For better or worse, Hollywood just can't make films like John Boorman's Deliverance (1972) anymore. Based on the best-selling 1970 novel by James Dickey, this visceral tour of rugged Georgia terrain reminds us that we can always be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We're introduced to four city slickers (or at least three, since one fancies himself a steely outdoorsman) bound for a weekend canoe trip down a river facing extinction via damming. Their drive to the river itself proves to be much more challenging than anticipated, leading them past decaying gas stations, rocky terrain and winding roads well off the beaten path. Unfortunately, this drive proves to be the easiest leg of their journey.
For obvious reasons, Deliverance is much more than "Dueling Banjoes" and squealin' like a pig. Shot on a shoestring budget on location in northern Georgia, Boorman's most arresting film is a simple story told with passion, heart and urgency. We can identify with the main characters almost immediately: they're real men caught up in surreal circumstances, each possessing different ideals, ambitions and moral codes. It's especially amazing that such a confident film arose from this challenging production; two of the leads (Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox) made their film debuts, everyone did their own stunts and no one had health insurance. This type of recklessness is now reserved for independent filmmakers.
Rough and unflinching, Deliverance doesn't pull many punches and still packs quite a wallop, even by today's standards. Dickey's imagination spawned this tale of violation, murder and survival, but the visualization by Boorman and company raises the stakes even higher. Our story starts off relaxed and deliberately paced, but everything comes to a boil before the halfway point and doesn't exactly simmer down quickly. It's as much about the aftermath of traumatic events as it is the events themselves, dragging our protagonists through the mud and watching their attempts to wash themselves clean. For these reasons and many more, Deliverance is much more than the sum of its parts: it's a taut, tense thriller that remains one of the decade's most visceral, entertaining and durable adventures.
The last time Deliverance surfaced on home video was 2007, in the form of a Deluxe Edition DVD and identical HD DVD & Blu-Ray releases. Fans should generally be pleased with this new 40th Anniversary Digibook, which retains the passable video presentation and improves everything else. Whether or not that's worth an upgrade is debatable, but at least this isn't just another cheap repackaging job.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Although this Blu-Ray uses the same master as the 2007 release (and yes, there's a little room for improvement), what's here isn't disappointing by a long shot. Boorman's film retains a soft, muggy appearance, mostly due to the natural lighting conditions and film stock. Obviously, daytime scenes and tight close-ups reveal the strongest amounts of detail, while black levels are slightly inconsistent with limited shadow detail. A natural layer of film grain is present, while textures are noticeable but not consistently striking. Overall, it's a clean presentation that fans should still be comfortable with.
NOTE: This review's screen captures were taken from the 2007 DVD and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
The audio gets a nice little boost, as Deliverance arrives with a new DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track (along with mono dubs in Spanish, French, German and Italian). Odd that the original English mono mix hasn't been included as well, but this tasteful track preserves the atmosphere perfectly without resorting to cheap gimmicks. Dialogue and music cues are clear and crisp, while the natural surroundings and rush of the river extend into the rear channels frequently. It's a surprisingly strong audio experience, considering the age and budget of Deliverance, and fans should be pleased with the results. Optional English (SDH), Spanish, French, German (SDH), Italian (SDH), Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles are provided during the main feature and all applicable extras, save for the commentary.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, this single-disc release is housed in a handsome matte-finish Digibook with 58 pages of behind-the-scenes photos, essays, cast bios, quotes and much more. Overall, it's a quality packaging job despite the underwhelming cover artwork. Menu designs are a half-step beyond Warner Bros.' format-launching "wall of text" template, offering smooth, simple navigation and a basic interface. The 110-minute main feature has been divided into approximately two dozen chapters, no obvious layer change was detected and this Blu-Ray disc appears to be locked for Region "A" playback only.
There's only one new extra here, but it's certainly worth your while. "Deliverance: The Cast Remembers"
(30 minutes, 1080p) brings together Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox for a relaxed chat about the film and how it affected their budding careers. Filmed at the Burt Reynolds Museum (!) in Jupiter, Florida, we're treated to a number of great personal anecdotes from the lively quartet. Highlights include their casting experiences, stories from the chronological location shoot, personal relationships with one another, memories from their first times watching the finished film and much, much more. It's fortunate that such a thoughtful, entertaining bonus feature was commissioned for this new 40th Anniversary package, as it adds another layer of weight to the film's legacy and lasting influence.
Everything from the 2007 releases is ported over as well. First up is a feature-length Audio Commentary with director John Boorman, who delivers a sporadic but informative account of this difficult outdoor production. Also here is an entertaining four-part Retrospective Documentary (57 minutes, above left) featuring comments by Boorman, Christopher Dickey (the author's son), all four of our leads and other cast and crew members. Next up is "The Dangerous World of Deliverance" (10:12, above right), a vintage promotional piece that focuses on James Dickey in action, the film's dangerous stunt work and other snippets of behind-the-scenes footage. Last but not least is the film's Theatrical Trailer (2:52), which shows its age but successfully hints at Deliverance's dark underbelly without giving away too much.
These recycled extras are all presented in windowboxed 480p and, save for the commentary, include a wide variety of optional subtitles and SDH captions. If you'd like a slightly more detailed description of the older bonus features, please take a gander at my 2007 review of the Deluxe Edition DVD.
Deliverance is a classic slice of 1970s filmmaking that still packs a punch, no matter if you've seen it a dozen times or haven't been introduced yet. Our four leads deliver natural performances as their world crumbles around them, from the optimistic beginning to the harrowing final act. Warner Bros.' new 40th Anniversary Digibook is more than a cheap reissue: we get a lossless audio track, one new retrospective bonus feature and a nice packaging job to boot. It's a modest improvement in every category except for the visuals, which still manage to carry their own weight. Overall, this is definitely a package worth hunting down, especially if you don't own Deliverance on Blu-Ray yet. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.