'The Deer Hunter' comes to Blu-ray with an interesting 1080p, VC-1 encoded transfer that's framed accurately in the 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. I use the term 'interesting' as it appears to be mostly faithful to the image quality that the director originally intended. The opening sequence in the steel town in Pennsylvania looks gritty and grey. The sombre grey sky is crawling with grain, but it is pin sharp. As we cut to the interior of the steel mill, the grain lessens and the image comes alive with the warm orange/yellow glow of the molten steel as the furnace is unplugged and it runs down a gulley. The American tanned skin tones of the characters are lit by the ambient glows around them.
The mountain shots during the deer hunt look beautiful, with a rich colour palette, incredible depth and reduced grain.
On the cut to the jungle sequence we see that the grain has been amplified again caused by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond 'pushing' the film stock by 2 stops and then having it force processed by the Lab. The colour and contrast is also heightened, yet in some deep shadow areas of some shots there is grey instead of black - no doubt caused by the force processing. Where 35mm film is intercut with 16mm news footage you can see that it has been desaturated to make it cut together without jarring.
Throughout the film there is no evidence of ringing caused by overuse of the sharpening tool and no obvious use of DNR.
What we get is a very effective transfer that accurately conveys the intended look of the film. It's not one that extols the beauty of High Definition, but it would have been wrong to process the image to achieve a smooth, clean look. If you wanted to be precious about it you could say that it would have been like giving the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome a coat of magnolia emulsion. That would have offended a lot of people too.
The word is 'interesting'.
The audio on 'The Deer Hunter' is somewhat of a can of worms. The remixed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track sounded a bit odd to me as I listened to John Williams' guitar solo of 'Cavatina' over the opening credits. It seemed musically sharp to me and not how I remembered it. I think the music remained in the charts for rather a long time back in 1978 and this must have imprinted on me. A fellow reviewer (thanks Ger) helped point me at a potential explanation for this. It's possible that this track was produced by taking a 25fps PAL DVD soundtrack, digitally stretching it to fit the 24fps run length of the movie although nothing was done to correct the pitch.
Whatever the cause it's a bit of a shame, however there is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track on the disc which has the correct pitch and is closest to the original stereo mix that was used on the cinema release. Okay, I know that would have been Dolby Stereo but we've got what we've got.
Generally, I found both mixes to be front weighted. The audio in the Wedding reception sequence is muddy and you have to strain your ears to make out the dialogue above the Band and party noise. However, you do hear what you're meant to hear. The rest of the film has generally clear dialogue, although it is not closely mic'd and there is ambient noise - but this is part of the documentary feel.
The explosions and gunfire caused my subwoofer to wake up for a while during the jungle sequence and individual revolver shots make you jump during the Russian Roulette. Not really a winner with audiophiles but representative of the source.
For a newcomer to the film, the bonus material sheds light on why the film looks the way it does and what the director's intentions were - so they are worth their weight in gold. None of it is frivolous 'puff' and so is required viewing for true film buffs.
- Presentation by Mickey Rourke (SD, 2 mins 37s)
In this edited interview, actor Mickey Rourke explains the impact that 'The Deer Hunter' had upon him. He also explains what he learned from Robert De Niro concerning his focussed approach to acting when he appeared with him in 'Angel Heart'.
- Vietnam War - Unknown Images (SD, 47 mins)
This is a French documentary with optional English subtitles comprising film footage that was uncovered 22 years after the Vietnam War ended. Some 20,000 reels of shots with clapperboards still intact had been censored for violent images and, indeed, there are several horrific (though thankfully short) shots in this doco. It brings home to the viewer that this isn't the result of Hollywood effects work, this is real life and real people who are wounded, dying or dead as a result of war. Some of it is not pretty. This actually happened during my lifetime.
- Realising 'The Deer Hunter' (SD, 23 mins)
In this interview, Michael Cimino (fag in hand) explains the trials and tribulations involved in bringing the movie to the screen. He covers the difficulties in getting the finance, problems with the original scriptwriter, having to take De Niro to visit the locations before he would agree to star in the film as well as some of the dangerous stunt work in the jungle. He details the film's structure and why he used the Russian Roulette sequences to make a point. There's a lot of fascinating stuff here.
- Shooting 'The Deer Hunter' (SD, 15 mins)
Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond tells us what it was like working on the project with Cimino and what he had to do, in a very down to earth way, to translate the director's vision into footage. He explains the problems faced filming on location as well as a very clear description of what he did to achieve the required look in camera.
For those interested in the practical aspect of shooting film, this is gold dust.
- Playing 'The Deer Hunter' (SD, 15 mins)
Actor John Savage, who played Steve in the movie, tells us how as a child he witnessed his own father's emotional and psychological damage caused by war. About the production, he explains how the film unit mixed with the community while filming in Pennsylvania and how they had to deal with the explosions and river dangers while filming in Thailand.
- Audio Commentary
Michael Cimino is interviewed by American Film critic and historian F. X. Feeney as the film plays. This is far more interesting than the director flying solo as Feeney asks questions we'd like to ask Cimino ourselves. We get some amusing anecdotes as well as the problems around funding, location filming and his obvious respect for the actors.
The film raises a lot of questions in the mind and here we get the answers from the horse's mouth.
- Trailer (SD, 3 mins)
The original theatrical trailer shows how the movie was marketed back in 1978.
The multi-Oscar winning 'The Deer Hunter' comes to Region free Blu-ray with a 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer that is presented in the theatrically correct 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The transfer faithfully reproduces the director's visual intent in that we have a very grainy image in places, with fluctuating colour and contrast levels. This is how the film is supposed to look so we should be grateful that nobody has attempted to change it.
The remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track suffers from a lift in pitch, most noticeable in John Williams' instrumental of 'Cavatina' as it plays over the main titles, so the most accurate and authentic track is the DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix which is also included. Dialogue fights with background noise in places but generally the front weighted audio is acceptable for a film of this vintage. Gunfire and explosions make you jump.
The accompanying featurettes and audio commentary are excellent as they explain why the film looks the way it does and why various cinematic devices were used in the storytelling.
A thought provoking film on the effect of war on communities and people. Not for the squeamish.
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- Presentation by Mickey Rourke (SD, 2 mins 37s)