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Four friends whose canoeing weekend turns into a horrifying test of survival. Boorman's taut direction builds the tension and fear to a raging climax, as the men travel way beyond their comfort zone and are forced to face more than they could have ever imagined.
For more about Deliverance and the Deliverance Blu-ray release, see the Deliverance Blu-ray Review
Starring: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox, James Dickey, Ed Ramey
Director: John Boorman
» See full cast & crew
Deliverance Blu-ray Review
John Boorman's classic tale of perseverance and survival debuts on Blu-ray
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, November 8, 2007
You don't beat this river.
Chances are that even if you have never seen Deliverance, or even if you have never heard of Deliverance, you are probably familiar with the famous "Dueling Banjos" scene, or at least its music. It's classic, to be sure, and brings a smile to my face every time I hear the music or watch this film. Deliverance has a whole lot more to offer than some banjo picking, however. This a grade-A classic film with a great cast who turn in four memorable and mesmerizing performances. It's a movie that has held up remarkably well after 35 years, and I have no doubt it will continue to be hailed as classic for years to come.
Deliverance is based on a book of the same name by James Dickey. Originally published in 1970, the book became a smash hit only after the film adaptation was released in 1972. This is the story of four friends from Atlanta on a canoeing trip down the Cahulawassee River before it is flooded and destroyed to generate additional electricity for Atlanta. As the story progresses, the foursome is thrust into a horrific situation and the trip down river turns from one of relaxation, self-discovery, and fun into a race for survival against both man and nature. The turning point in the film comes as a shock to the first time viewer and remains one of the most disturbing sequences in film history.
What more can be said of the performances in this film other than "mesmerizing?" Ned Beatty (in his first film role) is astounding as Bobby. His performance after the "incident" is terrific. He doesn't say a word for some time, but his mannerisms and facial expressions convey every emotion that goes unspoken. His performance is acting at its finest. Burt Reynolds is at his very best as Lewis, the outdoorsman who has coordinated the trip. He's an expert at living off the land and is a terrific shot with the bow and arrow. Ronny Cox (also in his first film role) plays Drew, the by-the-book, guitar-strumming member of the party. Jon Voight (one of the better actors of recent times in my opinion) is Ed, the most levelheaded of the group, a man who wants to be like Lewis but isn't. He's thrust into the role of Lewis partway through the film, and he delivers a tour de force performance.
This is a different kind of movie than we are used to seeing today. There are some long shots that linger for quite a while, giving the action time to sink in and allowing the actors to really delve into their characters. I much prefer this style to the frenetic Michael Bay style of 1 and 2 second shots, leaving the audience never quite sure of what is really happening. Boorman's is a very effective technique that draws the audience into the middle of the story, making us feel a part of the party as they forge on downriver both before and after the incident.
Deliverance was nominated for three Oscars in 1973, including best film editing, best director, and best picture. I feel Jon Voight and Ned Beatty were deserving of a nomination as well. John Boorman's direction was phenomenal and his nomination was well-deserved. This is a great picture all around. It accomplishes what so many films today seemingly cannot--it's genuinely horrifying and intense from start to finish, but it doesn't rely on shadows, loud musical cues, and gore to be scary. It instead relies on putting normal people into an unthinkably horrifying situation and uses mood, nature, dialogue, and top notch acting to relay the terror to the viewer. We see everything up close and personal, and it's scary and very effective. I can only hope future filmmakers will once again create movies in the spirit of Deliverance that rely more on pace, tension, strong acting and writing, and beautiful direction to tell a tale such as this rather than CGI and gore. This is truly filmmaking at its finest.
Deliverance Blu-ray, Video Quality
Warner Home Video presents Deliverance in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, in 1080p, for this Blu-ray presentation. Director John Boorman discusses his filming technique for this film extensively in the commentary track, and what we get here is an accurate representation of his original vision for the film. Still, there are some distracting issues present. There is some shimmering at the beginning on top of a slightly blurred image, but the image cleans up considerably after the opening credits. Colors appear dull and flat throughout, but this is due to director intent and not a poor transfer. Many scenes have been desaturated and muted intentionally. There is some fine detail on faces and clothing I haven't noticed in previous home video versions of this film. Blacks are a little bright and washed out resulting in an overly bright image during night scenes. Some of the day for night sequences look especially bad, making Jon Voight look ghostly at times, but this all director's intent. I am convinced this is the best Deliverance is ever likely to look.
Deliverance Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Warner Brothers has forgone a lossless audio track for Deliverance, providing only a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. This is a rather flat, lifeless track that is very front heavy. To be fair, this mix is derived from the original monaural track, so not having a track here that blows you away sonically comes as no surprise. Dialogue sounds natural for the most part. The front sound stage is often permeated with the sound of the rapids and for a 35 year old film, it sounds fine. There is some nice ambience emanating from the surround speakers, however. In the quieter scenes the chirping of birds and the flow of the river in the background can be heard coming from behind the viewer. It's a very pleasing ambience. This track compliments the film nicely and once you get immersed in the film, you'll be too caught up in the story to notice the lack of a heavy, pulsating, modern surround track.
Deliverance Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The primary features on this disc are a commentary track by director John Boorman and a four piece documentary. In his commentary track, Boorman discusses the budget constraints placed on him (he could only make the film by getting two unknown actors to play the parts ultimately filled by Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty). He also discusses the now famous soundtrack and how it went from a big-budget orchestra down to a banjo player and guitar picker in a 2 hour session in a recording studio. He also reveals some secrets behind the filming of the movie, including a revelation (to me, anyway) regarding the truth behind the banjo playing boy at the beginning of the film. Boorman also shares his thoughts on stunts and stuntmen, costuming, and CGI. This a refreshing commentary track. Boorman never really falls into the trap of simply discussing the goings-on on screen. There is some dead air, but Boorman more than makes up for it. He's a natural with a wonderful grasp of language. Add this to watching a wonderful film while listening to him, and it makes for one of the better commentary tracks I have ever heard.
The first of the four documentaries is entitled Deliverance: The Beginning (480p. 16:44). This is a look at the history of the novel, its author James Dickey, the background and inspiration for the characters, and its adaptation to film.
Deliverance: The Journey (480p, 13:04) is the second part of the documentary on the disc. It features a look at Billy Joe Redden (the banjo playing youngster from the beginning of the film) and the famous "Dueling Banjos" scene, the choosing of the river and filming locations, and canoeing down the river.
Deliverance: Betraying the River (480p, 14:37) is a look at the making of the rape scene in the movie. This movie was filmed sequentially, and the filmmakers and actors explain the tension leading up the filming of this crucial scene.
Deliverance: Delivered (480p, 10:37), the fourth part of the documentary, is a look at the filming of the final moments of the movie. This includes the wrapping up of the film and the controversies it engendered even before hitting theaters, themes and messages behind some of the final shots, and the origins of the idea for the unnerving final shot of the film.
The Dangerous World of Deliverance (480p, 10:13) is a short, campy look into the making of the film on location in north Georgia and the dangers, trials, and tribulations involved in the moviemaking process.
Rounding out the special features is a 480p trailer for the movie.
Deliverance Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Deliverance is one of the best films to come out of the 1970s, a decade that produced such classics as Star Wars, The Godfather (parts I & II), Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Deer Hunter. It can stand toe-to-toe with the best of any decade, and is a film every movie lover needs to have in their collection. Warner Brothers has released a quality presentation, and this is undoubtedly the best this film is ever likely to look and sound. A great commentary by director John Boorman and a solid documentary make this a must-have disc. Deliverance delivers. Highly recommended.
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