Long before drooling mutants and axe-wielding goalies laid claim to it as their cinematic stomping grounds, the backwoods belonged to the inbred mountain men of John Boorman’s Deliverance. This tale of horrific happenings against a gorgeous backdrop of the southern Appalachians would become something of a cautionary tale for city slickers venturing into rural America. It is to the backwoods what Jaws is to the ocean; a film that transcends mere cinema and has become a part of our collective conscience.
Based on James Dickey’s 1970 novel of the same name, Deliverance introduces us to Ed (Jon Voight), Bobby (Ned Beatty), and Drew (Ronny Cox); a trio of middle-aged suburban Atlantans with soft hands and cushy jobs who are talked into accompanying Ed’s macho outdoorsy friend Lewis (Burt Reynolds) on a white water expedition of the Cahulawassee River before “progress” sees it dammed up and dried out. Having shared a few adventures in this neck of the woods, Ed and Lewis know what to expect from both the uneven terrain and the equally uneven folks who inhabit it, but, for the chubby, irascible Bobby and sweet-mannered Drew, this is uncharted territory.
The trip starts out uneventfully enough, with the canoes hitting the water as Drew engages in a rousing performance of the film’s iconic Dueling Banjos theme with a gifted-yet-obviously-mentally-challenged local boy, but, once the men hit the rapids, things get progressively more… interesting. After breaking camp the following morning, Bobby and Ed leave ahead of Lewis and Drew, and then pull off to the side of the river to wait for their friends to catch up. It’s then that they’re approached by a pair of hillbillies who emerge from the woods. Bobby assumes they’re moonshiners, and offers to buy some of their product, but the men don’t take kindly to his tone, and escort him and Lewis at gunpoint into the woods where they force Bobby to strip nude and violently rape him while Ed is tied to a tree and forced to watch. The men finish up with Bobby and turn their attention to Ed, but suddenly Lewis appears, and takes down one of them with an arrow drawn, forcing the other to flee off into the woods.
The men (save for the traumatized Bobby) argue over what to do with the rapist’s body, with Drew insisting they contact the police, while Lewis argues that doing so would see them imprisoned seeing as how there would be no way they’d get a fair trial in hillbilly country. He suggests they bury the body here, seeing as how the whole place will be under water after the dam is constructed, and Bobby and Ed agree much to Drew’s dismay. After the body is buried, the men continue down river, but soon discover that the hillbilly who escaped has returned with reinforcements.
Deliverance is a meticulously well-crafted tale of survival horror, with assured direction by Boorman, and beautifully shot by cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond. The cast are all in top form, here, especially Voight and Reynolds. It’s fascinating to watch their characters’ transformations, with Voight’s generally even-keeled Ed – who early on appears to have lost his survivalist “edge” – becoming the group’s savior, while Reynold’s macho Lewis is ultimately emasculated when faced with his own mortality. The film received something of a lukewarm critical reception at the time of its release, but has since set the bar by which all survival horror films are measured.
Warner Brothers originally released Deliverance on Blu-ray back in 2007 that was visually appealing, but eschewed HD audio in favor of a woefully inadequate 5.1 DTS soundtrack. With this 40th Anniversary Edition release, Warner has listened to the fans and has included a wonderfully atmospheric DTS HD 5.1 track that perfectly complements the original Blu-ray release’s crisp 2.40:1 transfer. In terms of overall image quality, Deliverance looks about as good as one can expect from a decades old film that was shot with mostly available lighting and for a fraction of the budget of most major studio films of its era. There’s a bit of a grungy, grimy quality to the image, but it’s in keeping with the film’s rustic aesthete, and is both true to the period and the subject matter. I much prefer this warm, naturally filmic look than the overly scrubbed and flat treatment so many films of this era receive, so, to me, this is as good as Deliverance has – and, most likely, will ever – look. That, when coupled with the boffo new HD soundtrack, makes this the definitive version of this classic film.
Supplements feature all of the original extras from the previous release, including an engaging commentary by Boorman; a lengthy four part documentary that features interviews with all of the principal players, as well as raw footage and a wealth of information about the making of the film, (SD); a vintage featurette (SD); and the film’s trailer (SD). New to this set is the thirty minute retrospective, Deliverance: The Cast Looks Back (HD), which features a conversation between Voight, Reynolds, Beatty, and Cox, and is chockfull of amusing stories and reminisces. The Blu-ray is packaged in an attractive Digibook format, and also includes a 48 page full color booklet.
Even if you already own the 2007 Blu-ray release of Deliverance, I highly recommend you consider picking up this new 40th Anniversary Edition. The inclusion of the HD soundtrack and excellent new retrospective feature make it well worth the price of the upgrade!