Plot: What’s it about?
David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is a salesman out on the road, traveling to California where he has business to attend to. He had a fight with his wife the night before, but he is starting to move on and the trip seems to be off to a good start. But then he winds up behind a massive tractor trailer, one that moves at a snail’s pace. Of course, he just pulls into the other lane and passes the truck, the same approach almost anyone would use. In truth, he doesn’t even give much thought to the truck, aside from the second or two as he passes. Then the truck driver speeds up, passes back in front of David’s car, then slows back down to a mere crawl. If he tries to pass again, David is unable to do so because of the driver’s tactics, which leaves him quite frustrated. As time passes, the truck driver gets more reckless in his attempts to scare David off the road, which leads to an eventual stop at a small town roadside cafe. David is so unnerved, he starts a fight with a man he thinks is the driver, only to discover he has made a mistake. He is thrown out of the cafe and returns to the road, with hopes for a smoother side the rest of the way to California. But instead, he is met by the driver once again, only this time the truck is even more aggressive. Can he somehow leave the truck behind, or will he be the one left in the dust?
This is where it all started for Steven Spielberg, before he raked in millions, became a cinema legend, and started to make dull motion pictures. His recent efforts have been mostly lackluster, but he used to be on fire and even in this, his directorial debut, Spielberg shows he can make a popcorn movie with the best in the business. Duel has a minimal amout of elements, just a scant few focal characters, a basic storyline, and little in terms of frills, yet it remains effective from start to finish, no simple task. A lot of films lean on complex plotlines, numerous characters, and exotic locations, only to fall short, so it is a feat that Duel is so effective. The main character is a normal person, just like anyone else, thrust into a tense and realistic situation, one that pushes him beyond his normal scope of comfort and safety. The result is that we can relate to him, since he is just an average person in a horrific situation. Just one man behind the wheel, an unknown driver who torments him, and the wide open roads ahead of both people. This is as simple as movies can get, but the depth and tension present are incredible. If you’re tired of overblown thrillers that resort to cheap twist endings, then return to Duel, as it provides much more satisfaction. Universal’s disc is terrific and since the movie rocks, Duel is given a high recommendation.
Video: How does it look?
Duel is presented in full frame, as intended. This is a made for television movie that is over three decades old, but Universal has ensured it looks up to snuff here. A lot of effort has went into this visual treatment, as the print looks much cleaner than I’ve ever seen, which really allows the visuals to come through. You’ll see a tad of debris and some light grain, but these never pose a problem or become a distraction. The image is crisp and sharp, so detail is better than ever before and the visuals have more depth and refinement also. This is just one impressive visual effort, so kudos to Universal.
Audio: How does it sound?
Universal has pulled out all of the stops in this section too, as we have new 5.1 soundtracks in Dolby Digital and DTS. The surround use is more frequent and effective than I expected, thanks to skifull audio manipulation. The film’s subject matter allows for some terrific audio moments, but even in calmer scenes, the surrounds remain active. But when the engines roar, the tires squeal, and the open road is torn to shreds, the surrounds kick in with full power, the kind of audio you might not expect from a 70s television project. The softer, more subtle touches come through well also, so no real problems to mention in terms of audio performance. This disc also includes the original mono option, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
An excellent half hour interview with Spielberg is included here, as well as a shorter interview and a nine minute piece with Richard Matheson. I don’t normally care to hear from Spielberg, but he has some solid comments in these featurettes. I think an audio commentary track could have been even better, but he refuses to participate in a session. This disc also includes some still photos, talent files, production notes, and the film’s trailer.