When you don't live that far away from "dry" counties, Judge Ryan Keefer knows you could be in a world of hurt.
Our reviews of Deliverance (published October 10th, 2000), Deliverance (Blu-ray) 40th Anniversary Digibook (published August 10th, 2012), 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.
Deliverance has lasted for over three decades as lesson one of a Northerner's introduction to the South. Showing the backwoods and a laid back lifestyle, almost to the point of being inbred, those that have seen this film have had two scenes burned into memory (you know which ones). So now that it's out in high definition, what's it like to relive them?
Facts of the Case
James Dickey adapted his novel for the film which was directed by John Boorman (The Tailor of Panama). In it, four friends from the city experience one last turn through the Georgia countryside. Lewis (Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights), Bobby (Ned Beatty, Superman), Drew (Ronny Cox, Robocop) and Ed (Jon Voight, Heat) rough it over the river and through the woods, and encounter something that will change their lives forever.
Admittedly this film was hard for me to review, primarily because of the "Squeal Like a Pig" scene. I could never get past it until now. I would assume a lot of people have that similar concern. But if you get past that scene, what you find is a pretty suspenseful film that serves as a bit of a statement to the American wilderness, as technology incrementally takes over what was once a thriving, well-knit community.
What Dickey (and Boorman) does rather smartly in the film is first showing that the big threat of the film is nature itself. Thanks to the Georgia countryside, the exterior effectively dwarfs the men, showcasing their meekness to the elements. Often times in the film, some of the men feel threatened by things that are clearly not present, but because of what's gone on, what's to say that they're not out there? The other thing that's done to a lesser degree is to show the resentment of some of the townspeople to these "outsiders." Granted, you've got the "squeal like a pig" scene, but that's the culmination of the resentment. At the service station, the animosity between the locals and the out of towners isn't obvious, but is very much inferred, and the limited interaction between various locals and the foursome becomes subtly elevated, as the local folk throw some occasional sarcasm their way before they get to the river. Ask any Hawaiian native what it's like with tourists, soldiers and the like, and a portion of them would probably say some of the same things.
And imagine that, the performances in the film are much better than one would expect. Before getting injured, Reynolds' Lewis seemed to be the one closest to the dangers that the wilderness offered, aside from his instinct and his choice to continually refer to Bobby as "chubby." In their first film roles, Cox performs admirably, while Beatty steals the show, and not for the obvious reason. Voight gradually evolves into a transformed man from the early part of the film, and ultimately these four develop a chemistry that is almost poetic.
Technically, the film's 2.40:1 VC-1 encoded transfer looks decent for the most part. The film's look is purposely soft and a little on the rustic side, but possesses moments where the image has some depth and almost looks like it did on the day of shooting, for sure. There's no lossless or next gen audio option to go with here, just Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for the world to enjoy. There's not really anything worth bragging about, but the "Dueling Banjos" score that appears throughout the film in various forms sounds pretty crystal clear, and very little low end fidelity can be spotted in the film. All in all, it's perfectly acceptable viewing.
Boorman provides a commentary track for the film that, while having quite a bit of information, comes off as being delivered rather dryly and quietly. He discusses how the film got made and recalls some of the production stories on the set, and illustrates the differences between this film and the book. He talks about how the shots came together, and what would happen if it were made today. Again, it's not the liveliest commentary track, but it's worth listening to if you like the film. Following that is a four-part documentary retrospective (running about an hour total) on the film's production. "Deliverance: The Beginning" looks at the novel's conception and adaptation to film. This segment includes interview footage with Dickey's son Christopher, Boorman and other members of the cast as they remember their first thoughts on the novel before its film version, while Dickey's son recalls the real life backgrounds of some the fictitious characters. "Deliverance: The Journey" recalls the production and filming of some of the memorable sequences, i.e., the dueling banjos scene and some others in the film. A note on these segments, while being informative, someone should tell Burt not to hit the tanning parlor and dye his wig before these interviews, because it's a tad unsettling. "Deliverance: Betraying the River" discusses the "squeal like a pig" scene in painful detail, with interview footage of McKinney and Beatty. Some other scenes in the film are covered as well with the relevant thoughts by the actors and director. "Deliverance: Delivered" talks about the ending of the film and the reaction of it since. "The Dangerous World of Deliverance" is an on-set featurette with interviews with Boorman and the cast as they talk about the production at the time. It is noticeable for some footage of Dickey reciting a poem in the feature, but otherwise the video quality is somewhat poor and this piece can be skipped.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Because the scenes have been so memorable over the years, millions of those living south of the Mason-Dixon line have had to deal with the stigma of a dueling banjo here, a sexually aggressive mountain man there. It's kind of like whistling "La Bamba" or "Freebird" whenever you experience turbulence when flying on an airplane. So allow me to be a member of the Chamber of Commerce for a second and tell you to visit to the South and enjoy what it has to offer.
The film material in Deliverance might be a little bit rough, but I implore you to get past it as I did, and you'll find yourself respecting and admiring the film and the material. The performances are very good, though when it comes to Blu-ray, it's not all that impressive, and there's not a lot worth upgrading to here. For those new to the film, definitely worth a rental to evaluate.
There's no law 'round these parts, so how can you render a verdict?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by John Boorman
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