Deliverance: Deluxe Edition
Directed By: John Boorman
Starring: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox
John Boorman's "Deliverance", adapted from the novel by James Dickey (who cameos as a police officer near the end of the film) tells the story of four men from Atlanta, Ed (Voight), Lewis (Reynolds), Bobby (Beatty), and Drew (Cox) who venture out on a canoe trip on the Cahulawassee River in remote Georgia. The river is scheduled to be dammed by the local power company, and the men are taking advantage of one of the last chances to canoe it before it is "killed". While the men initially find themselves challenged by the river and its occasionally treacherous rapids, they are pushed to extremes when they are threatened by some unfriendly hillbillies along the way. Forced into survival mode and far from civilization, each of the men responds differently to the fear and uncertainty of their increasingly desperate circumstances.
While the film can easily be faulted for its overplayed allegory (the characters other than Voight's Ed are either archetypes or stereotypes, the philosophical themes are worked into the dialog with yellow highlighter, the hillbillies do to the city slickers what the power company is doing to the river, etc.), it still manages to work on most levels thanks to its clever pacing, sense of paranoia, fantastic location photography, and strong performances from the entire cast. While Boorman's earlier "Point Blank" employed ambiguity to add a degree of artsy abstraction to a plot that was very simple at its core, in "Deliverance", he uses it to create empathy between the main characters and the audience. At numerous key moments, characters are forced to make or respond to life and death decisions while not being 100% certain about the details.
The film begins slowly, establishing the characters as well as tension involving the condescending attitudes of the city folks, especially Lewis and Bobby, towards the local population. Apprehension developed during the men's first night camping in the woods turns to full blown terror at about the forty minute point, after which the film moves along as if on rails until its extended denouement. Additionally, Boorman seems to be following the Howard Hawks model of having a handful of great scenes and no bad ones. The "Dueling Banjos" scene in the film's opening, which establishes the musical motif from which the film's entire score would be derived, and the infamous "squeal like a pig" scene are both iconic moments familiar even to people who have not seen the film due to repetition and cultural saturation.
The four principle actors do a great job at fleshing out their sometimes broadly drawn characters. Beatty and Cox were both making their cinematic debuts. Burt Reynolds had been kicking around the industry as a stuntman and actor in TV and films for over a decade with little popular success until "Deliverance" made him a star. The he-man persona he plays as Lewis would be adapted and modulated with a comic sensibility to make Reynolds one of the biggest stars of the 1970s. By contrast, Jon Voight was an established movie star thanks to "Midnight Cowboy", but was suffering through something of a career slump that "Deliverance" effectively ended. The extensive location work and cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond renders the river and surrounding woods as essentially a fifth lead character. Boorman and Zsigmond desaturated the color severely to make the river look less pretty and more menacing. A scene late in the film where one of the characters scales a cliff at dusk has one of the strangest looking day-for-night looks I have ever seen. Apparently, they were unsatisfied with the darkness achieved by conventional photochemical means, and printed negative over positive to get the scene even darker with the action still being "readable" to the viewer.
The 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 transfer is close to pristine. I could count the number of visible source flaws on one hand. Compression is generally very good and edge enhancement is negligible to non-existent.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 remix attempts very little and succeeds with decent fidelity. Surrounds are used primarily for ambience with a limited directional spread occasionally applied to the mix across the front channels. There is also a French 1.0 mono dub.
Extras include a screen specific audio commentary from Boorman. I was initially concerned that this track was going to be a chore to get through due to Boorman's very measured way of speaking with long pregnant pauses sometimes in the middle of sentences. My concerns were unfounded, though, as Boorman provides an exceptionally informative track with a well-balanced mix of production anecdotes, aesthetic discussions about his approach to the material, and nuts and bolts technical details.
Next up is a series of four newly produced documentary featurettes on the production assembled by Laurent Bouzereau. While there is not a "Play All" feature, there should be, as taken together, they form a single documentary that chronologically tracks the genesis of the film from pre-production through release. They all follow the familiar talking heads format of other Bouzereau retrospective documentaries, but this is one of the better ones since he has assembled most of the people one would want to hear from for interviews including Christopher Dickey, the son of author James Dickey, Boorman, Cox, Beatty, Voight, Reynolds, Zsigmond, and actor Bill McKinney who memorably played one of the menacing hillbillies. While there is considerable overlap with the commentary, particularly from Boorman's interview segments, there is also a lot of new material and fresh perspectives from the other participants. They are presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Titles and running times are as follows:
- "Deliverance: The Beginning" 16:43
- "Deliverance: The Journey" 13:03
- "Deliverance: Betraying the River" 14:36
- "Deliverance: Delivered" 10:36
Finally, the film's theatrical trailer is included. It runs a little under three minutes and is presented in 2.35:1 16:9 enhanced widescreen with DD 2.0 mono sound. The trailer narration includes some background information on the characters that was omitted from the finished film, so it is worth a look.
The film is packaged in a standard sized Amaray-type case with no insert. There were lots of cool promotional graphics created for this film, but none of them were used for the cover of this DVD.
Warner Home Video's "Deliverance: Deluxe Edition" features an outstanding audio/video presentation of the feature film along with substantive extras inclusive of a commentary from director John Boorman and a four part retrospective documentary that includes newly recorded interviews with the film's principle cast and other key creative talent. If you are a fan of the film, this is a worthy "double dip".
Note: This Deluxe Edition of "Deliverance" was also released in both the HD DVD and Blu-Ray Disc formats. For an assessment of the HD DVD release, check out Cameron Yee's forum review available at this link. For an assessment of the Blu-Ray Disc edition, check out Kevin Koster's forum review available at this link.