"The brown current ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness, bearing us down towards the sea with twice the speed of our upward progress..." --Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
James Dickey's novel Deliverance--which the author adapted with filmmaker John Boorman--humbles four weekend warriors by putting them face to face with punishingly indifferent nature, man's inhumanity to man, and their own primal nature, unleashed outside the bounds of urban society. Boorman's interpretation of the material resulted in an American cinematic classic built not only on shock and awe, but emotional subtlety.
Atlanta businessmen Lewis (Burt Reynolds), Ed (Jon Voight), Bobby (Ned Beatty) and Drew (Ronny Cox) embark together on a river run in the wild of Northern Georgia. Gung ho Lewis is a true adrenaline junkie, and it doesn't take much to stoke Ed's own desire to live it up by testing himself among the elements (Bobby and Drew are game enough, but considerably more circumspect). Be careful what you wish for: Deliverance is a parable of the hubris of the adventurer, who pits man against wild "because it's there." Before long, the friends face an archetypal terror of powerlessness that puts their lives and perhaps their souls in mortal danger, forever changing them.
To say more to one who has never experienced the story would be criminal, though the movie has long since become a part of the American pop-cultural vernacular. Most famous is the early scene, at the border of civilization, where the four men and the rural locals rub each other all the wrong ways and one, brief right way: Drew's guitar-picking duet with a banjo-wielding boy (Billy Redden)--the immortal "Dueling Banjos," by Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith. Here, Dickey and Boorman establish the motif that wordless communication speaks the loudest: actions define the human animal, and we're more likely to sniff each other with suspicion than find reasons to trust. The urban and rural dwellers are natural enemies, looking upon each other with disdain and condescension.
But most of the story plays out along the river, its undiscernable fathoms paralleling the strange depths of male bonding. To some degree, the friends "pull together in a crisis," but each has his own existential crisis of character, tested on moral, mental, physical, and metaphysical grounds; so too is their superficial sense of masculinity, painfully laughed at by Mother Nature, tested. By journey's end, they share a silent agreement on the horror of existence, but also a tacit understanding that they've proven their fitness by survival. Of course, the story also excels as an adventure: thrilling filmed in the elements, with the actors performing most of the stunts and experiencing the narrative in chronological sequence, Deliverance achieves true grit.
Warner re-delivers Deliverance to Blu-ray in a Digibook special edition that upgrades the audio to lossless and adds a brand-new half-hour interview with the cast. The hi-def transfer here appears to be the same as on the previous Blu-ray release. It's a more-than-reasonable reasonable transfer of problematic material: a definite upgrade from standard-def DVD, retaining a film-like look and familiar sights testifying to the picture's fidelity to the source, from the muted color to the soft aspect of Vilmos Zsigmond's photography. The biggest distractions are black crush and other occasional noise, but without a full restoration, this film won't be looking any more finely resolved (and it looks quite good). The A/V news about this edition is the replacement of lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 with a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix that retains the character of the monaural source material while using thoughtful discrete separation to create a more immersive surround experience.
The beaut of a digibook comes with a signifcant new bonus feature: "Deliverance: The Cast Remembers" (29:52, HD). Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, and Ronny Cox share a 40th Anniversary reunion at the Burt Reynolds Museum in Jupiter, Florida. Their intimate chat covers how each was cast, the bonds between the principal cast, the colorful supporting cast, memorable moments from the film and anecdotes from the production, and reactions to the finished film.
This edition also retains the very interesting (if a little spotty) commentary by director John Boorman. An excellent, thorough one-hour retrospective documentary comes in four parts: "Deliverance: The Beginning" (16:44, SD), "Deliverance: The Journey" (13:04, SD), "Deliverance: Betraying the River" (14:37, SD), and "Deliverance: Delivered" (10:37, SD). Interviewees include Voight, Reynolds, Beatty, Cox, Boorman, Bill McKinney; cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, and James Dickey's son Chris Dickey. "The Dangerous World of Deliverance" (10:13, SD) is a vintage featurette shot on location in north Georgia, and we also get the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:52, SD).
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