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HTF REVIEW: The Deer Hunter



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#1 of 62 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted September 10 2005 - 02:32 PM

Posted Image
The Deer Hunter: Universal Legacy Collection
Studio: Universal Studios Home Video
Year: 1978 (2005 Release)
Rated: R
Aspect Ratio: 2.35x1, enhanced for 16x9 displays
Audio: English DD 5.1*, DD 2.0; Spanish DD 2.0 (mono); Commentary
Captions/Subtitles: English SDH; French and Spanish Subtitles
Time: Approx. 182 minutes
Disc Format: Disc 1: SS/DL; Disc 2: SS:SL
Layer Switch on Disc 1: 1:28:00
Case Style: Sturdy, Book-Style, Snap-Together Digipak

*more on this in the Sound section of the review.

The Feature:

The Deer Hunter tells the story of a group of friends from a small Pennsylvania steel mill town back in the days when gasoline was 32.9 cents a gallon. Mike (Robert De Niro) is the title character, who will soon join fellow mill worker friends Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage) in the war in Vietnam. It's the day of Steven's wedding; we meet the other members of the circle, including Stanley (John Cazale), Alex (Chuck Aspegren), and John (George Dzundza), as well as the ladies--most notably Linda (Meryl Streep, in one of her first movie roles).

The men are happy-go-lucky. They shoot pool and sing along to Frankie Valli, then get ready for one last deer hunt before their military service begins. Oh yes, Nick has eyes for Linda (but Mike may, too). Linda asks to house-sit in the house shared by Mike and Nick.

There's a nice, long Russian Orthodox wedding inside a beautiful cathedral, but Mike observes the quirks of his friends instead of the meaning of the ceremony. The after-party is even longer, and ominous: when the bride and groom are pulled on-stage to drink wine from a loving-cup, they are told

"If you don't spill a drop, it's good luck for the rest of your life."

It goes without saying that drops are spilled. (It does not help, either, that the bride is already pregnant by another man...)

After the bride and groom are sent off for their wedding night, Mike decides to streak after them (I guess he was not a tuxedo man). Nick follows, and asks Mike that if anything bad ever happens, to not leave him in Vietnam.

The deer hunt follows, with all the guys along in their various capacities--Stanley, in particular, is disliked and ridiculed for being unprepared and carrying around a pistol. As Mike and Nick go out on their hunt, the choir sings--the mountains are now a cathedral--and the act of tracking down the deer and shooting it is a religious experience. Mike tracks down a deer and kills it--in one shot. After one last visit to the bar, the men are off to Vietnam.

And this is where I start having problems with The Deer Hunter. First, it does not help that I've read director Michael Cimino comment that setting the movie during the Vietnam war was immaterial: this was a story about friendship under stress.

It does not help either that once we hit Vietnam, there seems to be a lot of story missing. Hey, maybe some of that long party could have been trimmed to find out how Mike gets to a village alone and bloodied. Steven and Nick come in with some troops on a helicopter, then the next thing you know they are stranded. Then they are suddenly prisoners under a hut by a river, where there are rats in the water and blood gushing from suicide torture matches being held above. (And this is source of big problem #2 that I have with this movie... the suicide torture seems like a plot device and not an actual torture method used in Vietnam.)

The trio eventually escapes on the river, but only Nick makes it into a rescue helicopter, with the others hanging onto the skids but falling back to the river. Steven breaks his legs from the fall. Mike carries him to safety. We're next in the U.S. Military Hospital in Saigon, with Nick quite out-of-it. He's released to go back home. Then he goes out on one dark Saigon night, where he can't find any horizontal refreshment that appeals to him... he continues to walk the darkened streets... he hears a gunshot... then another... and he sees bodies being carried out and dumped. He meets an older Frenchman in a car who tries to entice Nick into a Russian roulette gambling parlor. Mike's there (it's a small world, after all), but Nick does not notice, and Nick gets out before Mike can catch up.

Mike returns home to find Linda heartbroken that Nick is AWOL. We get the feeling that Mike wants to make a play for Linda, but he holds off out of respect for his friend. Linda seems to have feelings for Mike, though. Mike's other friends are overjoyed at his return--the whole town seems to notice--and there's even a deer hunt to celebrate. But the darker side of Mike's personality is shown when Stanley goes too far in his taunts.

Mike eventually tracks down Steven in a VA hospital, and Steven shows a drawer of $100 bills that came from Vietnam. It seems that Nick is still there.

As Saigon is falling, Mike returns to find his friend and keep his promise.

