret (who has also split from her husband before the Kramer’s and also raising her own children by herself and originally was a good friend of Joanna), the two develop a good friendship of talking about each others personal problems.
But we see how the relationship between Ted and Billy progresses. At first, the two seem distant but eventually, they become closer and eventually they need each other. Ted becomes such a loving father. Through the process of being a single father, he starts to learn why Joanna left him. His mind was so focused on work and making money and wanting Joanna to be a single mother and thought, she was happy. He never listened to her. But despite the mistakes he has made, he wants to make sure that he’s there for Billy. That includes having to be there when he’s sick, going to school plays, taking him to school daily and just being there for him. But unfortunately there is a cost of being a single parent and eventually his professional career at the advertising firm begins to suffer.
Then out of nowhere, 18-months later, his ex-wife Joanna returns. After leaving Ted and Billy, Joanna has sorted her life and got herself a new job. But most of all, she wants custody of Billy. This sets up a custody battle between both Ted and Joanna. Ted who feels that he should have custody because she walked out on them and he has been the father for 18-months and Joanna feels she raised him for 5 1/2 years and may have not been there for nearly two but still feels that she deserves to have custody of Billy.
And through their battle in court, the two realize more about their failed marriage and each other. But how far their lawyers will go in order to make sure their side wins.
“Kramer vs. Kramer” is not only a moving film but it really hits the nail on where cultural society was going during that time. Women wanting a bigger presence in their careers and not wanting to be just housewives and also how divorce can change the family dynamics and how one would face becoming a single parent.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
The film is featured in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1). The Blu-ray transfer is definitely the best transfer of this film as knowing that it was released back in 1979, watching it 30-years later and it’s so clear at different parts of the film, that the film doesn’t show its age in terms of film quality. Of course, the film shows its age in terms of the clothing used and that phone calls were made via the old rotary phones of that time but picture quality was very good. There were some indoor shots that had a bit more grain but overall, a very good transfer.
As for the audio, audio is featured in TrueHD5.1. The film is primarily a dialogue-based film but I did notice that in some outdoor scenes, you can hear people’s discussions in the rear and side channels. Also, when you hear that guitar strumming of the film, the music really comes quite clear and noticeable. Overall, being a dialogue-driven film, audio is clear.
The Blu-ray comes with one major special feature and that is the documentary “Finding the Truth: The Making of Kramer vs. Kramer”. This special feature was on the original 2001 DVD release but for those who have never seen it, then this DVD definitely shows us some really in-depth behind-the-scenes situations. For one, both Robert Benton and Stanley R. Jaffe really wanted Dustin Hoffman for the role.
Hoffman was going through his first divorce and really wasn’t sure where his life or his career would be going, not knowing if he wanted to do film anymore. But eventually, Benton and Jaffe wanted Hoffman that they moved to the area to be closer to him and work out the script for the film.
As for Meryl Streep, she was shooting “Manhattan” for Woody Allen and doing theater but as any actress starting out, she wanted the role badly and hoped that Benton and Jaffe would allow her the time to shoot both films which they did.
As for Justin Henry, the casting of his role was so crucial that his mannerisms captured both Hoffman, Benton and the crew’s attention. The child was essentially born to play that role.
But what is more enjoyable was to know how certain scenes were improvised. From the broken glass scene, Meryl Streep and the director didn’t know that was going to happen, so that was a genuine reaction. Also, to see how Hoffman would help Justin achieve his emotional scenes especially in the hospital scene was definitely insightful.
But overall, you learn a lot of interesting facts from the film and it was good to see the all the major talent interviewed for this segment.
The film is ultimately moving and your easily drawn into the story and its characters.
“Kramer vs. Kramer” is a film that definitely made an impact on society at that time because cultural society of “motherhood” and “fatherhood” was changing. The focus on two parents working, the woman becoming more independent and not being forced to stay at home to take care of children and eventually the film would be used and brought up for several court cases that involved custody battles.
Granted, divorces are much, much more common place but 30-years ago, “Kramer vs. Kramer” was released during a time where “Brady Bunch” just ended several years earlier and TV sitcoms focused so much on the family dynamic, father was making the money and the women were essentially housewives. “Kramer vs. Kramer” was a film about a man who was the moneymaker in a top job now having to face becoming a single father while his ex-wife, unhappy of having to be forced to be a stay-at-home wife, now searching for her life and essentially getting a job (that pays more than what Ted is making).
Suffice to say, this film worked on many levels because of the talents were wellcast. Dustin Hoffman is an excellent actor and his use of improvisational and trying to make sure the scenes work was well done. Justin Henry as Billy was one of the best examples of excellent child acting and seeing a kid through a variety of emotions – happiness, sadness and excruciating pain. And of course, Meryl Streep, with only 15-minutes of screen time, manages to really bring out the character of Joanna in a variety of levels. Also, Jane Alexander as the family friend Margaret, who definitely brought a contrast towards Ted Kramer’s situation of a wife who’s husband has left her with the kids.
The storyline was well-written and until I saw the featurette on Blu-ray, I never realized how certain pivotal scenes were improvised and Dustin Hoffman really made sure he could bring out the best in both Meryl Streep and Justin Henry. But also to find out that during the filming of “Kramer vs. Kramer”, Dustin Hoffman was essentially playing himself because during that same time, he was going through his first divorce and was emotionally distraught of the situations in his personal life at that time.
“Kramer vs. Kramer” looks and sounds great on Blu-ray. Granted, times have changed considerably within the last 30 years but knowing how much this film impacted pop culture at that time and just knowing how things were behind-the-scenes in the making of the film, “Kramer vs. Kramer” never looked more beautiful as it does with this release.
A classic film worth owning on Blu-ray!
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