The Deer Hunter (Universal’s 100th Anniversary) – Blu-ray Review

If you have the desire to play Russian roulette and remember being introduced to Meryl Streep then you probably recall The Deer Hunter.  It probably didn’t hurt that it won best picture as well. 

In Clairton, Pennsylvania, Michael (Robert De Niro), Steve (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken) are best pals and hunting buddies with Stan (John Cazale), Axel (Chuck Aspegren), and John (George Dzundza).  All of the friends are happily celebrating Steve’s marriage to Angela (Rutanya Alda) although Steve’s mother (Shirley Stoler) isn’t pleased that he is marrying her but her growing stomach seems like the reason for their nuptials. 

Nick’s girlfriend Linda (Meryl Streep) is one of the bridesmaids and she’s also ready to move out of her abusive father’s house.  Michael and Nick say that she can stay at their place for as long as she wants since Steve and them are about to ship out to Vietnam. 

Whatever romantic thoughts of war the trio have are soon put out of mind, as Vietnam is a harsh climate -much more so when they get taken prisoner by the Vietcong and are beaten into playing Russian roulette.  Vietnam will leave both visible and invisible scars on the friends who suffer there. 

The Deer Hunter is one of the first films to deal with the subject of Vietnam.  In fact, some three years after all military actions ceased in the country.  The beginning of the film is a happy one with a large community wedding (reminding one of the Godfather).  These happier times have foreshadowing of the terrors to come, as there is an anticipation of going to war.  They even encounter a veteran in the bar and he is certainly scarred by the war and not wanting to give them any encouragement. 

When they do finally arrive it’s not the way they imagined it (echoes of All Quiet on the Western Front) and find themselves held as prisoners by an enemy that will use them as sport in a game of chance.  That chance is that there is one bullet in the chamber of a gun, the chamber spun, and they are forced to put it to their head and pull the trigger.  If you don’t get your brains blown out there’s the possibility that you will go a little more insane as the game progresses.

The film would win five Oscars, including best picture, best sound, best editing, and best supporting actor for Walken and best director for Michael Cimino.  It would also mark the first time that Meryl Streep was nominated and lost.  The film was available on the dead format HD-DVD and it looks that that transfer was used for the Blu-ray.  Not that it is a bad thing since it looks pretty good; just don’t expect a new transfer. 

The Deer Hunter is presented in a 1080p high definition transfer (2.35:1).  The disc doesn’t have a static menu so you’ll have to use your pop-up menu to get to the special features that include a commentary from cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and film journalist Bob Fisher, 17 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, and the 3 minute theatrical trailer, all presented in standard definition. 

The only feature in high-def is the 9 minute “Academy Award Winners” that highlights Universal films that won the awards (and found on other releases as well).  Disc two is a DVD copy of the film. 

The Deer Hunter is a film of both ordinary occurrences and extraordinary ones.  It is one that will both shock and move, especially in the performance of Walken.  It also features fine turns from De Niro and its other stars.  It’s just too bad that Universal couldn’t license the special features from the European version that features a commentary from Cimino and an interview with him. 

Visit the DVD database for more information.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.