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HTF DVD REVIEW: Deliverance: Deluxe Edition



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#1 of 17 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted October 02 2007 - 03:22 AM

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Deliverance: Deluxe Edition

Directed By: John Boorman

Starring: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox

Studio: Warner Brothers

Year: 1972

Rated: R

Film Length: 109 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

Release Date: September 18, 2007


The Film

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 Video

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 Audio

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.

The Extras

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
A holdover from the previous DVD is the vintage featurette, "The Dangerous World of Deliverance". It runs ten minutes and twelve seconds and is presented in 4:3 video with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound. It focuses a lot on Dickey and Boorman, mixing a little behind the scenes information and footage with some promotional hyperbole.

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.

Packaging

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.

Summary
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.

Regards,

Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 17 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted October 02 2007 - 06:52 AM

Nice job, Ken. Did you ever see the old one? I thought the 1999 DVD offered better sound - it was warmer and more natural. Curious if anyone else agrees...
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#3 of 17 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted October 02 2007 - 07:45 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Jacobson
Nice job, Ken. Did you ever see the old one? I thought the 1999 DVD offered better sound - it was warmer and more natural. Curious if anyone else agrees...
Thanks, Colin. I saw the previous one as a rental a few years ago, but did not have access to it for an A/B. I would be interested in other opinions on how the audio tracks compare as well.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#4 of 17 OFFLINE   Charles_Y

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Posted November 02 2007 - 12:57 AM

Happened to pick this up recently for the supplements and was quite disgusted with the transfer. I couldn't watch it past the Dueling Banjos sequence. Way too soft, murky and drab with a real unhealthy green/brown look to the print. This might be Boorman's and Zsigmond's "artistic" choice as evidenced in their comments but I never remember it looking so crappy in the theater.

The previous edition is superior in my opinion. Interestingly, look at the un-anamorphic sequences excerpted in the supplements. They look much better - too red in the skin tones and too overbright overall but closer to the "look" I'd prefer.

Personal taste.

#5 of 17 OFFLINE   Thommy...M

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Posted November 02 2007 - 12:25 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles_Y
...was quite disgusted with the transfer. ...
The previous edition is superior in my opinion.
Not just your opinion.
I have the previous release still on my shelf. Won't get rid of it. Much better picture than the new DVD release.

#6 of 17 OFFLINE   Chas_Michael

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Posted November 02 2007 - 04:08 PM

I also agree the original is better all around.

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#7 of 17 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted November 02 2007 - 04:29 PM

The old DVD is junk compared to the new one. The color may be different, but the old transfer looked too generic. This SE has a more earthy look, with a dominance of green and brown. While it looked good on a 20" screen, the first edition was almost as ugly as the old Blade Runner DVD. Lots of edge enhancement and video noise.

Edit: Since the new making-of documentary uses clips from the old transfer, the biggest change I see is the more natural look to the film. As it was shot almost entirely with natural light, there's no reason for skin tones to look sunburnt. This is a pretty much common issue I've seen with the early Warner and MGM DVDs... they color corrected to make things look "natural" like a dominance of red and more neutral white levels. Besides the color, the new DVD really has that great "open window" look. It looks like film.

#8 of 17 OFFLINE   Travis Brashear

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Posted November 03 2007 - 12:55 AM

It appears to me that some viewers have become accustomed to a more faded and dirty presentation of the movie and, as a result, are thrown off by the accomplishments of a restoration of it. One need only look at the skin tones on the old DVD to know you're not seeing the correct color scheme.
Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for." I agree with the second part...
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#9 of 17 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted November 03 2007 - 09:18 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Patrick McCart
The old DVD is junk compared to the new one. The color may be different, but the old transfer looked too generic. This SE has a more earthy look, with a dominance of green and brown. While it looked good on a 20" screen, the first edition was almost as ugly as the old Blade Runner DVD. Lots of edge enhancement and video noise.

Yeah, I gotta agree. Yes, the old disc looks a bit sharper, but it comes with the artifacts Patrick mentions. The new one's a decent visual improvement.

However, I DO prefer the audio of the 1999 disc...
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#10 of 17 OFFLINE   Chas_Michael

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Posted November 03 2007 - 03:08 PM

One mans' junk is another mans' treasure.

#11 of 17 OFFLINE   Joe Karlosi

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Posted November 03 2007 - 11:06 PM

The new DVD looks great to me. I just don't know what the heck anyone wants anymore these days.

#12 of 17 OFFLINE   Colin Jacobson

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Posted November 04 2007 - 01:02 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chas_Michael
One mans' junk is another mans' treasure.

Posted Image
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#13 of 17 OFFLINE   Charles_Y

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Posted November 06 2007 - 01:06 AM

I don't wish to start some sort of flame war here but I can't see this new transfer as exhibiting an improved "window on reality." Skin tones are far from accurate. I don't know many people with such complexions (jaundice?). Midday in the sun almost looks like a bright eclipse in some scenes.

I just had my new XBR4 calibrated by a pro and he swears by the results as excellent so, I think I can rule that out as a contributing factor.

Generic transfers may seem blah to you but if you look at footage taken of scenes being shot on location or sometimes on stage in behind the scenes featurettes included on DVDs for more recent films, you can see how much the final print and image is processed and tweaked from "reality."

Directors and Cinematographers have had the ability for some time through computerized/digital editing and color correction to really screw around with their films. The "artistic" approach to photography has in my view trumped more natural and maybe admittedly, artistically uninspired cinematographic "looks." I liked this new aesthetic for awhile but now groan most times I encounter it as I do here.

The original master definitely needed work but I feel the new one an aberration and unfortunately the only one to contend with for some time to come. I guess I will keep the new edition for the extras and the original for the movie.

Shame, another wasted opportunity. Posted Image

#14 of 17 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted November 06 2007 - 02:53 AM

A "Window on Reality" was never the director and cinematographers intention with "Deliverance". At multiple times throughout the supplements of the latest release, the fact that the image was filtered and processed in post production to make the river and surrounding forest seem less pretty is mentioned. This will affect everything that is photographed, inclusive of fleshtones. Debate on whether Boorman and Zsigmond's intent is better represented by the current or previous transfer is valid, but comparing the image to production photography or real-life reference is exactly what a telecine colorist that did not do his aestheric homework would do.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
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#15 of 17 OFFLINE   Charles_Y

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Posted November 06 2007 - 11:35 AM

I'm not stating that a "window on reality" or to be more precise "open window" was the aim here by the director & cinematographer. That clearly isn't the case. This was a response to another poster's comments.

My referring to production footage was simply to point the direction in which the transfer I think should have gone not that it is a goal in itself.

I wonder if Boorman will ever revisit "Zardoz," another of his works I admire? I shudder to think how that one will end up. I'm probably alone in appreciating this film as it has suffered much in the press over the years. Only time will tell I guess.

#16 of 17 OFFLINE   Patrick McCart

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Posted November 06 2007 - 11:41 AM

Given that Boorman was involved with the DVD considerably, he probably oversaw the new transfer since it looks different from the old DVD. Like the new Dracula DVD, if it's what the director wanted, it's fine with me. I really have no use for a DVD that's adjusted to meet the expectations of fans instead of the filmmakers.

#17 of 17 OFFLINE   Jeff Ulmer

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Posted November 06 2007 - 12:21 PM

I'm holding out until I have a high def format before getting the new version of Deliverance, so I can't comment on the new transfer, but to pick up Charles' question about Zardoz (having being heavily involved in the DVD release), unfortunately, I don't think Fox is going to revisit this one soon, even though I have dug up some great extras that should have been included in the first release.


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