See This Film: King of the Hill Blu-ray Review

     Actors: Jesse Bradford, Jeroen Krabbé, Lisa Eichhorn, Kristin Griffith, Lauryn Hill
  • Format: AC-3, DTS Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: PG-13 
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: February 25, 2014
  • Run Time: 103 minutes


            I remember watching King of the Hill when I was around the same age as the film’s protagonist, Aaron (Jesse Bradford). The mere fact that I was able to enjoy it as much today as I did as a child is a testament to the magnificence in Steven Soderbergh’s filmmaking. Never shying away from the harsh reality of the times, King of the Hill also manages to do so with a childlike naivety and optimism that slowly shifts to a hopeful independence. Soderbergh is able to obtain the feel of the times in this period film, but almost more important is his ability to place us in a coming-of-age narrative with effortless accuracy. As a child I was able to admire Aaron’s ability to survive starvation, but as an adult I was impressed by his ability to retain hope.


             This was Steven Soderbergh’s third feature and first Hollywood studio production, and it still stands as one of his most polished films. Set in St. Louis during the Great Depression, every element of the production is meticulously designed and the narrative is expertly adapted from the A. E. Hotchner memoir. The story follows the daily struggles Aaron has as he slowly becomes dependent only on himself to survive. At the beginning he is surrounded by family and friends in a run-down hotel, including his younger brother, mother and father. As each of his family members is forced to leave, Aaron is left to care for their belongings and himself.


            Although this story of abandonment could easily have been a dreary film, somehow Soderbergh manages to retain a childlike hopefulness to even the darkest sequences. It helps that there seem to be many allies in Aaron’s corner, most significantly a fellow tenant named Lester (Adrien Brody) who teaches him plenty of useful tricks to survive. In the end, however, it is up to Aaron to find his own resourceful ways of surviving.


            The dual-format Blu-ray/DVD release of King of the Hill is a spectacular package that also includes a third disc that is a DVD copy of The Underneath, Soderbergh’s fourth film. King of the Hill is presented in a newly restored 2K digital film transfer, supervised by Soderbergh and supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer Larry Blake, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. The special features include new interviews with Soderbergh and Hotchner. There is also a new visual essay about the film, as well as a booklet insert with an essay by film critic Peter Tonguette. The booklet also has a 1993 interview with Soderbergh and an excerpt from Hotchner’s 1972 memoir.


    Entertainment Value: 9/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 9.5/10

    Historical Significance: 8.5/10

    Special Features: 10/10


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