Dueling with Metal
David Mann (Dennis Weaver) casually drives down a western American highway on his way to a meeting. The radio plays a talk show where a miserable, worried man discusses his tax returns, concerned that someone will laugh when they see his wife listed as head of the household. David laughs. Internally, he knows his situation is similar.
Duel concerns masculinity, and like that radio caller, David questions his own. Fighting with his wife, who he failed to help the night prior, he feels like a lesser man. Challenged by a pollution-spewing big rig, he just tries to get out of the way; fighting – even for his life – doesn’t come easy for David.
Duel turns into 90-minutes of raw tension
Duel turns into 90-minutes of raw tension
The truck that chases him down the road is less about a person (who remains entirely unseen other than an arm) than it is a figment of David’s own anxieties. Duel turns into 90-minutes of raw tension as David’s options to save his life dwindle. In an internal monologue while resting at a diner, David’s mind churns all manner of possible ways to deal with this situation, a brilliant way to manifest his doubts.
With all of Steven Spielberg’s style, panache, and intelligent camerawork, Drive is elevated beyond a slightly risque storyline. Forced to contend with a multi-ton behemoth that dwarfs David’s minuscule vehicle, size matters, and more than just a visual metaphor, becomes a plot point when he’s unable to help a stranded school bus.
It’s a fascinating film that never develops its villain beyond the machine that contains him, and doesn’t need to. Duel sustains a white collar/blue collar divide seamlessly, following the progressive ‘60s that saw the social standards beginning to erode the traditional family structure. Emasculating David, the script intelligently projects organic fears, forcing David – and men as a whole – to consider the changes happening around him (or them, if taken as a metaphor).
But even as a baseline thriller, Duel works. Maybe repetitive and slow in its first act, but soon it’s rushing ahead, with the rapid inter-cutting of David and truck sustaining tension. Isolated in the desert, there’s no logical escape, and attempts to do so are instantly cut off by a determined, maniacal, faceless man enraged inside a machine capable of crushing almost anything under its wheels. It’s thin and simple, but formed beautifully that with a little touch of suspense, is the type of thing Hitchcock would have had a blast making.
In Dolby Vision, the desert sun rushes into the frame, giving a zap of warmth to the color. That suits the location, and it’s not without bursts of primaries from greenery in the background to the red car.
Stable brightness further bakes the sun into the image, shining even under the duller, dirtier metals. Shot in daylight, the bright contrast is rarely lessened, with firm black levels sustained.
Overall crispness is lacking, and Universal’s compression is often wonky despite plenty of disc space. Duel appears slightly digital overall due to the noisy grain structure, lacking the natural crispness of a film stock, but only slightly limiting texture and sharpness. Likely, a low pass filter is applied as well. Still, it’s an infinite improvement over previous releases.
Driving into tunnels, the Atmos upmix makes itself known. It’s fantastic. Engines echo and bounce around the soundstage, which remains true even when inside the car; the sound maintains accurate positioning throughout. Any passing traffic sweep across the fronts or rears as needed. This comes in addition to bass as motors throb in the low-end, more powerful than anticipated for a 1971 feature.
Pleasing fidelity renders dialog cleanly, without age. It’s crisp.
Universal includes the TV version in HD as a main bonus. A Spielberg interview and featurette about his TV work join a piece on writer Richard Matheson. Then, still galleries.
Man versus machine versus masculinity, Duel is a sensational piece of tension-driven filmmaking even if it borders on the absurd.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 35 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: