Dropkicked Through Goalposts

Hate The Deer Hunter. That’s okay. Hate that it admits defeat. Hate that shows masculine personalities obliterated by war. Hate the homefront’s denial. Hate that it needs seen. Hate that, for years afterward (with few exceptions) Hollywood trends injected victory into their Vietnam stories.

Finally, hate The Deer Hunter for forcing a confrontation with truth.

World War II veterans came home to celebrations. The economy rebounded. In Deer Hunter’s Vietnam years, that gloss is gone. Factory workers dirty themselves, endlessly sweating over molten steel. City streets look stuck in time, poisonous smokestacks filling the skyline. What these working soldiers leave is what they come back to. Nothing gained, only lost.

Deer Hunter’s first act takes place almost entirely on a wedding day. Joyous and colorful and celebratory. After a solemn night at a local bar, Deer Hunter smash cuts to a Vietnamese village. Napalm incinerates the land. In that fire goes ideologies, bravery, and patriotism. Here, American flags don’t wave, and the enemy gleefully grenades civilians. The war sold by politicians (unseen in Deer Hunter) is not the war that was.

Deer Hunter is the antithesis to winning

“We won over there!” shouts an excited grocery store clerk to Michael (Robert De Niro) after Michael returns home. This, after Michael witnessed forced suicides, shattered limbs, and lost friends. Deer Hunter is the antithesis to winning. Consider box office draw too – Deer Hunter drew a commendable $50 million. Seven years later, the Vietnam “victory lap” Rambo II made $300 million. America was still that grocery clerk.

Remarkable is Deer Hunter’s ability to say so much in such a small space with so few people. In Pittsburgh, Deer Hunter exists in a few blocks. In the war, a POW camp, with actors pinned down, waiting to die. Scope purposefully limits itself, distilling combat to its human cost, and not with numbers or large scale assaults. Rather, these average men who saw themselves and their country as invulnerable.

There’s violence, certainly, some graphic. The worst images come after. Wounded without arms or legs. Caskets loaded by the dozens. Those who make it uninjured endure lasting psychological damage. Home isn’t home – Michael avoids it at first, unprepared to accept handshakes and free beer for a job well done.

On TV, a news report plays, showing the US withdrawing, but in a projection of victory. Deer Hunter’s story closes by singing “God Bless America,” through quivering voices. A blessing was indeed needed.

Video

Previously released in the UK, Shout brings the same 4K master Stateside. That’s wonderful. Substantial sharpness and definition draw out Deer Hunter’s texture, delivering Pittsburgh’s grit, mountain range’s beauty, and Vietnam’s squalor. Sweaty faces bring close-ups faultless detail. Other than inserts pulled from actual wartime footage, imagery doesn’t waver in its purity. Encoding keeps a beautiful grain structure.

Increased depth presents color enhancements, primaries dazzling with their saturation. This isn’t egregious. Flesh tones still appear natural. Look at the mountains in the distance where blues and grays and whites gather. Each hue blends seamlessly, taking advantage of this format’s capabilities. Explosions/flames find every orange shade needed, while stained glass windows in Deer Hunter’s first act pump up eye-catching pinks and purples.

Granted Dolby Vision, those benefits bring precision black levels. Depth and density both, yet keen in maintaining shadow detail. In a small shot looking out from a window, a boat passes by a night sky. While almost totally black, it’s still possible to see the boat’s cargo. In contrast, the stained glass glow intensifies. Molten steel suggests the appropriate heat. Neon signs break from midnight bar runs. This is digital magic at work.

Audio

Well preserved through time, the DTS-HD mix envelops where needed. Sparks and machinery spread outward in the early going. Wedding ambiance stretches a little too. Primarily though, Deer Hunter sticks to stereos. Cars and voices split the fronts as necessary, enough to generate space.

A decent rumble jumps from the memorable explosion in an otherwise flat mix. More important is fidelity, hardly impacted by age. Crisp dialog continues for the full runtime. Overall clarity keeps consistency.

Extras

Shared by the UHD and Blu-ray, Shout offers a commentary featuring cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and journalist Bob Fisher. It’s engaging, if older.

The rest sits on the Blu-ray, including new interviews. Shout talks with John Savage and producer Michael Deeley. An older interview features critic David Thomson. A stack of previously seen deleted scenes, trailers, and a stills gallery finish up.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Deer Hunter
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

More than its stars or technique, The Deer Hunter searches for an uncomfortable truth about war and its impact on working class communities.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 43 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: