“Because they're buildin' a dam across the Cahulawassee River; they're gonna flood a whole valley, Bobby, that's why. Dammit, they're drownin' a river; they're drownin' a river, man.”
It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to see John Boorman’s cinematic adaptation of James Dickey’s Deliverance with fresh eyes. After 40 years of hype and hoopla, four decades of various subsequent motion pictures stealing its ideas for comedy, horror, drama and all things in-between, with so many films and television programs paying it homage, it’s difficult to talk about the film on its own merits and not as some sort of long-lasting cultural phenomenon.
At the same time, even with much of the shock and awe diluted over the years thanks to the reasons already mentioned, Deliverance still packs a mighty mean wallop. The saga of four friends on a weekend canoe trip down the Cahulawassee River meeting with spectacularly tragic results, the movie is a humanistic litmus test concerning the tenuous moral fiber that makes us who we are. It presents nihilistic and nasty situations, asks its characters to make incredibly difficult choices and then leaves the viewer to stew on the majority of them with few, if any, answers at all.
As the foursome heading down the river, Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty give arguably the best performances of their entire careers. Honestly, it’s hard to think when any of the latter three have been better, and while Voight has Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home on his resume I’m still hard-pressed to believe those two performances, while remarkable, are all that much better than his work here.
Boorman handles everything with remarkable confidence. Every scene feels natural, building to its natural, devastatingly horrific conclusion. He keeps the ambiguity of the situation the quartet find themselves in intimate and palpable, never letting them or the audience off of the hook as things build from one scene to the next. While what happens to the group is beyond comprehension (and, while I’m not going to get into it here, it isn’t like we all don’t know where ‘squeal like a pig’ comes from and what those words mean when taken in context) how they react to it is almost equally so, leading to a moral firestorm of questions and answers that’s as unsettling as it is hypnotic.
Deliverance is a classic, make no bones about it. It is a movie that has only gotten better, more resonate, more devastating, as the years have gone by, and as beautiful as the cinematography by the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) is, and as indelible as many of the moments are (‘Dueling Banjos,’ anyone?) it is the film as a whole that continues to impress. While it will never have the same immediate impact upon audiences that it did upon initial release 40 long years ago, the fact it is still as impactful as it is says something, making it an immortal masterwork sure to inspire future generations as much as it has already done the same for those both yesterday and today.
Deliverance is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1080p 2.40:1 transfer. For once, Warner didn’t just go through the motions great depth, solid blacks, an amazing array of colors and striking clarity. While the image does tend to go a bit flat a time or two (especially early on), this can be attributed more to the source material than it can anything else. A superior transfer that Warner can be proud of, this is the Deliverance we’ve been waiting for since Blu-ray came of age.
Deliverance rides the rapids onto Blu-ray in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 along with a plethora of additional audio option and includes English SDH, Spanish, French and numerous other subtitle options. This is the same audio presentation from the previously released disc, and it’s just as solidly impressive as that track was.
The majority of the extras are all ported over from the previous release and include John Boorman’s Audio Commentary as well as the excellent four-part nearly 60 minute Making-Of Retrospective Documentary which includes interviews with all the major participants. Also returning are the Vintage Featurette “The Dangerous World of Deliverance” as well as the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer.
There are a couple of new items, however, and the main one is a doozy. Deliverance: The Cast Looks Back is a nearly 30-minute featurette revolving around Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox and Ned Betty sitting down to discuss their time making the film 40 long years ago. Full of numerous insights not found in either the audio commentary or the retrospective doc, this wonderful little extra is a jovial good time fans of the movie won’t want to miss.
The additional new extra is Warner’s DigiBook Packaging, and as always the studio has outdone themselves, presenting a collectible Blu-ray worthy of going over a waterfall to get one’s hands on.
Deliverance is still a vital, thought-provoking drama that only seems to get better with age. Warner’s new DigiBook presentation of the film borders on essential, making it one of the few titles worth the price of an upgrade for those who already own the subpar 2007 Blu-ray release.
Interview with actor Ronny Cox by Sara Michelle Fetters