The Deer Hunter won five Oscars, including:
Best Picture
Best Director (Michael Cimino)
Best Support Actor (Christopher Walken0
Best Film Editing (Peter Zinner)
Best Sound (Richard Portman, William L. McCaughey, Aaron Rochin, C. Darin Knight )

The Feature: 3.5 / 5
Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image


Video:

For the first time in Region 1, The Deer Hunter has been given a new anamorphic transfer. The 2.35x1 image looks incredible. Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography is brought out with vibrant colors, detail, and black level. The colors are drop-dead gorgeous, from the deep, rich blues of the nighttime sky, to the neon red and green of a lounge sign, to the lavish interior of a cathedral, to the jungles of Vietnam. In his commentary track, Zsigmond explained how he usually avoided natural lighting, opting instead to use lights on his actors and within his scenes to achieve the movie-like effect. However he did it, it looks great--and it is represented well on the DVD.

Although I saw a few minor instances of edge enhancement, I did not notice any other artifacts. Even scenes where there might be trouble, like a misty, tree-lined mountain valley with a slow-moving lake, were beautifully rendered.

Video: 4.5 / 5
Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image


Sound:

This is where it gets tricky... The Deer Hunter was released in Dolby Stereo in its 35mm release (which is how I saw it in the theater). According to the Internet Movie Database, it was also released in 6-channel sound for 70mm release. I can't verify the accuracy or the sound layout of this release.

On the DVD, apart from the commentary track, we've been given three sound choices: a thin-sounding Spanish monophonic track in DD 2.0, a rather good-sounding English Dolby Digital 2.0 track (stereo surround), and a mysteriously labeled English "Logic 7" track that plays back as Dolby Digital 5.1.

My research on "Logic 7" shows that it is a decoding method which extracts 5.1 or 7.1 soundtracks from a 2.0 source. Are we to conclude that the English "Logic 7" version of the soundtrack is derived from the Dolby Digital 2.0 version?

Well, I spent a lot of time flipping between the two soundtracks, and they sound almost identical. There is good dynamic range, low-end, directional effects (at least on the front channels) and rear-channel involvement--although nothing really indicating split surrounds.

The sound won an Oscar--it is well represented here, but I have to wonder what happened to the original 6-channel mix.

Sound: 4 / 5
Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image


Extras:

Disc 1 includes a feature-length commentary with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and film journalist Bob Fisher. Zsigmond talks a lot about his craft (which I personally find interesting) and Fisher tries to keep things on-topic. Interesting trivia: a lot of the dialogue and many of the scenes were improvised.

Disc 2 includes 16:56 of deleted and extended scenes. Disc 2 also includes the trailer (2:48), and ten pages of production notes.

Once again, considering the stature of this film, I find the extras to be a little too thin. And where's that commentary track recorded by director Michael Cimino which was included with the older British special edition?

Extras: 3 / 5
Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image


In Conclusion:
If you really want a movie that captures the Vietnam experience, you might want to check out Platoon. Meanwhile, The Deer Hunter finally has a decent DVD transfer, as all Best Pictures should. While I question how the soundtrack was created for this edition, it still sounds great. And the picture quality is stellar.

Overall Rating (rounded up): 4 / 5
Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Release Date: September 6, 2005




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#2 of 62 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted September 10 2005 - 04:44 PM

Nice review Steve. I just picked up the Legacy trio yesterday and I hope to be able to dig into these soon.

Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#3 of 62 OFFLINE   Paul Linfesty

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Posted September 10 2005 - 05:57 PM

I happened to see THE DEER HUNTER during its one week Oscar-qualifying run in December, 1978 at Mann's National Theatre, Westwood in 70mm. I remember there was NO surround track (nor was it indicated on a trade ad Variety ran at the time), so basically it was the three front channels (with sub info probably being filtered off from the main tracks).

#4 of 62 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted September 10 2005 - 08:08 PM

Steve,

May I also add, nice review!

I bought The Deer Hunter because, well,
it belongs in any Collector's collection.

However, I'll admit I never really liked this
film. The first half of the movie is tediously
long, and if one can sit through it, the second
half fares far better. I never thought much of
the Vietnam sequences either. As you mentioned,
there are better Vietnam movies out there.

Still, the cast is top-notch and overall it's
just one of those films you have to own.

 

Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#5 of 62 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted September 11 2005 - 01:20 AM

Thanks, guys!

The Best Picture collector mentality compells me to have all Best Pictures in my DVD collection. To wit: I've had the original release of The Deer Hunter since day one. It's still in the shrink wrap, however.

Quote:
I happened to see THE DEER HUNTER during its one week Oscar-qualifying run in December, 1978 at Mann's National Theatre, Westwood in 70mm. I remember there was NO surround track (nor was it indicated on a trade ad Variety ran at the time), so basically it was the three front channels (with sub info probably being filtered off from the main tracks).

