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Blu-ray Review: The Deer Hunter 40th Anniversary Edition

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To celebrate the film’s 40th Anniversary, Michael Cimino’s epic masterpiece The Deer Hunter has been restored with a brand new 4k restoration, releasing on Blu-ray today, 20th August 2018.

Winner of no less than five Academy Awards® in 1978 including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter is widely acknowledged as one of cinema’s great masterpieces and contains some of the most memorable scenes in film history. However, I do know that some do find the film over-long and tedious in places. I have always thought the film was excellent, but I can see how some people could feel that way. Rewatching this newly restored version, the earlier scenes in the small town in Pennsylvania do seem to go on longer than I remembered. They do set the scene and do a brilliant job of defining each of the characters, but for some viewers (especially those used to the more fast-paced cuts in present-day cinema) they could be seen as boring.

In 1968, Michael (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken) and Steven (John Savage), lifelong friends from a working-class Pennsylvania steel town, prepare to ship out overseas following Steven’s elaborate wedding and one final group hunting trip. In Vietnam, their dreams of military honor are quickly shattered by the inhumanities of war; even those who survive are haunted by the experience, as is Nick’s hometown sweetheart, Linda (Meryl Streep).

For the 40th Anniversary restoration of The Deer Hunter, STUDIOCANAL went back to the original 35mm negative, which was scanned at 4K resolution in 16bit. The restoration was completed at Silver Salt in London, who created a restored 4K DCP and UHD version for the home entertainment release.

The first thing I noticed upon rewatching the film for the first time in years I was blown away by what an incredible cast was assembled for the film. Everyone is at the top of their game and it is just incredible seeing such fine actors work their magic on screen.

The 4K restoration is astounding. I dug out an old copy of the film I had to compare it (I had thought I already had it on an older Blu-ray release, but it was actually a DVD version). Obviously, it was going to look good, but it is amazing just how much better it looks. From the hunting scenes near the beginning to the Vietnam scenes and beyond everything just looks beautiful. The harrowing scenes during the Russian roulette games in Vietnam are even tenser as you see every emotion clearly on the character’s faces. Luckily, they kept in that lovely tone or film grain that makes the film look like a film. Nothing worse than when an old movie gets cleaned up too much and skin looks like plastic, but there is none of that here.

The sound is also much improved. Apparently, previous Blu-ray releases had slight problems with the sound mix, but everything is hunky dory on this new disc. You feel as if you are in the crowd during the scenes in Saigon.

A lot of love has gone into the restoration of the film and, if you are a fan, it is well worth picking this up.

I was sent the 2 disc Blu-ray, which included the following features:

  • New Interview with critic and author David Thomson
  • 1979 ITV South Bank Show Interview with Michael Cimino
  • Intro by Mickey Rourke
  • Realising the Deer Hunter – interview with Michael Cimino
  • Shooting the Deer Hunter – interview with Vilmos Zsigmond
  • Playing the Deer Hunter – interview with John Savage
  • Michael Cimino Audio commentary
  • Vilmos Zsigmond & journalist Bob Fisher audio commentary
  • Deleted and extended scenes (incl. Russian Roulette)

Looking at the DVD I have, it seems that many of these features were also on that. However, you would be buying this new version for the restored film.

There is a 4 disc version which includes the two Blu-ray discs as above, first-everer 4K Ultra HD and the original soundtrack along with:

  • A 64-page booklet which includes material written by Jay Glennie and adapted from his forthcoming numbered limited edition large format book ‘One Shot: The Making of The Deer Hunter’, a new essay from David Jenkins, Editor of Little White Lies and pages from the original 1978 press book
  • A 72-page script of early incarnation of the script entitled ‘The Man Who Came to Play’ by Louis Garfinkle and Quinn K. Redeker
  • X 5 Artcards

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