The Thin Blue Line (1988)

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Released 22-May-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1988
Running Time 97:08
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Errol Morris

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring None Given
Case Amaray-Opaque-Dual-Secure Clip
RPI ? Music Phillip Glass

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    The Thin Blue Line was the third documentary written and directed by Errol Morris and the final film in the Errol Morris Collection.

Although Morris as a film maker was already capable of crafting exceptional cinema The Thin Blue Line is his early masterpiece, a documentary so focussed and trailblazing that it not only remains one of the best films of the 1980's but led the way for the respect now given to the documentary form.

If you haven't heard of it don't be embarrassed - it has never been released on DVD before and created classification problems upon its cinematic release. When the powers that be at the Academy convened to consider the nominees for Best Documentary, The Thin Blue Line was a notorious omission due to the fact that, almost unheard of for the time, it contained recreations and was therefore not considered to be truly non-fiction.

In 1985 and whilst researching another story Morris met Randall Dale Adams who was on death row for the murder of a Dallas police officer. Although Morris didn't buy his story that he was framed, he used his skills (he was at that time working as a private investigator) to prepare a film raising questions about the correctness of his conviction. The interview notes were in fact used by the court in reviewing the conviction of Adams.

Prosecutors in Dallas have said for years - any prosecutor can convict a guilty man. It takes a great prosecutor to convict an innocent man.

Once again Morris's power is in letting his subjects talk and allowing their characters to expand before our eyes. As they talk we see the truth beneath the lies and , just as often, the lies beneath the truth. As a viewer our belief in Adams constantly shifts.

This story is far more knife-edge than his previous films and the stakes are extremely high.

You have a D.A, he doesn't talk about when they convict you, or how they convict you. He's talking about how he's going to kill ya. He don't give a d*** if you're innocent, he don't give a d*** if you're guilty. He's talking... about killing ya.

Randall Adams

The film is not just notable for Morris' interview technique, it is also mesmerising in its use of inserted images as well as recreations. These moments serve to drive home the feeling that justice and lies are so often be buried under mountains of misconceptions, particularly witnesses adamant about what they saw and police officers eager for a conviction. All this is set to a score by minimalist composer Phillip Glass and the match could not be more perfect. Glass's score, like the film is both hypnotic and heartless, allowing us to glimpse not just into the life of a man facing execution but into the soul of the characters.

The Thin Blue Line is as perfect as the documentary form can get and this set is worth buying for that film alone.

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Transfer Quality


    The Thin Blue Line is presented in a 1.85:1 non-anamorphic letterboxed 4:3 transfer.

This is a disappointment on any terms. Having seen the film originally at the cinema it certainly benefited from the size and quality of the image. It is therefore sad to see it given such short shrift on DVD. Like the others in the Errol Morris Collection The Thin Blue Line deserves better treatment and just maybe someone will get around to a full digital restoration.

In the meantime we have to put up with a transfer that has a lot of problems from the myriad of blobs, scratches and hairs to the grainy soft image. These don't derail a fine film but they do sometimes divert attention from the interviews. I would suspect that the popularity of the film on the festival circuit has caused this film to exhibit more signs of wear than the others in this series.

Aside from the scratches etc viewers will also have to put up with a soft and grainy image and stolid colours.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


   The Thin Blue Line comes in Dolby Digital 2.0 sound (224Kb/s) . This is satisfactory as the films largely consists of interviews. The sound quality has been lost to a certain extent over time.

As I said above, The Thin Blue Line has a complete score. In fact, the minimalist music by Phillip Glass is almost a constant voice and serves to heighten the effect of the dreamlike, perhaps nightmare like, quality of the film. The score stands up as a significant work of art in its own right and anyone who is a fan of Glass or film soundtracks in general should hunt it down on CD.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Only trailers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   According to some sources the transfer of this film for the Region 1 collection is an anamorphic 1.85:1 presentation. If so then this is a real improvement and one which makes the Region 1 version preferable.


    The film is a masterpiece. The New York Film Critics Circle gave it their Documentary of the year in 1988 and it has recently been added to the list of American films recognised as being worthy of preservation. Only the lack of a decent transfer lets this DVD down but it is still worth the effort to buy it here or get it from overseas.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DVR 630H-S, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TH-50PV60A 50' Plasma. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX - SR603
SpeakersOnkyo 6.1 Surround

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