Interestingly enough, I have a Variety ad from either 1978/79 (a very nice 8-page color insert, with pictures and review quotes). It says "Dolby Stereo" on the back. That's it.

I'm beginning to think that the IMDb is wrong (that would never happen, would it?) or the discrete left / right / center / surround tracks that would have been decoded from Dolby Stereo may have been included that on the 70mm prints.

I wonder if they punched up the DD 2.0 mix for the DVD release? There is surround activity in the mill, and the occasional gun echo. But as you point out, most of the sound effects are directional on the front channels.

Regards,
Steve

#6 of 62 OFFLINE   Jordan_E

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Posted September 11 2005 - 02:27 AM

There is something about this movie that interests me, and although it isn't a favorite of mine, there is just something about it...
Heavy handed? Oh heck yeah.
But there is something about DeNiro in those fog shrouded mountain scenes that grabs me. And almost any movie with the great Walken is worth getting (sad thing is, I look more forward to anything with him in it than DeNiro these days!).
And you believe, at heart, everyone's a killer...

#7 of 62 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted September 11 2005 - 09:21 AM

Steve, thanks for the video information. I have long been waiting for a decent video presentation of this film.

A few comments on the film itself. I can tell from the comments that there are better "Vietnam" films that a lot of people are missing the point. Platoon is a "Vietnam" film because it is specifically about Vietnam. The Deer Hunter could be transposed to any modern war with no substantial change. It is more like Apocalypse Now, which might also surprise people. I mean, isn't Apocalypse Now a "Vietnam" film? Not really. It also can be changed to another war with basically no loss of meaning, plus don't forget, it is a film adaptation of a novel that predated Vietnam by many decades. The Deer Hunter is more character study and social statement than anything else. It is just logical that it uses war, since almost nothing strains individuals more than war. No, it is not long or tedious any more than Once Upon a Time in the West or Lawrence of Arabia are long and tedious. I suggest rethinking what it actually is.

The Hybrid System

The Music Part: Emotiva XSP-1, Thiel CS 3.6, Emotiva XPA-2, Marantz SA8004, Emotiva ERC-3, SVS PB-12 Plus 2

The Surround Part: Sherbourn PT-7030, Thiel SCS3, Emotiva XPA-5, Polk & Emotiva Surrounds.


#8 of 62 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted September 11 2005 - 10:49 AM

Right, I know it's no more a Vietnam movie than the (superior) Apocalypse Now. Cimino himself pointed out that the movie could have been set during the Civil War (although I still find the suicide matches hard to believe, in any era).

I'm glad the DVD has turned out well... as I said, Best Pictures deserve it. But I had a lot more fun watching The Sting.

- Steve

#9 of 62 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted September 11 2005 - 11:02 AM

Of course you had a lot more fun watching The Sting. It's a fun film.

BTW, "HTF Universal Reviewer" or not, the assertion that Apocalypse Now is superior is only your opinion. Posted Image

I personally prefer TDH just because I think it is so "real" in a sense. AN is sort of surreal. Something like if Terry Gilliam made a war movie.

The Hybrid System

The Music Part: Emotiva XSP-1, Thiel CS 3.6, Emotiva XPA-2, Marantz SA8004, Emotiva ERC-3, SVS PB-12 Plus 2

The Surround Part: Sherbourn PT-7030, Thiel SCS3, Emotiva XPA-5, Polk & Emotiva Surrounds.


#10 of 62 OFFLINE   Ed Faver

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Posted September 11 2005 - 11:57 AM

I saw The Deer Hunter in NYC during its reserved seating run in early 1979. It played at the Coronet or Baronet, I can't remember which. (I do remember seeing Heaven's Gate during its infamously brief run in the original cut at Cinema II. That had incredible sound!) and it was in Dolby Surround. A poster in the lobby advertised that fact.

I don't buy Cimino's comments about the Vietnam setting. What was the point of closing with the post-funeral breakfast table rendition of "God Bless America?"

#11 of 62 OFFLINE   Dane Marvin

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Posted September 11 2005 - 02:32 PM

This is one of those films that I'd really have to summon a lot of energy to be able to watch. And it doesn't help that, despite being a Best Picture winner, many people are put off by it. Heck, I still have SE's of both "Doctor Zhivago" and "Lawrence of Arabia" that have sitting on my shelf for about eight months, yet I've never seen either film (don't hit me!). If I do see it, it will be via Netflix.

Obviously some special features content must have fallen through, but disc 2 must be one of the most barren special features discs of all time!

#12 of 62 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted September 11 2005 - 03:32 PM

Dane, what does other people being put off by it have to do with you watching it?

