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The Deer Hunter cover

Blu-ray Reviews: The Deer Hunter

Published in Australian Smart Home Ideas, Autumn 2010
Last updated 19 August 2010

The Deer Hunter
1978 - Universal Pictures (Australasia) Pty Ltd
Director: Michael Cimino
Starring: Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, George Dzundza and Chuck Aspegren

Movie: 5 Picture: 4 Sound: 3.5 Extras: 3.5

In 1975, after the US Congress had reneged on its previous commitment to provide funding and arms to the South Vietnam government, the southern regime fell to a North Vietnamese government which had reneged on the 1973 Paris Peace Accords.

Hollywood by that time had become uncomfortable with World War II-style patriotic movies. The few years following the iconic footage of the last helicopters leaving the US Embassy in Saigon saw a number of Hollywood movies in full self-flagellation mode. Perhaps the most celebrated of those was Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now.

The Deer Hunter is frequently lumped in with those. But that's a mistake, because it isn't one of them at all. Sure, it concerns a bunch of friends (members of the Russian-American community in Pennsylvania) who head off to Vietnam towards, it seems, the end of the conflict. But really it is a character study, primarily of Michael (played by Robert De Niro). No American atrocities are shown. The killing of civilians seems to be by the Vietcong, or the NVA (it isn't clear which, although the former seem likely).

And all this leads to a number of scenes of almost unbearable intensity, based around a 'game' of forced Russian Roulette, where the participants must face a high probability of instant, self-inflicted death. Michael increases the probability of disaster in an attempt to open a slim opportunity for ultimate survival, with results that play out over the rest of this masterpiece.

This is a 1978 movie, so the cinematography conforms to 1978 mores. That is, it seeks to be realistic and ends up looking somewhat depressing. But the colour balance and detail add a huge amount of life to the Blu-ray, compared to the DVD. It reveals beautifully not only the soot and grime of this steel town, but also the ornately crimson and gold interior of the Russian Orthodox church, along with the most magnificent scenery on the face of this planet during the deer hunting scenes.

The average bitrate for the VC1 video is a surprisingly low 15Mbps for no real reason, since about 10GB of the disc remains unused. But this does not seem to have damaged the picture. There were no visible artefacts or compression noise.

The sound was clean and clear, and had been converted to 5.1 channels (not too difficult because there was some distribution on 70mm film with six track audio), but the mix was not created with the modern immersive ethos. It was mostly up front and centred, and the bass was generally limited.

But you forget about such stuff when you spend the entire three hours engrossed in what's happening on the screen.

Incidentally, this disc is available in fancy cardboard packaging under the 'StudioCanal Collection' logo, and in a regular Blu-ray box. Get the latter because the cardboard package's centre spindle is a beast and threatens to destroy the disc when you try to get it out.

Running time: 184 minutes
Picture: 2.35:1 anamorphic, 1080p24, VC1 @ 14.99Mbps
Sound: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 16/48 3/2.1 @ 2,146kbps (core: DTS 16/48 3/2.1 @ 1509kbps); English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Commentary: DTS-HD Master Audio 16/48 2/0.0 @ 849-961kbps (core: DTS 16/48 2/0.0 @ 768kbps)
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish, Turkish, Japanese, English (Commentary), German (Commentary), Spanish (Commentary), French (Commentary), Italian (Commentary), Dutch (Commentary), Japanese (Commentary)
Extras: Documentary: 'Vietnam War: Unknown Images' (4:3, 480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - French narration with English & other subtitles - 48 mins); 4 Featurettes (480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 57 mins); Trailer (4:3, 480i60, MPEG2, DD2.0 @ 192kbps - 3 mins)
Restrictions: Rated R (Australian rating); Locked to Regions A & B

The following video bitrate graph was generated by BDInfo 0.5.3:

The Deer Hunter video bitrate graph

Comparison: Blu-ray vs PAL DVD

Here are some comparisons between the Australian PAL DVD and the Australia Blu-ray version of this movie. The Blu-ray was supplied to me by Universal. The PAL DVD was purchased by me some years ago.

At the top of each is the full frame (suitably shrunk down) used in the comparison, with a 250 pixel wide detail from the frame underneath. The left side is from the PAL DVD. The image was captured digitally from the disc, scaled up from its native 720 by 576 resolution to 1,024 by 576 (to present in the correct aspect ratio) by the application. I then scaled it, in order for it to be comparable to the Blu-ray version, to 1,920 pixels wide.

The detail is from that last scaled version, and has not been rescaled again. The right side is from the Australian Blu-ray. This has not been scaled at all. Different applications were used to capture the two frames, however in general encodes taken from the same master do tend to look largely similar. In this comparison there are clear differences in the colour cast between the two versions, and the brightness levels.

For visitors from NTSC lands, generally the PAL DVD is just a touch sharper than the NTSC DVD.

Comparison 1

Comparison 2

Comparison 3

Comparison 4

Comparison 5

Comparison 6

© 2002-2010, Stephen Dawson