The Deer Hunter appears in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Not too many concerns popped up in this generally strong transfer.
Actually, I can only pick out one moderate problem: edge enhancement. Throughout the movie, I noticed minor haloes. These didn’t seem to affect sharpness, though, as the film demonstrated very good delineation. A few wider shots came across as slightly soft, but not to a significant or distracting degree. Some shimmering popped up at times, but I saw no jagged edges. Except for shots that used archival material – mostly in Vietnam - source flaws were quite minor. A speck or two appeared but nothing else.
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 accurate and well-defined. Blacks were deep and tight, while shadows were decent to good. Some low-light shots were a bit dim, but not badly so. Overall, this was a very satisfying transfer.
The image of this DVD also improved radically on the terrible presentation of the 1998 DVD. Virtually every aspect of the transfer got an upgrade, as the new one was tighter, brighter, cleaner and smoother. It looked like a different film, and in a good way.
On the other hand, the dsahdkjshdkasd soundtrack of this Deer Hunter was pretty similar to the Dolby Surround 2.0 audio of the prior disc. In practical terms, “Logic 7” translated into a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. That’s what the DVD player and my receiver displayed, so there you go!
As with the Dolby Surround 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. 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 remained 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, and a few lines became difficult to comprehend. 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.
That was an improvement from the “B-“ I gave to the Dolby Surround mix, largely because the “Logic 7” track was a little clearer. Both showed similar strengths and weaknesses, but I thought the new mix demonstrated slightly stronger definition and breadth. There wasn’t a world of difference, but look to the “Logic 7” mix as the more dynamic of the two.
For this new two-disc “Legacy Series” release, The Deer Hunter gets a few supplements. On DVD One, 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 I listened to the commentary, the less impressive Fisher became. 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. He also sometimes doesn’t understand basic aspects of the story, and I occasionally questioned whether he’d ever seen the film! At times, Fisher helps prod Szigmond and gets him to chat, but usually he annoyed me 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.
Moving to DVD Two, the main attraction comes from a collection of Extended and Deleted Scenes. These last a total of 16 minutes and 56 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 some fine text production notes. And that’s it! They added a second disc for a trailer, some text and less than 17 minutes of alternate takes? That makes little sense to me; this is the most superfluous DVD Two I’ve seen in quite some time.
While The Deer Hunter is viewed with high regard by many, it did little for me. The film was too long and lacked strong characterizations; too much of the movie seemed like self-indulgent artistry. The DVD provides very good picture plus pretty solid audio. The supplements are decidedly lackluster; despite a clueless interviewer, the audio commentary has some good information, but the second disc is nearly useless.
I don’t like The Deer Hunter so I can’t recommend it as a blind buy; a rental would be worthwhile for those who like to see Oscar-winning flicks, though. Fans of the movie will definitely want to grab this “Legacy Series” release. Despite disappointing extras, it radically improves the picture quality of the original DVD, and that makes it worthwhile even for those who own the prior disc.