Michael Cimino‘s 1978 Vietnam War drama The Deer Hunter finally makes its way to Blu-Ray as part of Universal Studios 100th anniversary release of classic films. The films central message holds up well and the extreme violence is still shocking, despite the modern acceptance for gore. It’s still an uneasy watch, but something that deserves your attention. Robert De Niro gives another one of his great early-career performances while Christopher Walken completely loses himself in the role of Nick. Both men are accompanied by a respectable batch of supporting characters, making The Deer Hunter worthy of every Oscar it won.
The film follows three life-long friends as they embark on the Vietnam War. Michael (Robert De Niro), Steven (John Savage) and Nick (Christopher Walken) are all industrial workers in a small town. They enlist in the war with excitement for gunfire and action, but they return changed men, full of emotional scarring.
The Deer Hunter is similar to Apocalypse Now in terms of pacing and psychological breakdown. It’s a very dark and uneasy watch, full of disturbing violence that’s almost too realistic. Brotherhood is a very strong message that carries throughout the film and director Michael Cimino uses his actors perfectly in constructing such a tightly knit group of friends. De Niro becomes stronger from the war while Walken completely loses his mind.
Their relationship and struggle provides the film with two very different takes on the war and how it breaks down a man. You get a first class look at both results and the details that lead to the results are shockingly bleak and hard to stomach. It’s not just because of the blood and violence, but how it presents itself in the most realistic way. It shows the true ugliness of war and how it brings out the worst in humanity.
Still, the film feels like something that needs to be watched because of how relevant it is to war and the changing times we live in. I’m not saying that after watching the film I fully understand what veterans have gone through, but it gives you the ability to try and comprehend what war is really like and it helps you understand why we respect our soldiers.
My only complaint with the film is the pacing. I understand that time is needed to properly invest in the characters, but the film carries some dead weight that could have easily been trimmed without losing any impact. It’s a 3 hour film that could have gotten away with being 2 and a half hours. The Deer Hunter isn’t a type of film that will satisfy war junkies looking for lots of action. It’s more of a mental breakdown that is performance based and on those terms it’s a successful movie.
It properly captures the mood and feel of the characters and you can’t ask for much more.
The film comes to Blu-Ray with a 1080p video transfer that is good, considering the age of the film, but not really a jaw-dropping experience. Natural grain is scattered throughout the transfer, but there’s a few moments that feel like DNR has been applied a little too much. It never looks waxy or unnatural, but it lacks full definition. Most of those problems are washed away once the Vietnam setting kicks in. Then, colors are bright and vivid, which helps keep the score a tad above average.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is clear and well presented. There’s a nice array of surrounding effects, which keeps the track alive and strong. Dialogue comes out of the front channels clean and most of the action bounces around the back channels.
The biggest disappointment is the special features. There’s not nearly enough to cover such a diverse film. Here’s a full list below.
- Feature Commentary by Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and Film Journalist Bob Fisher: This is the crown jewel of the entire disc. The track provides a fresh look at the film and a ton of information on how they approached the film. It’s a great track to listen to if you’re looking for more technical filming details or if you’re just looking to listen to something that isn’t boring, like most tracks seem to be.
- Deleted and Extended Scenes (SD): Most of these scenes take place in Vietnam, which is good because too much footage would have ruined the perfect middle act.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD)
- 100 Years of Universal: Academy Award Winners (HD): The promo video featured on the other 100 anniversary discs.
- DVD Copy
The Deer Hunter is a perfect film for Universal to release as part of their 100th anniversary. It’s one of the most unique visions of the Vietnam War, focusing more on the personal struggles instead of the wider scope of war. There’s lots of violence in the film, but not in the same manner as most war films. The Deer Hunter is a breakdown of the human spirit and surviving the unthinkable and it mostly works. Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken make the best of their roles, providing two very distinguishable characters and director Michael Cimino slows down the film, allowing for focus on the minor details both before and after the war.
It’s a tough film to sit through, but it’s one that everyone owes it to themselves to watch. The Blu-Ray is packaged with a consistent video transfer and an intense audio track. The special features feel more like filler than anything else, but the inclusion of a DVD copy at least makes the package a worthwhile pickup for non-owners of the film.