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Michael Cimino
Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Cazale, John Savage
Writing Credits:
Deric Washburn

An in-depth examination of the ways in which the U.S. Vietnam War impacts and disrupts the lives of people in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania.

Box Office:
$15 million.
Domestic Gross
$49.00 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
Spanish Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 183 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 3/6/2012

• Audio Commentary with Cinematographer Vilmos Szigmond and Film Journalist Bob Fisher
• Deleted and Extended Scenes
• “100 Years of Universal” Featurette
• Theatrical Trailer
• DVD Copy


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


The Deer Hunter [Blu-Ray] (1978)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 9, 2017)

Sometimes I want to see a movie but never quite get around to doing so, and 1978’s The Deer Hunter long belonged to that category. I was a bit young to see it during its original theatrical release, but I always intended to see on home video - I just never did so until I finally rented it in the early 2000s.

Actually, I almost saw Hunter around 1982 when it was broadcast over two nights on syndicated TV. I watched the first hour or so but for reasons I don’t recall, I didn't see the rest.

It becomes a bit of a challenge to see something that one's heard about for so long, especially since so many of the reactions were overwhelmingly positive. While it's entirely possible these preconceived notions affected my opinion of Hunter, I honestly think they didn't really matter as I watched the film itself. Whether related to my expectations or not, I found Hunter to be an overly-long and generally dull film that's punctuated only by some overwrought scenes of drama.

Set in 1967, the film follows three young men who live in small town Pennsylvania: Mike Vronsky (Robert De Niro), Nick Chevotarevich (Christopher Walken) and Steven Pushkov (John Savage). All three work together at a local steel mill, and all enlist to fight in Vietnam – but not until after Steven marries longtime girlfriend Angela (Rutanya Alda).

After the nuptials – and a final pre-military hunting trip – the men ship out to Vietnam. We observe their actions there as well as the long-term impact that hangs over them.

Though it comes with a mix of concerns, the running time of Hunter really becomes its greatest weakness. That's not simply because it's three hours long, as plenty of films that length work fine.

The problem stems not from the amount of time but from the way in which the movie spends it. Director Michael Cimino made a tremendously self-indulgent film that apparently had no editor, so scenes just go on and on well past the point of sensibility.

Part of my impatience may have stemmed from the fact I knew this was essentially a film about the Vietnam War but our characters don't get there until more than a third of the way through the movie. I continually waited for the preliminary scenes to end and for the substance of the story to start.

However, I don't think the situation would have been any better if I'd gone into Hunter without foreknowledge of the Vietnam elements. If I had to sit through that first hour without any idea of what was to come I don't know if I could have made it. The initial third of the picture so badly meanders that I would have wondered if the whole project would stay that way and I might have bailed.

Excuse my perseveration, but I still can't quite get over how much I disliked the first third of Hunter. I understand that these scenes intend to establish the characters and their relationships with each other, but we don't need an hour to do so.

Imagine if the wedding scene in The Godfather lasted more than twice as long than its actual 25 minutes or so and think how annoying that might have been. In less than half the time, The Godfather introduces more complex characters and actually fits in some story points.

On the other hand, the opening third of Hunter just seems like the work of a director captivated with his ability to film whatever he wants. Cimino enjoyed the spectacle of what he had created and couldn't bear to cut any of it.

Did my lack of interest in the first third of the film sour the rest of it for me? Perhaps, though I'm not entirely sure that I would have liked Hunter even with a tighter opening segment.

The characters simply lack personality and spark for me, and that would have been the case no matter what. I really developed little of a feel for these guys, as they all seem like crude, obnoxious boors who just get drunk a lot, shoot animals and call each other names.

Yeah, I know that's a popular interpretation for who "guys" are, but it doesn't make for compelling cinema. These characters seem one-dimensional and uninteresting to me, which makes it more difficult for me to get involved in their further experiences.

I also feel that Cimino simply tried too hard much of the time. Too many moments in the picture offer such obvious attempts at "meaningful imagery" that they seem overly pretentious.

In the wedding scene, newlyweds Steven and Linda are told they'll ensure happiness if they don't spill any of their joined containers of wine. Of course, Linda does, and we see the drops fall on her dress. The film also concludes with a dispirited rendition of "God Bless America" from the remaining friends.

Okay, Michael, we get it: war stinks and no one emerges from it unscathed. Hunter tries so hard to show us the negative effects of war that it simply overdoes it - I didn't find the experience harrowing or numbing so much as just dull.

Had I seen the film in 1978 - when this kind of picture was much fresher - I might have felt differently. When viewed almost 40 years after its release, however, The Deer Hunter doesn't know when to stop, which leaves it as a weak portrait of war and its consequences.

