Deer Hunter, The (Blu-ray)
Released by: Universal Studios
DVD Released: March 6. 2012.
Director: Michael Cimino
Cast: Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, George Dzundza
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Mike (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken), Steve (John Savage), Stan (John Cazale) and Axel (Chuck Aspegren) are a bunch of men of Russian stock who all work together at the local steel mill in a small Pennsylvania town. When their shifts end, they do what a lot of factory workers do and bond by drinking together at the local bar but once in a while, they’ll head on up into the mountains and go deer hunting. Their day to day routine is about to get rocked, however. Not only is Steve going to tie the knot and marry his pregnant fiance, Angela (Rutanya Alda), but he Nick, and Mike have been drafted – soon they’re going to be shipped off to Viet Nam where they’ll obviously be changed.
The three soldiers slowly start to adjust to their new life away from their friends and family and the community that they had made their own but before long they find themselves imprisoned in a P.O.W. camp, forced into a horrifying game of Russian Roullette where they have to compete with one another for their own lives. Mike devises a clever way for the men to make it out of the camp but they find that they’re not out of trouble yet. By the time they finally make it back to their small town, they find that they really can’t go back to the way things were before. What they’ve gone through has changed them in ways that those who were waiting for them will never understand.
The Deer Hunter takes its sweet time setting things up – the first hour of the film deals with the wedding and the day to day lives of the men we’re about to follow into Hell and one of the most common complaints levied against the film is that this portion of it is boring. Not much happens here, and it’s certainly slow but the reality is that without this build up we wouldn’t know the characters as we do in the later part of the movie and so the more intense scenes that we’re slapped with just wouldn’t have the same kind of impact. So while, yes, it is slow, it’s for good reason that Cimino takes his time here as the last two thirds of the film are all the better for it.
While the movie is very definitely a war film, the emphasis is more on the relationships that the three men who go off to serve develop with each other and with the people back home. We see moments of true strength and raw courage and we see acts of cowardice and emotional turmoil and various layers are peeled off of these guys before the end credits hit. While much of the credit needs to go to Michael Cimino for pacing the film so deliberately and not rushing things as so many other directors would, just as much credit also needs to go to the main performers in the film. De Niro and Walken (who won a best supporting actor award) are fantastic with the rest of the crew right behind them. The scenes that take place in Viet Name are so well acted and so intense that it’s hard not to feel for these guys even if the Vietnamese are portrayed as inhuman monsters (and from the point of view of those held in captivity, they might very well seem that way).
It’s definitely a macho film but The Deer Hunter isn’t necessarily the chest thumping, flag waving movie that many of its critics make it out to be. Yes, there are moments that could be seen as almost imperialist in nature but at the same time, the heros of the picture are of Russian (at the time a communist nation) descent and the response that a veteran of the war gives to the men while at the bar during the wedding scene is definitely not one that a pro-war film would intentionally deliver.
The cinematography, handled by Vilmos Zsigmond, is absolultey wonderful. From the pomp and circumstance of the wedding scene to the deer hunting scenes to those moments in combat and the scenes that deal with the consequences this is a fantastic looking film. It’s epic and gorgeous when it needs to be but claustrophobic and horrifying when the story calls for it. There’s so much detail in so many shots that even if you don’t find the story compelling or the acting magnificent it’s hard not to be impressed by just how good the film looks.
This 2.40.1 VC-1 encoded 1080p high definition transfer of The Deer Hunter is very good. This has always been a pretty dark looking film and this release replicates that nicely, and if shadow detail isn’t always perfect, it’s usually quite impressive. Close up shots show a lot of great facial detail while medium and long distance shots let us take in all the grit and grime of the different locations used on the shoot. Colors are reproduced with a very lifelike look, never oversaturated or boosted, and contrast looks right. Skin looks like skin, there are no heavy noise reduction or filtering issues to complain about (some minor DNR is evident, however) nor is there much in the way of edge enhancement or compression artifacting of note. The film is still a gritty, grainy looking beast, but the large bit rate and higher resolution that the Blu-ray format offers makes it much easier to appreciate on a visual level.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on this disc is solid, as it really brings the sound mix to life nicely. Dialogue is crisp and clear and there are some impressive moments where the rear channels fill things in nicely, the scene where the helicopter flies over the soldiers in the river being a perfect example. Bass response is strong but not overpowering and the levels are properly balanced throughout. There weren’t any noticeable moments where hiss or distortion crept in, and all in all things sound very good here. An optional English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is included on the disc as is a Spanish language track in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono with subtitles available in English SDH, French and Spanish.
Extras are carried over from the previous Universal Studios North American DVD release, starting with an informative commentary track from cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and film journalist Bob Fisher. It’s a decent track and Fisher keeps Zsigmond on point for most of its running time. There are a lot of interesting stories here about the location shoots and about working with the various cast and crew members and it’s definitely worth a listen, particularly if you have an interest in the technical side of filmmaking.
Aside from that, the same fifteen minutes worth of outtakes and extended takes that we’ve seen before are included here again as is the film’s theatrical trailer. The only thing ‘new’ here is the 100 Years Of Universal: Academy Award Winners featurette that has been included on a lot of the recent Universal 100th Anniversary releases that have come out so far. There were a lot more extras included on the UK release of the film, including a commentary with the director, but those were not carried over to this disc.
The Final Word:
A grim portrait of the psychological effects of war, The Deer Hunter is depressing, but never the less completely engaging. It’s extremely well acted and directed and Universal has done a nice job bringing it to Blu-ray.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!