The Deer Hunter appears in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Superficially, the movie looked great – but I’m not sure it’s supposed to look great.
In terms of sharpness, the film demonstrated very good delineation. A few wider shots came across as slightly soft, but not to a significant or distracting degree. No shimmering or jagged edges appeared, and edge haloes stayed minor. Source flaws were absent.
Colors looked quite lively. These depended on the schemes used for the various scenes, of course, but I thought the tones consistently came across as broad and bold. Blacks were deep and tight, while shadows were usually good. Some low-light shots were a bit dim, but not badly so.
All that left us with an attractive transfer, but not one I’m sure represented the source accurately. I get the impression Deer Hunter should seem grittier than this, whereas the Blu-ray felt smoothed out and boosted. Maybe I’m wrong and the image offered a faithful representation of the movie, but I can’t help but think the movie was too bright ‘n’ shiny.
As for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, the forward soundstage was surprisingly broad and detailed, with a lot of action from the side channels and some excellent panning between speakers as well. This was inconsistent, though, so many of the audio-intensive Vietnam scenes sounded virtually monaural.
However, the track generally seemed roomier and wider than I'd expect from a film of this vintage. The surrounds offer some good reinforcement of music and effects as well, though their use seemed fairly modest.
Quality was a somewhat bigger concern. Dialogue had the most problems, as the lines sometimes sounded thin and lifeless. Some edginess also interfered, but overall intelligibility remained fine.
Effects seemed similarly wan at times, though they could also deliver some nice heft, such as in the steel mill scenes. Music sounded generally clear and smooth, though the score lacked depth. Though the quality of the audio was erratic, this soundtrack earned its "B" due to the range of the soundfield, which was very good for a film from 1978.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2005 “Legacy Series” DVD? Audio showed similar scope but came across as a bit clearer. Visuals showed improved tightness and delineation. I’m still not sure the image reproduced the source accurately, but it appeared to offer a step up when compared to the last DVD.
Most of the 2005 DVD’s extras repeat here, and we find an audio commentary with cinematographer Vilmos Szigmond and film journalist Bob Fisher. Both chat together for this running, screen-specific discussion.
Fisher acts as an interviewer, as he questions Szigmond about the movie. Other than praise, he doesn’t present his own thoughts or any interpretation of the film. He shows an iffy knowledge of various matters; he doesn’t know who actor John Cazale is, and he asks odd questions such as whether a scene was shot in Pittsburgh or in Pennsylvania.
Actually, the more one listens to the commentary, the less impressive Fisher becomes. He often asks Szigmond to tell us what’s happening in the movie, and that leads to a lot of simple narration of the flick.
Fisher also sometimes doesn’t understand basic aspects of the story, and I occasionally questioned whether he’d ever actually seen< the film! At times, Fisher helps prod Szigmond and gets him to chat, but usually he annoys with his inane questions.
As expected, Szigmond presents many notes about his job. He goes over camera angles, his love of the anamorphic format and framing, lighting and various photographic techniques.
Szigmond also gets into his collaboration with director Michael Cimino, working with actors and extras, locations and issues connected to them, rehearsal and improvisation, the use of archival footage, and other production topics. He’s surprisingly tolerant of Fisher’s pointless queries; I’d have bopped the guy in the nose before too long.
Szigmond offers enough good information to make this commentary useful, at least for a while. Dead air starts to dominate in the film’s second half, and Fisher’s questions get even dumber. Some decent notes still emerge during the final 90 minutes, but the best material pops up prior to that.
Next comes a collection of seven Extended and Deleted Scenes. These last a total of 16 minutes, 57 seconds. To call them “extended” or “deleted” seems a bit misleading, as they’re really in the category of alternate takes.
We see many stabs at the Russian roulette scenes plus a couple of others. It’s reasonably interesting to see the actors work through the pieces, but don’t expect any real cut sequences, as these all resemble material in the final film.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a new featurette called 100 Years of Universal: Academy Award Winners. It runs nine minutes, 35 seconds and offers an overview of some off the studio’s movies that took home Oscars. It’s entirely self-serving and comes with next to zero informational value.
While many view The Deer Hunter with high regard, it does little for me. The film runs too long and lacks strong characterizations, which means too much of the movie seems like self-indulgent artistry. The Blu-ray provides pretty good audio and of smattering of supplements along with visuals that may polish the source too much. This is still a fairly appealing presentation of a less than compelling movie.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of THE DEER HUNTER