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Duel has certainly taken it’s time to appear on DVD. This was the film that catapulted Spielberg’s career into the fast lane. Based on a short story and screen play by Richard Matheson who also wrote The Incredible Shrinking Man, Duel is a tale of cat and mouse of the highest level.

Duel: Collector's Edition

The Film
The film’s opening shot is a classic moment and very recognisable as salesman David Mann’s (Dennis Weaver – Touch of Evil) car reverses out of his garage and hits the road. The camera is mounted on the front of the car and so it gives a great impression of movement through the traffic. The premise for the film is simplicity in itself. David Mann is driving through the desert and has to overtake an old, oily, smoky truck which is moving reasonably slowly on the highway. Overtaking it proves to be harder than he thinks and eventually he understandably gets very worked up. He manages to get past the behemoth and continues onward. This is not the end however and the truck catches up with him, hunting him down. While we see parts of the driver, he is mostly kept out of the picture making the truck itself, the aggressor of the film. As the film progresses, the level of aggression the truck exhumes increases to the films climax, in an almost primal way as the predator zeros in on its prey. It is easy to see how the truck has been described as the precursor for both the shark in Jaws, and the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.

The film does not look like a TV film. The interesting camera work from different levels creates a sense of movement and speed between the two vehicles. The tension is there between the small red car and the large brown truck and Weaver’s paranoia and nerves play very well in this picture. The film feels a little slow in places however the editing in general is actually very good. I’d imagine this would have been ruined when this first aired with the commercial breaks every few minutes. This cut of the film is the European theatrical cut and is around 90 minutes whereas the original TV cut of the film lasted for 74 minutes. I would have liked the option to see both on this DVD instead of only being able to see the longer (and what I believe is regarded as worse) theatrical cut.

Saying all that, I did enjoy the film - more so on the second viewing that the first. This does smack of low production values at times but often it does put to shame some of the current drivel we get on TV. To be honest, this isn’t a film I will watch regularly but I am glad I own this as it was well worth watching once or twice. See if you can spot Spielberg in the film. He is visible at least twice – once in the back of the car, and once in the reflection of the phone booths glass in a fetching red shirt.

Duel: Collector's Edition

The film is presented in its original European 1.33:1 format. I say European as Spielberg mentioned that you could not see him in the back of the car on the television version of the film, just in the cinema. The print is aged and dirty. Colours are washed out at times but retain some vibrancy  visible on the reds of the car and blues of the sky. There are a lot of artefacts present on the print and overall the picture is quite soft. This is not pretty at all. However it has been encoded with a substantial bit rate to make sure that any faults apparent are not that of the DVD, but with the master film print. From a video quality point of view, it looks just as you would think a 1971 low budget TV film would look like, and that is not particularly good.

There are some old films that I think can benefit from a 5.1 sound mix. Star Wars has a decent enough 5.1 sound as it was carefully put together over time. However a film such as this does not really require the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 English sound mixes it comes with. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track is perfectly adequate for this picture. The grunts and groans of the monster truck as well as its thunderous engine come through reasonably well here. It grates a little at times but if it was a clear pristine audio track it would sound a little odd attached to such poor quality video. This is one of the few instances in theory that I would recommend listening to the original audio rather than the souped up 5.1 mixes. That’s the theory, but in practise the rear speakers are not really used in either 5.1 version of the sound so overall it doesn’t not matter that much which mix is used.  

A Conversation with Steven Spielberg is a decent feature indeed. It may have been made a long time ago, but he clearly remembers everything that happened in the less than two week period the film was shot it. He reveals some interesting facts about the filming including that originally they wanted to shoot it all on a soundstage but he fought and managed to get the producer to agree to shoot it on location. The truck did not go very fast so he carefully explains how he shot it in certain ways so that it looks a lot faster than it actually is. It is things like this that make me realise that he hasn’t just been lucky in his career – he really does know how to use the camera to the best of its ability. I did not realise that the license plates on the front of the truck represented all the cars the truck had destroyed in other states, and that Weaver really did the stunt in which he narrowly escapes death from a phone booth flattened by this truck. I was surprised at the amount of things from Duel that have featured in his other movies. I won’t spoil these for you now, but you will never guess some of them. This feature runs for just under 36 minutes.

Duel: Collector's Edition

Steven Spielberg and the Small Screen is a feature about how he started out in TV. Not believing that TV was a useful medium for him to tell a story, he admits to being a snob about TV and wanted to make films. However once he realised the situation that no studio was going to give him a film to direct when he had no real directing experience he changed his tune entirely and stared out on TV programs including managing to direct Columbo. This runs for just under 10 minutes.

The Writing of Duel is a feature interviewing Richard Matheson who also wrote The Pit and the Pendulum, Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come and Jaws 3-D. He explains how he came up with the idea and how he originally gave up trying to get it turned into a film and instead wrote a short story which was later published in Playboy magazine. He talks about his style of writing and how he uses very visual elements which he directly transcribes from his mind to paper. This short interview is intermingled with clips from the film and runs for around 9 minutes.

The Photograph and Poster Gallery is a slideshow affair showing scenes from the film and behind the scenes as well as movie posters which runs for about three and a half minutes with a new picture approximately every nine seconds. The Trailer is a noisy affair with tyes screeching and horns honking to give the maximum amount of action in the trailers one minute running time. Cast and Filmmakers give a brief biography for Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott (Mrs. Mann), Eddie Firestone (Café Owner), Lou Frizzell (Bus Driver), Steven Spielberg and Richard Matheson. The Production Notes are four short pages detailing a few facts about the film.

The film kicked it all off for Spielberg and for someone in their early twenties, to film such a piece in 12 or 13 days really is quite a feat. The man himself admits that if asked to make it in that time frame today, it just wouldn’t be possible. For a so called Collector’s Edition I was a little disappointed since there is not that much extra material (however some of what is present is very good indeed), the original cut of the film is not available, and there isn’t even a booklet or inlay in the case. The DVD appears to already have been deleted and so it might be hard to pick up now anyway which probably means it fetching absurd prices on auction web sites. Overall, not the classic I was hoping for but interesting all the same, if a little past it’s prime.