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“The Deer Hunter: Legacy Series”
Reviewed by: Wayne A. Klein
Genre: Drama
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Languages English
Subtitles English, Spanish
Length 185 minutes
Rating R
Release Date 9/6/05
Studio Universal Home Entertainment
Commentary: Vilmos Zsigmond with journalist Robert Fisher
Documentaries: None
Featurettes: None
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: Theatrical trailer
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: Extended and deleted scenes
Music Video: None
Other: Production notes
Cast and Crew: Robert De Niro, John Savage, Christopher Walken, John Cazale, Meryl Streep, George Dzundza, Shirley Stoler, Chuck Aspegren, Rutanya Alda
Written By: Deric Washburn based on a story by Michael Cimino, Washburn, Louis Garfinkle and Quinn K. Redeker
Produced By: Michael Cimino and Michael Deeley
Directed By: Michael Cimino
Music: Stanley Myers
The Review:

When I first saw “The Deer Hunter” it was clear to me that director Michael Cimino was trying to invest the same epic, near mythic quality in his film that Francis Ford Coppola did with “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II”. The narrative structure of the film from the opening elaborate sequence of a wedding that clearly echoes Coppola’s efforts in “The Godfather” to the final Russian roulette sequence has all the right lyrical visual moments in the right place but the message and meaning seem out of touch with the visual side of the film. I walked out of the movie perplexed at the ending which seemed empty of any irony and while the film is visually stunning subtly clearly is not Cimino’s forte. I hadn’t seen the film since 1978 outside of watching snippets of it when it premiered on network TV until I watched his DVD. What’s interesting is that my initial impression of the film still remains the same; “The Deer Hunter” has all the trappings of an epic saga about working class stiffs serving and surviving in the horror of Vietnam but with all the dots connected. Cimino seems insistent on making everything obvious to the audience without any touch of subtly and spelling out his lessons although the meaning is still less than clear. Cimino has the visual gift as a storyteller but lacks the depth that the tale calls for. That doesn’t imply that “The Deer Hunter” is a bad movie; it just plays it safe all too often by regurgitating the same old spiel that’s made every war movie from the 1930’s on successful with an audience. The ending is completely out of left field and while consistent with the “traditional” values of war films at the core of this film given the brutality that we’ve seen, it just doesn’t work. My opinion aside on thestory, etc., if you’re a fan of this movie this is the edition to pick up. ***

Three buddies Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken in his Academy Award winning performance) and Steve (John Savage) enlist to fight in the Vietnam War. Michael and his buddies go out hunting shortly before they’re set to go to basic training and renew their bond of friendship. After being separated during the war, the three meet up again when they are taken prisoners of the Viet Cong. The three along with their other prisoners of war amuse their captors by playng a deadly game of Russian roulette (a transparent metaphor later for the psychological trauma of the war and its effects on all of its victims). When Michael returns from Vietnam he discovers that Steve has psychologically never left Vietnam and he’s determined to save him from the past that haunts him. ---

Image and Sound: A top notch transfer for “The Deer Hunter” with vivid colors, sharp images and great fine detail highlights this DVD release. “The Deer Hunter” looks better here than in any previously available home video edition. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography received justifiable accolades upon the release of this film and it’s easy to see why in this handsome transfer. The 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround mix puts you right in the middle of a wedding or the bush depending upon what part of the film you’re watching. ---
The Extras:

I’m a bit surprised at how little there is in the way of extras here particularly when compared to other Oscar winners in the Legacy Series. We get deleted and extended scenes but they look like variations on scenes that were included in the film. The image quality here is so-so as it’s clear these were drawn from a work-in-progress print of the film. We also get the original theatrical trailer which shows how bad this DVD presentation could have been. There’s also some production notes included as well. ---

Commentary: Vilmos Zsigmond provides the commentary track aided by journalist Bob Fisher who prompts Zsigmond to provide one of the best commentary tracks he’s ever done. We learn about the rigors of shooting on location, some the changes that had to be made at the last minute to the script to accomplish the scenes that Cimino envisioned. It’s a good commentary track and worth a listen for film fans. ---
Final Words: I’ve always had mixed feelings about Cimino’s film. After all the critical praise the film received in 1978, I went in expecting to be transported (something that did happen with Coppola’s chaotic but powerful “Apocalypse Now”) but left the theater dumbfounded as to why the film received all the awards it did. While the acting of Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage and Meryl Streep is outstanding the film seems little more than a series of set pieces strung together. Cimino paints by the numbers here spelling out all his metaphors and meanings in the film as if he doesn’t think the audience is capable enough to figure them out or themselves (he may have a point but you should never pander). Nevertheless, fans of the film will enjoy this marvelous transfer. As to why it’s in a two disc edition, you’re guess is as good as mine as the material on disc two is minimal.

 

 
 
 
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