The Hybrid System

The Music Part: Emotiva XSP-1, Thiel CS 3.6, Emotiva XPA-2, Marantz SA8004, Emotiva ERC-3, SVS PB-12 Plus 2

The Surround Part: Sherbourn PT-7030, Thiel SCS3, Emotiva XPA-5, Polk & Emotiva Surrounds.


#13 of 62 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted September 11 2005 - 03:36 PM

Quote:
BTW, "HTF Universal Reviewer" or not, the assertion that Apocalypse Now is superior is only your opinion. Posted Image

I'm afraid I'll have to defer to HTF Paramount Reviewer, Scott Kimball, for that opinion. Sounds like we need to take this to the movies section. Posted Image

Quote:
I don't buy Cimino's comments about the Vietnam setting. What was the point of closing with the post-funeral breakfast table rendition of "God Bless America?"

As it turns out, the 8-page insert from Variety is a 12-page insert. The Cimino quote is embedded in a review snippet by Roger Copeland of The New York Times:

Quote:
"The war,"insists Cimino, "is really incidental to the development of the characters and their story. It's a part of their lives and just that, nothing more. Like most ordinary people they can be quite extraordinary in the face of crisis. So, the war is simply a means of testing their courage and willpower. It could just as easly have been the Civil War, or ay war."

As for the singing of God Bless America, I think it was a manipulation--just as the suicide scenes were. Again, we probably want to take up a movie discussion in the Movies section...

Regards,
Steve

#14 of 62 OFFLINE   ScottR

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Posted September 11 2005 - 04:21 PM

I know this is OT, but since we're talking about 70mm sound mixes, what kind of sound mix did the 70mm E.T. have?

#15 of 62 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted September 11 2005 - 04:56 PM

Steve, since when are we not allowed to discuss the actual movie in a review in the software section? What is the sense in creating another thread for that?

The Hybrid System

The Music Part: Emotiva XSP-1, Thiel CS 3.6, Emotiva XPA-2, Marantz SA8004, Emotiva ERC-3, SVS PB-12 Plus 2

The Surround Part: Sherbourn PT-7030, Thiel SCS3, Emotiva XPA-5, Polk & Emotiva Surrounds.


#16 of 62 OFFLINE   ZacharyTait

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Posted September 11 2005 - 05:05 PM

Excellent review. It was interesting reading about the different sound mixes that were made for this movie.

If I ever come across some spare money, I'll pick this up along with The Sting and To Kill a Mockingbird.

A little off-topic, but it still blows my mind that all 5 of the feature films that John Cazale appeared in before his untimely death from bone cancer at the age of 42 were all either nominated or won Best Picture.

#17 of 62 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted September 11 2005 - 05:05 PM

Quote:
Steve, since when are we not allowed to discuss the actual movie in a review in the software section? What is the sense in creating another thread for that?
I'm just suggesting that a discussion of Vietnam war movies in general might better be served in the Movies section, where a lot of people hang around for movie-related discussions. If you tie the discussion to a single thread about one DVD, the subject is likely to get lost as the review slides off the page.

Please discuss as you desire. I'm just the review guy, and I was only trying to help.

- Steve

#18 of 62 OFFLINE   Paul Linfesty

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Posted September 11 2005 - 06:06 PM

it was in Dolby Surround. A poster in the lobby advertised that fact.


The term Dolby Surround would never have been used on a poster in 78 or 79. The film did not include a surround track. And the Dolby trade ad that was run at the time did not include surround notation either (yet it did for other Dolby releases).



Heaven's Gate during its infamously brief run in the original cut at Cinema II.


This 70mm run of Heaven's Gate actually played the Cinema I.

#19 of 62 OFFLINE   Dome Vongvises

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Posted September 11 2005 - 06:30 PM

Thanks for the review. It's a difficult film to watch if for any other reason there are certain spots that drag on too long. Nonetheless, there was an emotional core in the film I liked. Got the DVD and will view it as soon as humanly possible.

#20 of 62 OFFLINE   Hal F

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Posted September 12 2005 - 12:57 AM

Quote:
I personally prefer TDH just because I think it is so "real" in a sense. AN is sort of surreal. Something like if Terry Gilliam made a war movie.


Guess it depends on how one defines 'real'.Posted Image
TDH is so manipulative and full of plot holes that I have difficulty perceiving it as a realistic movie on any level. Both the civilian scenes and war scenes come across to me as phony.
Though Apocalypse Now is far from being a fav war movie of mine, I'd sy that because it does much better than TDH at capturing the surreality of war it is in the final analyses a more realistic movie. Compared to our 'real' civilian lives, the reality of war is very surreal.
I'm guessing Cimino tried to capture some of that surreality in TDH with the russian roulette scenes, but they came across to me as being too contrived.


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