Lesson Judge Brendan Babish learned from Deliverance: Never be the doughiest guy on a rafting trip.
Our reviews of Deliverance (published October 10th, 2000), Deliverance (Blu-Ray) (published November 5th, 2007), Deliverance (Blu-ray) 40th Anniversary Digibook (published August 10th, 2012), and Deliverance: Deluxe Edition (published September 10th, 2007) are also available.
This is the weekend they didn't play golf.
Despite having two of the most iconic scenes in cinema history, Deliverance doesn't seem to have inspired a following at all commensurate with its cultural cache. However, with a new special edition DVD and HD DVD, a new generation might finally learn what it means to "Squeal like a pig!"
Facts of the Case
Four city slickers from Atlanta are eager to ride the Cahulawassee River before it's destroyed. Ed (Jon Voight, Midnight Cowboy) is the strapping leader of the group, though he is nowhere near as tough as the outdoorsman Lewis (Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights). Drew (Ronny Cox) is the mellowest of the group, and he plays a mean banjo. Bobby (Ned Beatty, He Got Game) is the softest of the four, and proves to be the easiest picking for the sadistic rednecks who emerge from the backwoods once one of the group's canoes is run aground.
Though I had never seen Deliverance before I received my screener copy, it's been referenced so many times in other media that I was almost surprised to learn that the film had an actual plot and wasn't just an hour and a half of banjo playing and men squealing like pigs.
I was also surprised to learn that, while the banjos and pig squealing are usually referenced irreverently by others, that this action movie has a strong and powerful emotional core. Though it might not be fair to contrast comedies and dramas, I couldn't help but be reminded of 2007's atrocious Wild Hogs while watching Deliverance. Both films depict middle-aged urbanites attempting to reinvigorate their staid lives through adventure. While the Wild Hogs run afoul of the Del Fuegos gang in New Mexico (where "hilarity" invariably ensues), the foursome's encounters with the locals in Deliverance are truly harrowing.
These encounters are harrowing to the point that there is near certainty that no one involved is the trip will ever be the same. In a surprising (compared to modern films) move, Boorman shows that this trip has serious repercussions, and this enlivens the material with an intensity that is so often absent in modern cinema. There are no laughs or kisses after the adventure is over in Deliverance; this is a sober exploration of crises both modern—middle-age ennui—and timeless—the struggle to survive. Whereas this film (like Wild Hogs) presents the former with an appropriate bit of mockery, it depicts violence with a harshness that is, though never grotesque, shocking and captivating.
Deliverance succeeds because it depicts the absurdity and brutality of violence without any sort sensationalism. It does this through first-rate performances, including surprisingly solid turns from Reynolds and Beatty, as well as excellent supporting work from local cast members. Additionally, director John Boorman does an excellent job telling a simple, horrific, cautionary tale. This is another uncompromising film from the 1970s that seems all the more special in light of our highly test-marketed current cinematic fare.
Warner's HD DVD preserves the film's 2.40:1 aspect ration in a 1080, VC1 transfer. Though the picture can look slightly dark in some scenes, particularly in the outdoor action sequences; however, considering the age of the film, and the difficulty of capturing these shots (many were done in one take), the colors are impressively clean and clear. The sound is sometimes hollow and tinny (perhaps due to the extensive dubbing done in the film's postproduction), though I don't think dueling banjos will ever sound better than it does here—and that is reason to rejoice.
The extras on this HD DVD are all the same on the DVD Deluxe Edition of Deliverance. There is quite a lot to sort through here. Boorman's commentary track is probably the best place to start: he is engaging and informative, and recounts some excellent stories on the film's troubling shoot. There is a four-part 35th anniversary retrospective, which is nearly an hour of comments from several of those involved with the movie discussing the adaptation process (the movie was adapted from James Dickey's novel), the filming process, and Deliverance's reception upon its release. Lastly, there is a 10-minute featurette, "The Dangerous World of Deliverance," which is basically a ten-minute trailer for the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Apparently, Deliverance's popularity led to a renewed interest in white-water rafting, which itself led to a sharp increase in the number of rafting fatalities in the early-to-mid 1970s. So if you are inspired to jump into the canoe and battle the rapids, remember your helmet—and your bow and arrow.
Though it is one of the most iconic films of the 1970s, I think Deliverance's contemporary audience is nowhere near commensurate with its notoriety. This is a shame, because Boorman's film is an action film with emotional depth—a sadly endangered species in modern filmmaking.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Four-part 35th anniversary retrospective
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