Poet James Dickey's first novel, Deliverance, was a best seller
that catapulted the writer to fame. When film maker John Boorman
acquired the rights (beating out Sam Peckinpah who also wanted to make
a movie based on the book) he hired Dickey to adapt it for a film.
The movie kept the title from the novel and though it was made on a shoe-string
budget it went on to critical and popular acclaim and was nominated for
three academy awards including Best Picture and Best Director. This
simple story of four buddies on a weekend canoe trip that goes horribly
wrong is still as powerful and unforgettable today as it was 35 years ago
when it was first released. The Blu-ray presentation, while not outstanding,
is good and does this impressive film justice.
men from Atlanta, would-be outdoorsman Lewis Medlock (Burt Reynolds), successful
but bored Ed Gentry (Jon Voight), insurance salesman Bobby Trippe (Ned
Beatty), and happy-go-lucky Drew Ballinger (Ronny Cox), take off one weekend
to go canoeing down the Cahulawassee River that snakes through a remote
part of Georgia. A dam is being constructed across the river and
the area that they are traveling down will soon be turned into a giant
lake, ruining one of the few untrampled parts of the state.
Traveling through the back country the group encounters some in-bred
hillbillies and hires a pair of them to take their cars down to the town
of Aintry, their eventual destination. The river trip starts out
wonderfully, with the two canoes shooting some rapids and Lewis bow-hunting
to keep the group fed. On the second day however the canoes become
separated for a moment. Ed and Bobby pull over to the shore to wait
for their friends and while their waiting a pair of mountain men capture
them and rape Bobby. It's just about to be Ed's turn when Lewis turns
up and kills one of the attackers with his bow, and the other one runs
wanting to risk being tried for murder the group decides, with Drew sharply
opposed to the idea, to bury the body and continue on as if nothing happened.
They try to put as much distance between themselves and the burial site
as they can, but at the next rapids Drew suddenly falls overboard, both
canoes capsize, and Lewis badly fractures his leg. No one is sure
what happened to Drew, though Lewis is sure that the other mountain man
has shot him. Now with few supplies, a wounded member and another
one missing, the weekend expedition that was supposed to deliver them from
the cares of their daily lives suddenly turns into a desperate bid for
This is one of those movies that will stay with you for days afterwards.
Not because it's such a powerful story, but because it makes viewers question
what they would do in a similar situation. The story is filled with
areas of grey that make it hard to condone or condemn the actions of the
characters. If you were an outsider, would you trust a jury or the
justice system in a backwoods Georgia court?
Boorman does a wonderful job telling this tale in a visual way, and
doesn't rely on a lot of dialog to propel the narrative. That's one
of the movie's great strengths and why it 'feels' so real. No one
ever stops and recaps what has happened or asks any obvious (or stupid)
questions. The way the characters are feeling and what they are thinking
is told through their actions and expressions. This is a bunch of
guys out in the wilderness and no one ever stops to talk about their feelings.
film can be taken at face value as an above average suspense/survival tale,
but there's a lot of symbolism and metaphors to dig into if you're so inclined.
Occasionally this gets a tad heavy handed like when Ed, while climbing
a cliff to see if a sniper is above them, takes out his wallet to see a
picture of his wife and kids. Soon after he does this the wind rips
the wallet out of his hand and tosses it away for ever. It's clear
that he's mentally somewhere different at that moment, he's no longer the
business man that he is back at home in Atlanta. That guy would never
contemplate killing someone, but then again what has happened to these
four men would never happen in Atlanta either. The river is also
a great metaphor, propelling the men to shed the veneer of civilization
that they hold so dearly, something that they'll have to do to survive.
All four of the star actors did a wonderful job on this film.
Instead of just reading their lines, they made their characters well rounded
real people. The way they deliver each bit of dialog reveals a little
more about their character and why the do the things that they do.
It's interesting to note that the actors did just about all of their own
stunts too (Burt Reynolds even broke his tail bone) which again gives the
film a touch of realism. Riveting performances all around.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Director John Boorman intentionally gave this film a soft look, and
this 2.4:1 presentation reproduces that accurately. Because of that,
don't expect to be wowed by the high def presentation. The movie
looks good, but it doesn't jump off the screen like the best HD material
does. The dark scenes suffer a bit from lack of detail, especially
in the shadows, but the daylight scenes are very colorful and look wonderful.
The greens of the trees and vegetation are beautiful and I was happy to
notice that they haven't artificially boosted the colors.
The print used for the transfer wasn't perfect but it was very clean
and there wasn't any damage evident. There was a fair amount of grain
in a few scenes but this was the way the movie was filmed and it was never
Filmed in 1972, the movie was released with a mono soundtrack. (Note: Reader William G. informs me that a stereo 35mm version was available from Warner Brothers (as well as a 70mm blow up print.) I would assume that the stereo version was not screened very widely.)
This disc comes with a 5.1 DD mix that was created from the original elements,
but there's only so much that can be done and the movie reveals its mono
origins fairly blatantly. Though some sound effects are thrown to
the rears, the dialog mainly stays centered on the screen and the soundtrack
doesn't envelop the listener like the best surround tracks do. While
the bass has been punched up a lot, especially during the explosion at
the very beginning of the film and when they shoot the rapids, the range
is naturally limited. The dialog seems a bit muffled at times but
that's fairly rare and overall the movie sounds pretty good.
When Deliverance was first released on DVD it was given the bare bones
treatment, much to this reviewer's chagrin. Happily this Blu-ray
release has a good number of extras, just what the movie deserves.
All of the extras from the 35th anniversary SD DVD, which was released
at the same time, are included and though there are no Blu-ray exclusive
bonuses this is a nice package. First off is a commentary by directory
John Boorman. There are long gaps in the commentary and he does describe
the action on screen a little too much, but this was a very entertaining
and interesting commentary track. Boorman discusses the different
actors and their differing styles, talks a good deal about the composition
of the various scenes, and also has a lot to say about the symbolism in
the film. A commentary track that's worth listening to.
If a featurette on a DVD (or Blu-ray disc) runs more than 30 minutes,
the producers are required to pay the participants. To get around
that rule this disc, and many others, breaks up a long extra into smaller
parts. The 35th Anniversary Retrospective on this disc run
about an hour in length, but has been chopped up into four parts to save
money. This is a fairly complete look at the film, starting with
the book, the casting, and progressing on to the filming of the movie.
They take time to examine some of the memorable scenes including the attack
by the side of the river. I really enjoyed this look back.
It was well done and thorough.
The extras wrap up with a vintage ten-minute promotional film The
Dangerous World of Deliverance which last around 10 minutes and a theatrical
trailer for the film.
A claustrophobic, uncompromising, and suspenseful film, Deliverance
is a movie that you won't soon forget. This tale of four men traveling
down a river does a magnificent job of drawing the viewer into the character's
predicament. A story that examines the grey areas in life that most
of us can comfortably ignore, it will leave you with a lot to contemplate.
The Blu-ray release looks very good, better than the original SD DVD release
for sure, though the film was shot in a manner that makes the image fairly
soft. The newly created 5.1 audio (from the original mono mix) wasn't
anything to write home about, though the bonus material is outstanding.
A true classic film, make sure you check this one out. Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc
and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.