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Michael Cimino
Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Cazale, John Savage, George Dzundza, Chuck Aspegren, Shirley Stoler, Rutanya Alda, Pierre Segui
Writing Credits:
Michael Cimino (story), Louis Garfinkle (story), Quinn K. Redeker (story), Deric Washburn (story & screenplay)

Winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and one of AFI's Top 100 Films Of All Time, The Deer Hunter follows a group of Pennsylvania steelworkers from their blue-collar lives, hunting in the woods of the Alleghenies, to the hells of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Academy Award winners Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken star in this unforgettable saga of friendship and courage. Experience the brutality of war and the depths of emotional strain on the human spirit in this all-new special edition.

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

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 183 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 9/6/2005

Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Cinematographer Vilmos Szigmond and Film Journalist Bob Fisher
Disc Two
• Deleted and Extended Scenes
• Production Notes
• Talent Bios
• Theatrical Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Deer Hunter: Legacy Series (1978)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 14, 2005)

Sometimes there are movies I want to see but never quite get around to doing so. The Deer Hunter long belonged to that category. I was a bit young to see it during its original theatrical release in 1978, but it's been a film I've always intended to see on home video but just never did until I finally rented it a few years ago.

Actually, I almost saw it 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. What I do remember is that the film apparently ran unedited. Since I didn't get all the way to the end, I can't say if the pieces of graphic violence were still there, and I don't recall if the language made it through - though I think it did - but what did stick with me was the sight of Robert De Niro romping naked through the streets. Bobby De Niro's schlong - there's something I never expected to see on my local Fox affiliate!

It's 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 may have 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.

The length of the movie really becomes its greatest weakness. That's not simply because it's three hours long; there are plenty of films that length that I really like. The problem stems not from the amount of time but from the way in which the time is spent. Director Michael Cimino made a tremendously self-indulgent film that apparently had no editor. 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 way and I might have bagged it.

Please 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 were intended to establish the characters and their relationships with each other, but we didn't need an hour to do so. Imagine if the wedding scene in The Godfather lasted more than twice as long than its current 25 minutes or so and think how annoying that might have been. In less than half the time, that segment of The Godfather introduces more complex characters and actually fits in some story points. The opening third of Hunter just seems like the work of a director captivated with his ability to film whatever he wants; he 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 lacked 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; they all seemed 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 seemed one-dimensional and uninteresting to me, which made it more difficult for me to get involved in their further experiences.

I also felt that Cimino simply tried too hard much of the time. Too many moments in the picture are such obvious attempts for "meaningful imagery" that they seemed 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, but in viewed almost 30 years after its release, The Deer Hunter doesn't know when to stop, which leaves it as a weak portrait of war and its consequences.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8297 Stars Number of Votes: 47
3 3:
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