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Duel (1971) - DVD Review

By Widge - posted 08.30.04 @ 10:45 pm
Duel DVD cover art

Film:
DVD:

Written by: Richard Matheson, based on his short story
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Dennis Weaver

Features:

  • Spielberg discusses the making of the film
  • Spielberg discusses his beginnings in TV
  • Matherson discusses writing the short story and the film
  • Photo gallery
  • Trailer
  • Production notes
  • Cast & filmmaker bios

Released by: Universal
Region: 1
Rating: PG
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Spielberg fans should own.

David Mann (Weaver) is driving across the desert to make an appointment when he gets behind a tanker truck that's taking its time. What he very quickly figures out is that the driver of said truck has marked him, for reasons unknown, and is basically going to play with Mann's head before finally, it seems, killing him with a great deadness. Mann has to deal with facing down a giant killing machine on wheels driven by a faceless loonbag, or else he's another license plate on the guy's bumper.

Apparently there was a time when movies of the week didn't have to concern the latest spouse killer or trysts that end up with people getting their faces shot off. There was a time when they could be really nicely concise thrillers. Such is the case with Spielberg's first feature (which when I first saw it, I didn't even realize it was made for television), based on Matheson's screenplay (yes, the I Am Legend guy). It's fairly simple, really, and the plot synopsis lays it out: man vs. truck.

Granted, you've got a great leading man--which is important, since it's almost completely a one-man show. Weaver is able to reach such terrific heights of terror and near-madness that he's perfect. Also, kudos to Matheson and Spielberg for never showing us the truck driver--thus it's just a killer machine. Shame he didn't remember how that worked for Jaws, though we got the same effect by accident. Frankly, it's bloody amazing that Spielberg and crew were able to pull this thing off in twelve days.

Dennis Weaver from Duel

Which leads me to the bonus features, which only look sparse. First up, Spielberg doesn't go in for commentaries and whatnot, but he gives you, in a thirty minute featurette, pretty much everything you would want to know from a commentary. He describes how the film was shot, how he cheated velocity for the truck and he proves himself to be a bigger geek than you. No, I'm not kidding. Most folks probably caught the Duel tie-in with 1941 (I didn't, because I actually saw 1941 first and it didn't register when I finally caught Duel), but did you catch the connections Duel has with Jaws (beyond the truck in one, shark in the other comparison, naturally) or the connection with Close Encounters? Hell, I know I didn't. Those little tidbits are worth the price of admission.

There's also a ten minute bit in which Spielberg talks about his start in television. While I was aware he had worked on the small screen, I never really took much notice of it. And neither did he at the beginning, apparently, until he realized that nobody was going to give him a theatrical feature to direct without some credits behind him and, of course, that he needed to eat. It's short, but it does give some interesting insight into that portion of his career which most folks probably aren't even aware of.

Steven Spielberg from Duel

Finally, as far as major items go, there's Matheson discussing the writing process of both the short story and the screenplay. It's interesting to note that he had pitched the idea as a screenplay originally only to be told it wouldn't work, so he turned it into a short story...which, of course, somebody bought the film rights for and the rest is history. Typical Hollywood. I didn't realize that this was his last short story, either. It's around the same length as Spielberg's television featurette, but it too is chocked full of good information. Beyond that, there's a photo gallery, a trailer and some other text-on-screen items.

Basically, if you like the film, this is a no-brainer to own. However, if you're a fan of Spielberg, whether you care for this flick or not, you should own it: the face-time with him alone is worthy. If you haven't seen the film, it's worth catching regardless--rent it before you plonk down the real coin.

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Read More About:

Widgett Walls is Need Coffee's Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. He is the author of the novel Mystics on the Road to Vanishing Point, and two collections of short stories, Magnificent Desolation and Something Else: The Complete First Season. He is also co-author of the children's book There's a Zombie in My Treehouse! All of those books are available in paperback or for the Kindle from Amazon. He is also the narrator and publisher of the first unabridged recording of Seneca's letters, available here. He is active on both Twitter and Facebook. (If you befriend him on Facebook, do say you came via Need Coffee.) He lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. He hardly ever sleeps.

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