Here’s my idea of the ideal camping trip: Going to my in-laws’ house in the Sierra Mountains. They live on a 2.5-acre property, where everyone else has a comparable amount of land. It’s way back among the trees, with a great view of the nearby meadow. It’s dead-quiet all the time, and there are no streetlights out front. I can enjoy the great outdoors and then head inside for a hot shower, a good meal, and a comfortable bed. Luckily, my wife and kids feel the same way.
That said, I’m going to skip a plot recitation of “Deliverance,” as I do with most classic films I look at on DVD. If you haven’t seen this one by now, you’re better off renting it, rather than reading a bunch of reviews that refer to the cringe-inducing “Squeal like a pig!” scene. Find out what it’s all about for yourself. And in the interest of full disclosure, I hadn’t seen “Deliverance” until I received this DVD for a review. I knew the basic story, but that was about it.
What struck me the most about the film was the way director John Boorman and screenwriter James Dickey, adapting his novel, skillfully laid the groundwork for what was to come, without hitting us over the head with it. The odd-looking boy who plays a mean banjo reappears for a few brief, almost creepy moments in a later scene. Lewis (Burt Reynolds), full of swagger, brags that he’s never had insurance “because there’s no risk,” and later notes: “Sometimes you need to get lost before you find yourself.” You do indeed, in ways you can’t imagine.
“Deliverance” is also notable for its ensemble cast, none of whom were well-known before it was made. While Reynolds descended into self-parody after he made the “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Cannonball Run” films, he shows flashes of brilliance in this movie. He would have never been a DeNiro or a Brando, but he could have been a Nicholson — both of them have that same maniacal gleam in their eyes in their early films. The difference, of course, is that Nicholson had no problem playing a writer with OCD in “As Good as it Gets” or a broken-down retiree in “About Schmidt,” whereas I don’t think Reynolds could handle getting old or branching out into new types of roles. As a result, once he lost leading-man status, he had nowhere to go, except bit parts that played off the persona he had created.
Warner’s 35th anniversary Deluxe Edition features what previous DVD releases of “Deliverance” didn’t, including a commentary from Boorman and some documentary materials. Boorman’s track is excellent listening for fans of the film; it’s informative and thoughtful. The documentary is broken into four parts: “The Beginning,” “The Journey,” “Betraying the River,” and “Delivered.” The film’s trajectory from Dickey’s novel to its controversial release is presented here, complete with interviews with Boorman, the cast, and Dickey’s son. The whole thing runs 53 minutes and leaves no stone unturned, including, of course, a look back at the scene everyone thinks about when this movie is mentioned.
Finally, we have a ten-minute piece, “The Dangerous World of ‘Deliverance,'” that was created in 1972 to pitch the film to movie theater owners, which was standard operating procedure back then. It’s notable more for its hokiness than anything else. We also get the original theatrical trailer, which gives away a few key plot points, so don’t watch it first if you haven’t seen the movie yet.