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Blu-ray Review: The Deer Hunter

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Written by Todd Karella

Universal Pictures is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. And in doing so it is releasing some of its greatest films. This release is a Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack of The Deer Hunter, which won five Academy Awards and stars a number of now-famous actors, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep.

The film follows a group of steelworkers in Pennsylvania. Three of the men are sent to fight in the Vietnam War. But when they return, the mental and physical injuries that they received have crippling effects upon their interaction s with the world around them.

While The Deer Hunter won many accolades during its release in 1978, it does not stand up well to the test of time. What many people remember as a great story about the struggle of three young men who were POWs during the Vietnam War and included an infamous Russian roulette game during their captivity might be severely disappointed in revisiting the film again 34 years later.

That one memorable scene in the film still remains great, but it’s just a 10-minute scene stuck in the middle of a three-hour movie. There is no lead-up to the scene. One moment they are in Pennsylvania and the next they are in Vietnam where Steven (John Savage) and Nick (Walken), along with their unit, find Mike (De Niro) as the last survivor in a battle. Then it flashes to some unknown time in the future where the three of them are prisoners and have been there for quite some time. They quickly escape and all of the action, the fighting and the things that people remember from the film are over with.

Even the portrayal of the characters seems odd from the beginning. It’s hard not to question why a group of men obviously in their thirties are acting like 12-year-old boys. Steven, who is getting married, has to be dragged out of a bar by his ear by his mother just to get dressed and ready for the event. Their overall behavior is so childish that you expect them to start telling fart jokes and asking one another to “pull my finger”. It seems like a failed attempt to make the actors seem younger than they really are. Even so, it still leaves the viewer wondering why such old men are being sent to Vietnam.

The poor behavior of the main cast of characters becomes excruciating to watch as they go from work, to an overly lengthy wedding scene, and to a brief deer-hunting. session which in total takes up more than the first hour of the film. It’s a relief to get to the war scenes in the film, but after the brevity of them, you are struck by the horrific realization that you must once again return to Pennsylvania with Mike.

By the time the story arrives at the ultimate climax where Mike finds Nick back in Vietnam playing Russian roulette for money, which Nick’s reasons for doing so are never really explained, the viewers will wish that they were pulling the trigger on the last round instead of Nick.

The Blu-ray video is presented in 1080p High-Definition with a 2.35:1 ratio. Visually, it is an improvement over the DVD, but it still has some issues when it comes to the light and dark contrast where the blackness seems to overshadow the lighter areas and in some scenes has a bigger presence when it should. The DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 audio is not utilized to its full potential. The only times that the audio is really noticed is during several scenes where the mix is poor and the action in the background drowns out the dialogue.

The Special Features include deleted and extended scenes, commentary with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and film journalist Bob Fisher, and the original theatrical trailer.

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