The Deer Hunter Ultra HD Blu-ray Review

An in-depth examination of the ways in which the U.S. Vietnam War impacts and disrupts the lives of people in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania. Ralph Potts reviews the Ultra HD Blu-ray release of The Deer Hunter from Shout! Factory.

The Review at a Glance:
(max score: 5 )

Film:

Extras:

Audio/UHD Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )

81

Details:

Studio and Year: Shout! Factory – 1978
MPAA Rating: R
Feature running time: 183 minutes
Genre: Drama

Disc Format: BD-66
Encoding: HEVC
Video Aspect: 2.35:1
Resolution: 2160p/24

Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio
Subtitles: English SDH
Starring: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale, John Savage, Meryl Streep
Directed by: Michael Cimino
Music by: Stanley Myers
Written by: Deric Washburn
Region Code: A

Release Date: May 26, 2020

“A Classic Gets the Ultra HD Treatment”

Synopsis:

“An in-depth examination of the ways in which the U.S. Vietnam War impacts and disrupts the lives of people in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania.” – Shout! Factory

My Take:

Winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and one of AFI’s Top 100 Films of All Time, The Deer Hunter follows a group of Pennsylvania steelworkers from their blue-collar lives, hunting in the woods of the Alleghenies, to the hell of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Academy Award winners Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken star in this unforgettable saga of friendship and courage. Experience the brutality of war and the depths of emotional strain on the human spirit in this extraordinarily powerful film classic.

I have clear recollections of the watching The Deer Hunter on broadcast television somewhere around 1980 or so. I was in high school and, remember that it aired “uncut” and included language and violence. That was a big deal back then and my friends and I got a charge out of being able to experience the film that way.

The Deer Hunter is most definitely a slow burn of a drama that examines the casualties of war, in this case, its impact on the lives of three lifelong friends from a small town. The narrative conveys the loss of innocence, detrimental psychological effects and post traumatic stress suffered by Steven, Michael and Nick and how each of them strove to come to terms with it.

I haven’t seen The Deer Hunter in a long time. There are many of its moments that retain the same impact that they did going back to when I first saw it. I enjoy the performances by the ensemble cast, pretty much across the board. What I didn’t recall was how extensive certain aspects of the script can be. Character building is of course important to establish a viable connection to the relationships in a film like this. I felt that on more than one occasion certain scenes just ran overlong, particularly in the first hour or so, before the three men head off to Vietnam.

I think some of that real estate could have been given to the depiction of what they went through during the war but, at its heart The Deer Hunter isn’t a war drama. Anyway, revisiting it was special and I appreciate it for what meant both then and now as a cinematic work. I am glad to see it get a release on Ultra HD Blu-ray.

Replay Value:

Parental Guide:

The film contains language, graphic violence and strong thematic content.

AUDIO/VIDEO – By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100/EXCELLENT = 83-91/GOOD = 74-82/AVERAGE = 65-73/BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**

Audio: 84
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

 

  • Dynamics: 
  • Low frequency effects: 
  • Surround Sound presentation: 
  • Clarity/Detail: 
  • Dialog Reproduction: 
  • DSU/DTS Neural:X Rating * (non-rated element): NA

 

UHD Presentation: 78
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

 

  • HDR: Dark Highlights: 
  • HDR: Bright Highlights: 
  • HDR: Expanded Color: 
  • Resolution: 
  • Visual Impact: 

 

The Deer Hunter comes to Ultra HD Blu-ray from Shout! Factory featuring 2160pHEVC encoded video and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound.

I wasn’t provided with any details regarding the source for this Ultra HD rendering so, I can’t offer any details there. Sorry.

It’s important to note that the ultimate goal for any release on home video is to present a film in the highest possible quality based upon its original elements. A film like The Deer Hunter has an aesthetic that incorporates film grain and the use of optics that won’t result in the type of high gloss, tack-like sharpness of a film shot using digital cameras. This isn’t a problem and shouldn’t be seen as such.

