It is hard to believe that forty years ago, one of the most enduring, memorable movies of all time was released: Deliverance. While Jon Voigt was already a star in his own right, with an Academy Award nomination, Deliverance would also make Burt Reynolds a star and the casting of two newcomers, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox, gave them desirable careers in film. This action adventure film hovered in the category of horror, hinging on the conflicts in human nature and our relationship with nature.
Four thirty-something friends decide to take a whitewater river trip in Georgia prior to the region being dammed up to make a lake. Along the way the four have to deal with the river, interpersonal relationships amongst each other, and a band of mountain people they have offended who decide to take revenge and justice into their own hands. What transpires is a horrifying adventure that leaves the viewer on the edge of their seats. While the story is forty years old, it is still fresh and for those not seeing it in the past, worthwhile. The movie is historic for a reason; the impact is lasting and enjoyable, for me, even some forty years after first seeing it. While first experiencing it as a youth, over the years I have seen the movie many times, and each time, it continues to amaze and educate me.
One of the unique attributes of Deliverance is it is filmed in sequence. For those who may not know, most movies are not shot this way; it isn’t unusual to shoot the last scene first or any other variety of combinations of filming. Deliverance was different however; the remarkable director of the film, John Boorman, decided early on to shoot in sequence to the story. Part of the reasoning for this was that as the story evolved around the circumstances of four friends taking a canoe trip, an experience which some had never been involved in before, their skills, attributes, and respect for the river would show through in a natural way. This and other reasons for the sequence filming not only work, they work terrifically.
There is one scene mentioned in the special features that helps explain subconsciously what the viewers understand. This centers around a sequence where Jon Voight’s character is climbing a cliff, and we see his watch glazed over with the moisture shining through from the inside of the watch crystal. In a discussion of the film it was noted that in most situations a prop man would have overlooked this little facet. Yet, filming in sequence, wearing the same clothes from day to day, helped bring about a natural look to the film.
The film is also edited well; there is ample foreshadowing and more to drive home the impact. There are also natural aspects of the story included in the final version of the film that are quite remarkable. One such instance was communicated to me in my interview with Ronny Cox, who played the character Drew and is well known for his guitar work on the song “Dueling Banjos” during the gas station scene. As the performers are acting out the scene, which only took two hours to film, we see in the back ground an older man start dancing, another whistling. This was not scripted and happened naturally during the magic of the moment as the scene and song were filmed. That magic transcends throughout the film until the heart tugging, final scenes.
While Deliverance isn’t a perfect film, it may very well be one of the best cast films of all time. Few films have held together as well over the years and the cast of Voight, Reynolds, Cox, and Beatty is as perfect as one could get. Reynolds has said over the years, as have the other cast members of Reynolds, that he knew during the filming of Deliverance that he was a star about to be born. The perfection of each actor in their role is remarkable, not just for Reynolds, but all of them. From Ned Beatty, who will have to face horrors unimagined, to Ronny Cox’s character Drew, who maintains some semblance of humanity as the story starts to get complicated. This adds to the genius of the film with each actor being outspoken as to how this helped them advance and experience their characters. They aren’t so much acting the lives of their characters as they arem in some ways, living the lives of those characters.
Deliverance is in many ways the story of deliverance of each character and their short comings. It is also a story of survival, not just of people who have little morals, but the survival of nature. In many ways it is nature that ultimately challenges the characters the most. In this journey of deliverance though is also the need to face the adversities of life. In that battle, it becomes quickly realized that without community, without brotherhood, there are certainly horrors in life and in some situations that allow little chance of survival.
Deep down inside are characteristics that one must change in order to find fulfillment and purpose. How one comes to those conclusions is different for each person and being a good person is no guarantee of survival. Unfortunately, there are many, including those in the faith community, who believe that good will ultimately win and that there is a great deal of protection provided by others, or even God in some situations. The truth is, it rains on the just and the unjust and there are bad, even horrible things that happens to the best of people. There are lessons in life that can be learned in these difficult situations though.
Just as Ned Beatty’s character has a “better than thou” attitude at the start of the film, mocking and teasing the mountain people he comes into contact with, there is a price to pay; even those mountain folk in their simplistic lifestyles expect respect. He learns how little his opinions matter in the film in one of the most memorable scenes of the movie, one which has become a part of the vocabulary folklore of film. Here through his character we can learn of the respect that needs to be given all people; no matter how much better we think we are, we are in reality, just different.
Deliverance has held up well over the years, and this special edition of the film on Blu-ray not only has a terrific transfer and sound quality, it has some remarkable and thought provoking special features. There is an excellent book packaged into the packaging of the DVD, which tells some terrific stories of the filming of the movie. There are also several special features that look at various components of the film, my personal favorite being the discussion among the four actors at Burt Reynolds’ home in Florida. There is no doubt of the love each of these actors has towards this movie, but also of the love and appreciation they have for each other.
For fans of the movie, this Blu-ray is almost worth the purchase price for this interview alone. There are also terrific stories related to other aspects of the film that will likely be educational for most viewers, even for those who are long time fans of the film. For a perfect companion piece, I would recommend the purchase of the new book release by Ronny Cox, titled Dueling Banjos: The Deliverance Of Drew. While a short book, it adds much to the understanding of the film.
Deliverance the 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray DVD is well worth the cost and is a must own for fans of the show. It is a deserving special edition and one fans will love, not just for the movie, but for the background of the film available through the book and in the packaging and the special features on the DVD. For more on the story, including my interview with Ronny Cox, click here [link forthcoming. Otherwise, for fans of the movie, enjoy the DVD, it is well worth revisiting; for those who haven’t seen it, this is a great place to start and a chance to see why this movie is so historic.