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Steven Spielberg
Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott, Eddie Firestone
Writing Credits:
Richard Matheson

A traveling salesman wages a desperate battle for survival after a demented trucker mysteriously singles him out.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Spanish DTS 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 90 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 5/5/2015

• “A Conversation with Steven Spielberg” Featurette
• “Steven Spielberg and the Small Screen” Featurette
• “Richard Matheson: The Writing of Duel” Featurette
• Gallery
• Trailer


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Duel [Blu-Ray] (1971)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 6, 2018)

Most people regard 1971’s Duel as the start of Steven Spielberg’s filmmaking career. This becomes open to debate due to the nature of the flick. He made it for ABC as a “Movie of the Week”, where it aired on November 13, 1971.

However, Duel got theatrical screenings outside the US the following year, so it sort of qualifies as a big-screen movie. Whatever one wants to call it, Duel was a watershed work because it marked Spielberg as a talent with which to be reckoned.

As he drives through remote California territory, Dave Mann (Dennis Weaver) gets stuck behind a slow-moving, fume-belching tanker truck. He politely and quickly passes this behemoth and goes on his way.

Apparently peeved at this move, the truck soon zooms around Dave and puts him back into the subordinate position. Dave again passes this guy, and after the trucker greets him with a loud horn blast, the pair seem to go on their way.

But not for long, as Dave stops for gas, and the truck pulls up right next to him. Whenever he seems to shake the vehicle, the truck soon reappears to menace Dave once more. Dave does his best to deal with the psychotic trucker and stay alive.

Duel qualifies as a “it’s not the meat, it’s the motion” work, as that plot offers a minimal piece. There’s very little to it, and you can forget about any form of real character development of story movement beyond the literal form of vehicular motion. It’s a guy in a truck who menaces a guy in a car - end of plot.

And that’s perfectly all right with me, at least as executed in this splendidly executed effort. With hindsight, Duel doesn’t seem all that extraordinary when compared to the future pleasures Spielberg would create.

This means that as much as I like it, Duel doesn’t match up to the director’s classics. Nonetheless, it creates an involving tale that focuses strongly on both the psychological and physical terror through which the main character goes.

Anyone who notices a Hitchcock influence won’t get bonus credit, for Spielberg makes it abundantly clear from where he took his inspiration. Heck, the score even occasionally evokes Psycho, and the scenes at the diner feel like they came straight out of Hitchcock.

Plenty of people rip off Hitchcock, but that doesn’t mean that their movies turn out well. Spielberg reveals those influences but never comes across as an imitator.

Even at such an early stage, the director’s talents seemed abundantly clear, as he displayed the great sense of camera and staging ingenuity that would serve him so well. The movie flows well and rarely lets up on the audience.

Spielberg often succeeded at placing the audience in his protagonist’s shoes, and that proves true here. Duel seems particularly resonant because virtually every viewer can relate to situations in which they confronted aggressive drivers.

Not too many of us have fought killer sharks or encountered aliens, but pushy truckers? Been there, done that! This allows Duel to become all the more powerful.

At no time as you watch Duel will you think of it as a TV movie. The flick succeeds on so many levels that it doesn’t compare to the usual cheese offered on the boob tube, and it sure doesn’t look like a made-for-television effort. It’s a solid effort that holds up well more than three decades after its creation.

Note that the disc presents the international version of Duel. The edition originally broadcast on ABC ran about 17 minutes shorter. Spielberg shot some additional footage for the international version to pad it out to feature film length for its overseas exhibition.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

Duel appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite the film’s age and origins, the image looked good.

For the most part, sharpness seemed positive. Occasionally I saw some mildly soft images, but those didn’t occur with any frequency, so most of the movie looked concise and well-defined.

No jagged edges or moiré effects appeared, and I witnessed no edge haloes. Print flaws also remained absent.

When we considered the arid setting of most of the movie, it didn’t lend itself to a dynamic palette, and rusty tones dominated the tale. These appeared well-rendered and appropriately full. P> As for blacks, these seemed pretty deep and firm, while the occasional low-light shots looked clean and smooth. I felt happy with the quality of the picture.

