John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972) manages to remain convincing and haunting 35 years after its original theatrical release because the thematic principals which made it so are timeless. It involves man against man; himself; and nature or the unknown. It is mostly flawless in direction, cinematography and acting, and the story, based on James Dickey’s novel of the same name, works on levels of action/adventure, thriller and horror with enough human drama and tough moral debate to bring realism into the fold. Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight are in top form and all characters do well to create an interesting dynamic alongside one another: Voight’s ‘Ed’ as the center-weight who must overcome any indecision; Reynold’s ‘Lewis’, a brooding tough guy who loses his power and command; Ronnie Cox playing, in his film debut, the sensitive and moral ‘Drew’ and Ned Beatty as ‘Bobbie’, also in his first film role–a rather brave debut. In fact, watching Beatty in any subsequent roles, it can be hard to get past remembering the ubiquitously referenced, often satirized rape scene and the immortal lines which accompany it. This scene, though directly and explicitly referenced in Pulp Fiction, remains as shocking as ever–as do the ‘mountain people’ themselves. We are forced to ponder these pockets of a throwback civilization, inhabiting the Appalachians, and, ultimately, Deliverance has done for inbred hillbillies and its theme music, “Duelling Banjoes”, exactly what Jaws did for sharks. No small feat, and its Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Film Editing and Best Director attest to this.
Deliverance was previously released on DVD in 1999; but this is a far superior edition and well worth the upgrade. The transfer is much cleaner than the ‘99 edition, and much of the natural scenery appears in beautiful rich tones–the forest comes through lush green and the sun appears glorious and warm, dappled on the river. Before ‘the incident’ it appears as a sort of Eden and a refuge. There is one scene that seems to be irreparable however–the ‘cliff scene’ in the final third of the movie, with its terrible day-for-night, actually comes off looking like a tacky “Photoshop for beginners” superimposition. The film is presented in its 2.35:1 aspect ratio and anamorphically enhanced for wide-screen.
The special features are outstanding, with an insightful four part retrospective, featuring Boorman and the film’s stars, as well as James Dickey’s son speaking on behalf of his late father. Most, if not all inquiries are thoroughly covered and answered here, and the controversial aspects are well examined.
Also excellent is the intelligent and captivating director’s commentary with John Boorman. The man has much enthusiasm for the film regarded by most as his best, and it shows. Very interesting.
The DVD also contains the amusing vintage featurette which was included on Warner’s ‘99 edition, along with the original theatrical trailer.
Certainly Boorman’s best film, and a classic which held its own alongside many other master works of the 70’s, and continues to do so today. Everything one could hope for in a DVD