The Deer Hunter: Legacy Series

January 28, 2012 10 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

As a young man of four, I noticed on a television set a man and a group singing to the tune “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” while shooting some pool in a bar. For years I wondered what this film was. For those many years, my father warned me that the film was not for me and that it was a tough film. Many years past, and it wasn’t until a friend told me about this great film that was set in Vietnam and involved a group of friends in a local Pennsylvania town that were off to war but were tested by the effects of Vietnam. That film would go on to win 5 Oscars including best Picture and the film is Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter.

Meet Steven (John Savage), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Mike (Robert DeNiro). They are part of a group of friends that gather together for the marriage of Steven and Angela (Rutanya Alda). At the same time, all three counterparts are due to report for duty in the Vietnam war a few days after. Nick sees the little parts but Mike seems to have a grip on the big picture and their wills are tested both during the way and the aftermath where their destiny will prove to be shocking and put in perspective.

Here is a well made film cut into 3 parts. In the first part, we get to know all of these friends and some of the shenanigans they have in between work and play along with being a fun loving bunch during a wedding and for a venture hunting in the woods.

In the second part the audience is led into the middle of the Vietnam war seen through the eyes of the three pictured individuals in that wedding hall and what serious wakes of reality lies in store for them on the battlegrounds and their tests of dangerous waters.

In the third, we’re given an aftermath of the effects in that second part with a determination of moving on but with a sense that something’s missing and that something catches up sooner or later to one of those individuals with dire results and an effect that leaves the audience both with surprise and with a lump in the throat.

The performances in this film are all top notch in this ensemble. Robert DeNiro plays Mike as a man that sees a lot but his vision is put to the test once on the battleground with almost no end in sight. Christopher Walken is Nick who has some idea of what Mike always talks about but is torn between being led to the dark side and remembering the past that he left behind. John Savage plays Nick as a man who loves the woman he’s marrying but thanks to the war gets less than he bargained for,especially when an unexpected visitor comes in his path.

The rest of the cast rounds out like a who’s who, including Meryl Streep as Nick’s love with a caring eye on Mike and John Cazale in his last picture (and with the best quality film percentage of all in this film *5 Great Ones*) as Stan, the louse who is the weakest of the bunch and can’t seem to go beyond it, not even if one little object he keeps gives him a sense of false authority.

With the great cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond and the top notch unexpected direction of Michael Cimino, The Deer Hunter is a film unlike any ever seen that will come across as it projects short scenes with big effects leaves a strong effect on a viewer with it’s disturbing psychological effects leading to an end that is both tragic, heartbreaking and touching.

Video: How does it look?

Going on record with this, the first transfer of the Deer Hunter (along with the Region 2) left some clarity for the viewer but left a lot of specks and dirt in during the beginning and throughout the entire picture leaving the DVD with a good but not great picture with room for some improvement.

Here in the new Legacy Series edition, this ranks as the best of the three with a clarity that has one or two white specks but keeps it’s picture quality up to a maximum with some of the local town’s neon lights looking the best they ever looked in this format along with retaining Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography capturing the look of mountains, battlefield and local town anamorphically in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio without a hint of debris, speck or dirt on the print.

Audio: How does it sound?

On top of the wonderful transfer of this film, the Dolby Digital 2.0 track is another improvement from the 2 versions as Stanley Myers’ heart wretching score never sounded so beautiful as it brought a weepy eye to this viewer. As well as that there are the great sound effects which even though they are slightly muted because of age, they still provide effective results as the gunshots from “the game” get louder and louder as the film progresses and the helicopter sounds noisy enough that not a hint of dialogue can be made out to give the effect of being right there. This disc also has improved English and Spanish Subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Whereas the extras of the first release consisted of a trailer, production notes and cast and crew info, the region 2 gives a lot more with a commentary from FX Feeney and Michael Cimino that speaks for then and now with some great stories about the making of the film from Michael’s point of view along with some advice for future filmmakers as well, along with some moments that even bring Michael to emotions and rightly so. This is also a 2 disc with 3 featurettes from 3 different points of view (director, DP, actor) and a 2.35:1 trailer (which retains the white glow typeface of The Incredible Hulk) and a photo gallery along with interactive scene selections.

Which brings us to the Legacy Series and here disc 1 begins with a running commentary (also with 2 counterparts) by director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond and film journalist Bob Fisher and the info in Q&A form is equally valuable and great as the track covers the film from a technical point of view and an anecdotal point of view along with Vilmos backing up why he made the choices and favored this film very much.

And just when you think the Legacy Series is going to be the definitive version of this release going into disc 2, the letdowns start. There are a few extended scenes, mostly from the 2nd part of this film and some are good and worthy while others foresee DeNiro’s present day roles with a goofy touch (and this is evident in one of the extended scenes), nothing that would’ve been a big loss and each exclusion is justified.

All that is left is a full frame theatrical trailer (with quoted reviews) and production notes (both from the same first release and minus the cast/crew profiles). With all that room on the second disc, any viewer would be yearning for more. In fact one release lists an “Anatomy of a Scene” feature and “Academy Award Acceptance” but neither one is to be found on either disc.

Overall, with the Region 2 being superior extrawise, and the first release being the lesser of the 3, the Legacy Series is saved for the middle of the pack thanks to a solid commentary and a superior audio/visual presentation, if only lessened by a very sparse 2nd disc that leaves a lot to be desired and should’ve had a lot more included in this distinguished Legacy Series (where the other choices have a lot more). It comes recommended with a lot of yearning for more.

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