As for the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, it reworked the original monaural in a satisfying way, though I’d guess it used some audio not from the original stems. I felt that had to be the case for it seemed exceedingly unlikely that they’d be able to rejigger the old material and make it sound so good.

Make no mistake: the quality of the audio here seemed pretty strong. Some of the elements clearly came from the original recordings, as it was obvious we got the dialogue from the production.

The lines occasionally sounded a little tinny, but they usually didn’t belie their age and seemed fairly natural and concise. I noticed no issues with intelligibility.

Music came across well. Given the flick’s minimalist nature, it didn’t use a lot of score, but the parts we heard were pretty dynamic and lively. The music didn’t match up with modern efforts but it seemed strong for its era.

Not surprisingly, the probably-redone effects fared best. These consistently sounded vivid and vibrant, and they offered fine range and clarity. Bass response packed a good wallop when necessary, and with the depth of the truck-related noises, these made the flick all the more effective.

While the soundfield didn’t go nuts, it very nicely broadened the material from its original one-channel origins. The soundscape established its ambitions right off the bat during the opening driving scenes, as they provided a good sense of the road.

The more violent sequences proved exceedingly involving and active. The various elements zoomed around the spectrum well and made the material come to life. The surrounds offered a great deal of unique information and added measurably to the experience.

The back channels bolstered the action sequences well and turned into dynamic partners in the mix. Overall, this was a solid track that earned a “B+” given that it easily bettered the average circa 1971 mix.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2004 DVD? Audio showed a bit more kick and warmth, and visuals appeared tighter, cleaner and more dynamic.

One picture-related change occurred: aspect ratio. Whereas the DVD went with the TV 1.33:1 dimensions, the Blu-ray opted for the theatrical 1.85:1.

Which one could argue is correct in this case. Shot as a 74-minute TV movie, Duel got expanded to 90 minutes for its theatrical run – and since the Blu-ray offers the cinematic version, it makes sense to use that 1.85:1 ratio.

I guess. Though the DVD included the same cut of the film, it still went 1.33:1. I’d like the option of the 1.33:1 version, but I won’t whine too much, as the 1.85:1 edition makes a case for its validity as well.

Most of the DVD’s extras repeat here, and we start with A Conversation with Steven Spielberg. This program runs 35 minutes, 44 seconds as we hear from the director.

Spielberg chats about how he found the project and landed it, casting both humans and vehicles, studio pressures and his insistence on shooting on location, stunts and driving, planning, various trivia notes, and many tidbits about the shooting of the film like making slow-moving vehicles look faster.

Spielberg discusses his nods to Hitchcock and that director’s influence on the movie, the pressures of the flick’s rapid post-production, sound design, music and reactions to the film.

I still wish that Spielberg would do audio commentaries, but he makes this a very informative and engaging look at Duel. It’s a fine examination of both the movie and Spielberg’s earliest days as a filmmaker.

Next we find Steven Spielberg and the Small Screen, a nine-minute, 27-second featurette. In this piece, Spielberg gets into the various programs he worked on for TV, as he traces his path through that realm and relates his experiences.

We also see clips from many of the programs. I’d love to get a compilation release with all the TV shows that Spielberg directed, but unless that happens someday, this featurette offers a nice take on Spielberg’s “lost” years, material that most of us haven’t seen.

For the last featurette, we turn to Richard Matheson: The Writing of Duel. It fills nine minutes, 24 seconds as the writer talks about the origins of the tale, its development, changes between the original short story and the script, research, various elements of the text and Spielberg’s take on the work, and his reactions to the final product. It’s another nice program that gives us some good insight into the flick’s creation.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find a Photograph and Poster Gallery includes 21 images. These mix publicity shots from the movie and international posters from the realms in which Duel ran theatrically.

Steven Spielberg’s earliest film - albeit one created for television - Duel holds up nicely more than 45 years after its initial release. Simple and taut, the movie presents a clear and gripping tale. The Blu-ray offers very good picture and audio along with a smattering of information supplements. Spielberg fans will want to grab this fine Blu-ray.

To rate this film, visit the prior review of DUEL

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