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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Desert Bloom (1985)

"It's not every day you get to see an A-Bomb go off. It's history."
- Jack Chismore (Jon Voight)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: March 12, 2003

Stars: Annabeth Gish, Jon Voight, JoBeth Williams, Ellen Barkin
Other Stars: Jay Underwood, Desiree Joseph, Dusty Balcerzak, Allen Garfield, Tressi Loria, Laura Rasmussen
Director: Eugene Corr

MPAA Rating: PG for (mature situations)
Run Time: 01h:48m:22s
Release Date: March 11, 2003
UPC: 043396078871
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB+A- D

DVD Review

"A girl who gets all wrapped up in herself makes a mighty small package." - Lily Chismore

Las Vegas in the early 1950s, not much more than a desert town with a few casinos, trailer parks and a nearby air force base. After years of moving around with her family, this is where thirteen-year-old Rosalie Chismore (Annabeth Gish) now lives with her parents and two younger sisters. While well meaning, her stepfather, who runs a local service station, is a man with problems. Unable to bear his own children and haunted by his war experience, Jack (Jon Voight) takes out his frustrations on his family with the help of the bottle. He is intensely interested in the goings on just north of the city, as the presence of engineers and army types is growing, nearly on a daily basis. Something big is happening in the desert, and with the war in Korea taking a turn for the worse due to the involvement of the Chinese, the American government needs a solid defense against the scourge of communism that poses a real and present danger.

Rose has her own issues to deal with. A highly intelligent girl, and contender in the state spelling bee, she tries to understand her stepfather, but gets unpredictable reactions from him. Her mother, Lily (JoBeth Williams), does her best to keep up appearances with a healthy dose of wishful thinking, excusing her husband's drinking problem and battlefield flashbacks, believing everything will get better in time. When Rose's glamourous Aunt Starr (Ellen Barken) shows up to stay during her divorce proceedings, the family is nearing the breaking point.

At its heart a coming of age story, Desert Bloom presents a portrait of the atomic age family in this effective period piece. It was a time when the spectre of a nuclear attack was always imminent, and domestic problems were kept behind closed doors. School is routinely interrupted with air raid sirens as children practice "duck and cover," and given dog tags with their names on them, just in case. Told in retrospect, the story is a series of slice-of-life moments, building up to the detonation of an atomic bomb in the desert, an event feared, yet also held in surreal fascination.

The performances are ideal. In her breakout film debut, Annabeth Gish embodies a girl on the brink of maturity, who has to cope with adolescence and realities of the situation she finds herself in. Voight plays opposite in his typically multi-dimensional way, explosive in his anger, yet adding the touch of humanity needed to make the paranoid and unbalanced stepfather tangible. Barkin and Williams also excel in their parts, as the story allows them to show different facets of their characters, in the protective mother and flamboyant yet fragile aunt. Allen Garfield plays Rose's inspirational father figure, the concerned and caring neighbor. Excellent cinematography captures the 1950s desert atmosphere unobtrusively and convincingly. The action is mainly on the domestic front, and while somewhat predictable, the plot gives way to character study and human drama, and manages to present just enough growth to satisfy, without getting overly redeeming and sentimental.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, downconverted from a high-definition transfer, Desert Bloom looks very good overall. Colors are decent, especially exterior scenes, where the 1950s yellows and greens pop out nicely, while interiors are a bit drab at times. Grain is present, but looks natural, and detail level is good. The print has a moderate amount of dust and dirt in the beginning, particularly the title sequnces, which gets better over time. There is some mosquito noise in the credits, but that is about the extent of the compression issues.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Two-channel audio is clean and free of any technical deficiencies. Frequency coverage is respectable, with good bass response during jet flyovers. Dialogue is easy to discern, and Brad Fiedel's score blends nicely. No complaints here.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Avalon, Lords of Flatbush, Places in the Heart
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There are no extras other than trailers for Avalon, Lords of Flatbush, and Places in the Heart.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

"Remembering was my way of making things matter." - Rose

With the retrospective glamour and romanticism given different eras by the movies or fashion, it is often easy to overlook the type of life people led, and problems they faced in the not so distant past. Desert Bloom creates a snapshot of one segment of American society in the early 1950s, and while dramatized for the sake of the story, what is perhaps the most chilling about the film is its similarity to life today. Recommended.


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