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“Duel”
Reviewed by: Wayne A. Klein
Genre: Thriller
Video: 1.33:1 Full screen
Audio: Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, mono
Languages English
Subtitles English
Length 91 minutes
Rating PG
Release Date 8/17/04
Studio Universal Home Video
Commentary: None
Documentaries: None
Featurettes: “Spielberg on Making Duel”, “Spielberg and The Small Screen”, “Richard Matheson on Writing Duel”
Filmography/Biography: Cast & filmmaker bios
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: Original theatrical trailer
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: None
Music Video: None
Other: Photo & poster gallery, Production Notes
Cast and Crew: Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott, Eddie Firestone, Lou Frizzel, Carey Loftin
Written By: Richard Matheson based on his published story
Produced By: George Eckstein
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Music: Billy Goldenberg
The Review:

Hard to believe Steven Spielberg was only 23 when he made this great thriller. "Duel" has the assured hand of a veteran film director and while Spielberg had been directing television programs ("The Name of the Game", "Night Gallery" among many others), he had yet to make his big screen theatrical debut (that would follow in a couple of years with “The Sugarland Express”). "Duel" made it all possible. It’s surprising this has taken so long to come to DVD. “Duel” was supposed to be released by Universal nearly two years ago. All I can assume is that Spielberg wasn’t pleased with the quality of the print or that Universal wanted to add more extras to make this more attractive for DVD. ***

Based on Richard Matheson's fine short story and original screenplay, "Duel" was part of ABC's ambitious efforts to produce original movies of the week. Others included the Ted post thriller "Night Slaves"(1970) and "Killdozer"(1974)(based on Ted Sturgeon's short story and, although not as memorable, it was a fine TV movie and influenced a certain Stephen King on his directorial debut as well for "Maximum Overdrive"). Dennis Weaver stars as a David Mann (as generic a name and universal as possible with some interesting biblical references as well) returning home after a long period on the road. He passes the driver of a big rig truck. Roadrage takes effect and this mysterious driver (we never see his face) like Spielberg's shark in "Jaws" irrationally hunts the man in this game of cat and mouse trying to kill him. The production values aren't high for the film (it's set in the middle of nowhere and really involves just a single actor for much of the movie)but the editing by Frank Morris and music by creepy music by Billy Goldenberg slather on additional tension to an already tightly wound movie. Goldenberg’s unconventional score (particularly for TV) echoes the approach that Bernard Herrmann used in some of his most distinctive scores including “Psycho” and Jerry Goldsmith in “Planet of the Apes”. ---

Image and Sound: Universal has done a spectacular job on this DVD release. The beautiful rich colors and solid blacks are only outdone by the sharp and virtually blemish free print used. Clearly a lot of work went into restoring the film for DVD release. The soundtrack is presented in both a new 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix and the original mono soundtrack. ---
The Extras:

The original version of “Duel” produced for ABC’s “Movie of the Week” ran about 73 minutes. The previously available home video versions (and the later versions of the film that have run on various stations through the years) have all use the 90 minute European theatrical cut. When Spielberg went back to lengthen the film for theatrical release he came up with a number of sequences including the long title sequence at the beginning and a sequence involving Dennis Weaver being rammed by the truck as the driver is trying to force his car into an oncoming train. I mention this only because DVD has the capacity to include both the original 73 minute version and the 90 using technology similar to the “Alien” DVD special editions. It would have made sense to include both versions of the film. ***

The special features on this DVD are still great. We get a 30 minute discussion by Spielberg about the making of the movie, the process he went through to get the job and the techniques he used to create the effect of the menacing truck. Spielberg also discusses the casting of Dennis Weaver. An under rated actor, Dennis Weaver ("Gunsmoke" and "McCloud" among many other TV programs)gives a performance that turns from thoughtful to animalistic rage within the course of an hour and a half. Universal has also included a great short featurette on Spielberg’s brief career as a TV director. Spielberg discusses the difficulty he faced getting jobs because of his young age but also discusses the techniques he used as a film director that made his TV episodes of “Marcus Welby, MD”, “Columbo” , “Night Gallery” (which, despite the advertising on this box was his directorial debut) and other shows. ***

We also get a photo gallery including international posters for the movie. The production notes and cast & filmmakers bios are all in text format. We also get the unusual international theatrical trailer for the movie. ---

Commentary: There’s no commentary track but that’s par for the course with a Spielberg film. However, the discussion with Spielberg on the making of the film more than makes up for this. ---
Final Words: This film pointed the way to "Jaws" and Spielberg's first theatrical film the road movie "The Sugarland Express" featuring Goldie Hawn. Packed with rock solid DVD extras including a discussion on the making of “Duel” with Spielberg the suspenseful direction and nicely paced editing make this a memorable first “movie” from Spielberg. You'll be pulled in immediately from the first five minutes of this taunt thriller.

 

 
 
 
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