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Warner Home Video presents
Deliverance HD-DVD (1970)

"Sometimes you have to lose yourself before you can find anything."
- Lewis Medlock (Burt Reynolds)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: September 17, 2007

Stars: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox
Other Stars: James Dickey
Director: John Boorman

MPAA Rating: R for (language, violence, rape)
Run Time: 01h:49m:19s
Release Date: September 18, 2007
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AB+A- A-

DVD Review

It's hard to know how popular white water canoeing might be were it not for James Dickey's Deliverance. It served as a cautionary tale for many as to the horrific dangers lurking in the backwoods, and as a challenge to those who like to think of themselves as trailblazers and risk-takers. It continues to be, both in print and on film, one of the great dramatizations of conflict of man against nature.

Four men from Atlanta, cerebral Ed (Jon Voight), survivalist Lewis (Burt Reynolds), philosophizing musician Drew (Ronny Cox), and insurance salesman Bobby (Ned Beatty), decide that they will take a weekend to canoe down the Cahulawassee River, what they describe as the last wild river in the South, before it is dammed up and becomes a vast, dead lake to provide power to the city. The scenes of rural Georgia offer a disquieting sense that not all is right with this world, but the foursome plunges on ahead. At first the trip is uneventful and the men begin to bond, but things begin to unravel when they run into several moonshiners who are hostile to outsiders, abusing several of the city slickers at gunpoint. Things only go badly downhill from there.

The central drama is between man and nature, as the four friends struggle with the rapids of the river, in sharp contrast to those who are attempting to exercise their dominion over the earth by damming it up. The untamed character of the river is beautifully brought across by Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography, which makes it seem as threatening as possible in the rapids sequences, with a vibrant, active camera that pulls you into the scene in a thrilling way, but also demonstrates the absolute calm of the quiet areas of the river. The interaction of the characters reveals much as they are brought into conflict with nature, particularly Lewis' survivalist, who proves not quite as tough the outdoorsman as he had been holding himself out to be. Ed must try to lead the group back to civilization, finding resources deep within himself.

What feels like a thriller—and even an action picture at times—goes on to provide a long coda off the river, as the characters attempt to come to terms with their trauma and what it has shown about the real content of their character. That's in stark contrast to the opening, which goes immediately into the trip to the river, with, in a marvelous bit of efficiency, all of the necessary exposition handled in dialogue over the opening credits. There's plenty of symbolism throughout the trip, such as Ed's pipe, which is knocked from him as he needs to begin to simply react rather than think; a second example is the loss of his wallet as he looks at a photo of his family, another tie to civilization being cut from him so that he can do what needs to be done—in order to survive in the wild, one must become part of the wild. Part of that process involves losing the vestiges of civilization, as they must decide what actions they will take, and what morality and law there can possibly be in the middle of nowhere. The central question becomes one of the nature of humanity, and whether brutality is at the core of our beings, held in check only by a thin veneer that can freely collapse under sufficient pressure. That's seen in tightest focus in the evolution of Ed's character, as he first is unable to bring himself to shoot a deer, and later must test himself as to whether he is able to kill a man, even when his own life is at risk. As boundaries fall away, the moral center cannot help but go adrift, and the central question remains whether in such circumstances morality itself has any place.

The foursome is superbly cast, with Reynolds in particular giving a roguish portrayal of Lewis that borders on sadistic bullying. Voight is reliable and particularly affecting in the torment that he feels in the aftermath of the adventure. Then-unknowns Beatty and Cox make a good impression, with Beatty in particular going all out in the unforgettable "squeal like a pig" sequence, one of the most memorable in all of cinema. The picture boasts not one, but two such memorable sequences, the other being Dueling Banjos, as Cox stages an impromptu musical challenge with an inbred hillbilly boy in the opening. It is almost extraneous to the picture, although the boy reappears later on in a quietly menacing scene, standing on a bridge above the men in the canoe as they paddle by, swinging his banjo like a pendulum. It's a clock of time running out for those four men, though they don't know it, and also for the river itself, rebellious to the end.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: It's a bit difficult to assess the quality of the transfer here. The color is somewhat limited and the picture is quite soft, but both Boorman and Zsigmond mention in the extra materials that that effect is quite intentional: the color was desaturated in order to increase the threat of the river, and Zsigmond likes to shoot in a very soft focus. So that effect is brought across with faithfulness, without any visible edge enhancement to try to defeat it or make for a crisper picture. On the other hand, without additional crispness or color depth, there's not a lot of reason to prefer the HD version over the SD. The main benefits are elimination of aliasing and better shadow detail, especially in the interior scenes and in the woods. There is good variation between the different greens, and water is very pleasingly rendered. So while those looking for supercrisp HD nature photography are bound to be disappointed, this appears to be a solid rendition of the original film.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: While the 5.1 audio track feels rather center-oriented and uninteresting at first, once the action gets onto the river there's plenty of ambient sound, such as splashing and thumping of rocks, that really places the viewer into the situation. The dueling bano sequence sounds great too. Directionality is most pronounced in the campfire sequence, as the character voices are very precisely placed in the soundstage. The audio is clean and free from hiss and noise.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director John Boorman
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: While the old DVD only offered a period featurette, The Dangerous World Of Deliverance (10m:12s), which appears again here, there are also quite a few new and interesting extras in support of the feature. Alas, none of them are in HD. Director John Boorman provides a full-length commentary with few dead spots and plenty of information, although most of it is repeated in the seat of four documentaries and featurettes prepared by Laurent Bouzereau. These four selections form one 52m documentary on the filming of the picture, prominently featuring not only all four of the leads but also Boorman and Zsigmond. The last extra is the trailer, which reveals far too much about the resolution of the plot.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

One of the classics of the 1970s, still as shocking and emotional as it was 35 years ago, with a canoeful of extras and a fine transfer. Recommended, though it may put you off of canoeing or camping for a while.


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