This drama utilizes a variety of visuals to convey its time frame, mood, and thematic tone. The cinematography uses lighting schemes, shadows and low-lit environs, that can often impart a dark visual aesthetic. In some respects, this is purposeful and, comes across in this rendering. In other respects, the handling of those scenes isn’t smooth and there is a noticeable level of crush that results. Looking at the film’s opening sequence the improvement in depth and definition is noticeable. I could detect some finer details present during interiors and in backgrounds during wide angle shots, such as those in the church and later at the reception. The nighttime exterior shots of the small Pennsylvania town and later in Vietnam didn’t offer a marked improvement in dimension, but sharpness was predominantly stable. The color range in the film is narrow, with only the occasional use of vivid color appearing onscreen.

I found the presentation to be very tame in terms of its use of dynamic highlights, both bright and dark, however some of that is owed to the nature of the photography. Overall, the image didn’t make any visually compelling use of interstitial black levels offset by vivid bright elements, save for one or two instances during the second act in Vietnam. In general, the image, which looked fine overall, lacked a stark improvement when compared to the Blu-ray rendering, which may speak to the quality of that encode.

Aside from the aforementioned black crush, I believe that what we are seeing is a faithful rendering of the film’s elements, which when all is said and done, is all we can ask for. The question now becomes, is the Ultra HD version worth considering over the Blu-ray? I would say that if you’re a fan and want to own The Deer Hunter in 4K, the answer is, yes. If you’re happy with the Blu-ray and are hoping for a night and day difference, the UHD rendering may disappoint you.

For those not familiar with the details regarding Ultra HD Blu-ray you can refer to my article that includes some pertinent data on the subject. Here is the link:

Ultra HD Blu-ray Has Come to AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

DTS-HD Master Audio:

The DTS-HD Master Audio mix presents this soundtrack’s elements quite naturally. There is lots of spoken dialog in the film but it contains a variety of sounds and music that benefit from the high resolution afforded by lossless sound. The recording sounds a little dated but refined and dynamically supported. Sound effects are cleanly reproduced and free from strident highs or an edgy midrange. The front soundstage is narrow, but opens up nicely during several sequences. There isn’t much in the way of active surround sound or deep low frequency effects but the application of supportive rear channel ambience and upper level bass adds an enriching element that enhances the presentation.

Bonus Features:

  • DISC 1: 4K UHD – Feature Film
    · Audio Commentary with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and journalist Bob Fisher
    DISC 2: Blu-Ray – Feature Film
    · NEW We Don’t Belong Here – an interview with actor John Savage
    · NEW The War At Home – an interview with actress Rutanya Alda
    · NEW A National Anthem – an interview with producer Michael Deeley
    · NEW This is Not About War – interview with post-production supervisor Katy Haber and Universal Marketing executive Willette Klausner
    · Audio Commentary with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and journalist Bob Fisher
    · Interview with film critic David Thomson
    · Deleted and Extended Scenes
    · Theatrical Trailer
    · Radio Spots
    · Still Gallery

Final Thoughts:

The Deer Hunter needs no introduction among film enthusiasts. Winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, it is a poignant drama that speaks to the human condition through the eyes of three men and the small steel town the come from after experiencing the horrors of the Vietnam war. This Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack from Shout! Factory marks its debut on the new format. If you’re set up for Ultra HD Blu-ray and don’t already own the previous Blu-ray release this offering is an excellent choice. If you already own the Blu-ray release (same master used for the previous release), the option to upgrade will depend on how important the minor improvement in resolution/color rendering and, new bonus features is to you.

 

Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Reference Review System:

JVC DLA-RS2000 4K Ultra High Definition Front Projector
(Calibrated with Calman color calibration software and Portrait Displays C6 HDR2000 colorimeter from Portrait.com)
Stewart Filmscreen – Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16×9 Screen
Carada Masquerade Electronic Horizontal Masking System
Marantz AV7704 Audio/Video Processor
Emotiva XPA-7 Gen 3 Seven Channel Amplifier
Emotiva XPA-11 Gen 3 Amplifier
Panasonic DP-UB820 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
Oppo BDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
System Controller: Apple iPad/Roomie Remote V6 Universal Remote Control
SVS Ultra Tower Speakers (Gloss Finish)
SVS Ultra Center Channel (Gloss Finish)
SVS Ultra Surrounds (Gloss Finish in Bipolar Configuration)
Dual SVS PC4000 Cylinder Subwoofers
Niles Audio In-Ceiling/In-Wall Series Speakers
Panamax M5400-PM Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, Better Cables (Silver Serpent) – Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
AC Infinity Aircom T8 Component Cooling Systems