The Disc Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

The Deer Hunter appears in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Superficially, the movie looked great – but I’m not sure it’s supposed to look great.

In terms of sharpness, the film demonstrated very good delineation. A few wider shots came across as slightly soft, but not to a significant or distracting degree. No shimmering or jagged edges appeared, and edge haloes stayed minor. Source flaws were absent.

Colors looked quite lively. These depended on the schemes used for the various scenes, of course, but I thought the tones consistently came across as broad and bold. Blacks were deep and tight, while shadows were usually good. Some low-light shots were a bit dim, but not badly so.

All that left us with an attractive transfer, but not one I’m sure represented the source accurately. I get the impression Deer Hunter should seem grittier than this, whereas the Blu-ray felt smoothed out and boosted. Maybe I’m wrong and the image offered a faithful representation of the movie, but I can’t help but think the movie was too bright ‘n’ shiny.

As for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, the forward soundstage was surprisingly broad and detailed, with a lot of action from the side channels and some excellent panning between speakers as well. This was inconsistent, though, so many of the audio-intensive Vietnam scenes sounded virtually monaural.

However, the track generally seemed roomier and wider than I'd expect from a film of this vintage. The surrounds offer some good reinforcement of music and effects as well, though their use seemed fairly modest.

Quality was a somewhat bigger concern. Dialogue had the most problems, as the lines sometimes sounded thin and lifeless. Some edginess also interfered, but overall intelligibility remained fine.

Effects seemed similarly wan at times, though they could also deliver some nice heft, such as in the steel mill scenes. Music sounded generally clear and smooth, though the score lacked depth. Though the quality of the audio was erratic, this soundtrack earned its "B" due to the range of the soundfield, which was very good for a film from 1978.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2005 “Legacy Series” DVD? Audio showed similar scope but came across as a bit clearer. Visuals showed improved tightness and delineation. I’m still not sure the image reproduced the source accurately, but it appeared to offer a step up when compared to the last DVD.

Most of the 2005 DVD’s extras repeat here, and we find an audio commentary with cinematographer Vilmos Szigmond and film journalist Bob Fisher. Both chat together for this running, screen-specific discussion.

Fisher acts as an interviewer, as he questions Szigmond about the movie. Other than praise, he doesn’t present his own thoughts or any interpretation of the film. He shows an iffy knowledge of various matters; he doesn’t know who actor John Cazale is, and he asks odd questions such as whether a scene was shot in Pittsburgh or in Pennsylvania.

Actually, the more one listens to the commentary, the less impressive Fisher becomes. He often asks Szigmond to tell us what’s happening in the movie, and that leads to a lot of simple narration of the flick.

Fisher also sometimes doesn’t understand basic aspects of the story, and I occasionally questioned whether he’d ever actually seen< the film! At times, Fisher helps prod Szigmond and gets him to chat, but usually he annoys with his inane questions.

As expected, Szigmond presents many notes about his job. He goes over camera angles, his love of the anamorphic format and framing, lighting and various photographic techniques.

Szigmond also gets into his collaboration with director Michael Cimino, working with actors and extras, locations and issues connected to them, rehearsal and improvisation, the use of archival footage, and other production topics. He’s surprisingly tolerant of Fisher’s pointless queries; I’d have bopped the guy in the nose before too long.

Szigmond offers enough good information to make this commentary useful, at least for a while. Dead air starts to dominate in the film’s second half, and Fisher’s questions get even dumber. Some decent notes still emerge during the final 90 minutes, but the best material pops up prior to that.

Next comes a collection of seven Extended and Deleted Scenes. These last a total of 16 minutes, 57 seconds. To call them “extended” or “deleted” seems a bit misleading, as they’re really in the category of alternate takes.

We see many stabs at the Russian roulette scenes plus a couple of others. It’s reasonably interesting to see the actors work through the pieces, but don’t expect any real cut sequences, as these all resemble material in the final film.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a new featurette called 100 Years of Universal: Academy Award Winners. It runs nine minutes, 35 seconds and offers an overview of some off the studio’s movies that took home Oscars. It’s entirely self-serving and comes with next to zero informational value.

While many view The Deer Hunter with high regard, it does little for me. The film runs too long and lacks strong characterizations, which means too much of the movie seems like self-indulgent artistry. The Blu-ray provides pretty good audio and of smattering of supplements along with visuals that may polish the source too much. This is still a fairly appealing presentation of a less than compelling movie.

To rate this film, visit the DVD review of THE DEER HUNTER

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