Judge Jim Thomas thinks Deliverance gives new meaning to the phrase "Talk to the hand."
Our reviews of Deliverance (published October 10th, 2000), Deliverance (Blu-Ray) (published November 5th, 2007), Deliverance: Deluxe Edition (published September 10th, 2007), and Deliverance (HD DVD) (published January 12th, 2008) are also available.
This is the weekend they didn't play golf.
Four Atlanta businessmen—Ed (Jon Voight, Coming Home), Lewis (Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights), Bobby (Ned Beatty, Superman: The Movie), and Drew (Ronny Cox, Total Recall)—are heading into the wilds of northern Georgia for several days of canoeing. Thanks to a new dam, the region will soon be underwater, and Lewis wants to see this last unspoiled wilderness before its gone forever.
Let's just say the trip does not go as planned.
This is Deliverance (Blu-ray) 40th Anniversary Digibook, so I'm just going to assume you've seen the movie, OK?
It's been fifteen years since I last saw Deliverance. Returning to it, I was struck not just by the movie's enduing power, but by its utter simplicity: Four men have to make a decision, and more importantly, they have to then live (or die) with that decision—and that's it.
When the film was initially released, the ad campaign emphasized one image, and as a kid from the seventies, let me tell you, that image creeped the holy hell out of everyone:
It was easily the single most iconic movie image from the early 1970s, and would have held the title for quite some time, had not a certain dorsal fin surfaced in 1975.
The power of the image resides in the fact that you don't know what it means, only what it might mean. If a body indeed surfaces, what happens then? There's no way of knowing, and for me, at least, that utter uncertainty is the heart of darkness that makes Deliverance so enduring. One choice can change you forever, and you never know when it will occur, and you won't even know how it will change you. Ed discovers soon enough that his choice will likely haunt him for some time (interestingly, in James Dickey's original novel, Ed isn't nearly as tormented at the end).
When the dust finally settles, there's no judging, even by the local sheriff (author James Dickey); while he's pretty sure that the three men aren't telling him the truth, he also realizes that it's best to just let the issue die with the rising waters. We see a church being hauled away to escape the rising waters—even God's judgment has skipped town. All that's left is how you judge yourself. Lewis sees everything as a game, which makes it easy for him to dismiss their actions. Bobby didn't actually kill anyone; moreover, he has added incentive to keep the whole incident quiet—so, of course, he has no qualms about what they've done. Ed and Drew, however, can't absolve themselves. Simple, but powerful, and completely sold by the actors. Voight was the only established name in the cast; Reynolds was coming off several failed television shows, and while Beatty and Cox both had stage experience, neither had performed in front of a camera. Cox plays things perhaps a bit too broadly, but that's the only real complaint. Even Dickey's performance is solid.
The video uses the same 2.40:1/1080p VC-1-encoded transfer as the 2007 Blu-ray release, and it's…acceptable. Overall detail is good, with nice details and textures in close-ups. Colors are someone muted, but Boorman mentions in the commentary that the film was slightly desaturated in post-production. However, long shots are murky, blacks are not very deep, which undermines a number of scenes. The night scene in which Ed scales a rock cliff is particularly problematic—it was shot day for night, and in some areas, it just looks bad. While the film looks and sounds good enough, there's no doubt that the movie would benefit from a full-scale restoration. From a technical standpoint, the only real change from the 2007 Blu-ray edition is the audio track, which has been updated from Dolby Digital 5.1 track to DTS-HD Master Audio track. It's an indifferent upgrade at best. The rear channels get some workout, but not consistently, particularly with regard to ambient noise. On the other hand, the imaging of the front and center channels is close to amazing, as is the background music. The audio would also help with some boosting in the lower frequencies, to better underscore the river's power.
The disc has one new extra for the release—a roundtable discussion of the main cast; it does a good job of explaining the profound impact the film had on their lives and careers. Added to that are the extras from the earlier release. Boorman's commentary track is uneven, but generally interesting, and the various featurettes add depth.
Deliverance retains its power after forty years, but Warner Bros. really needs to do right by this title and give it a proper restoration.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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