Duel was the first “ made for television” movie directed by Steven Spielberg. This thriller could best be described as a cross between the Rutger Hauer classic, “ The Hitcher,” and the Steven King inspired “Maximum Overdrive.” Dennis Weaver plays David Mann, a salesman on his way home from a cross state trip. During his return, he passes a rusted out old gasoline truck on the highway without giving it much thought. As the film unfolds, the truck begins to pursue him and initially just appears to annoy him on the r…ad, however, by the end of the first thirty minutes of the film, the truck driver has made an attempt on Mann’s life.
The pace and intensity of the film increases as it moves on with a total of 3 serious attempts on Mann’s life. Dennis Weaver does a fantastic job portraying a normal guy who comes to the startling realization that his survival can only come at the cost of his pursuer’s life. The anxiety and paranoia are visceral in his performance, particularly the scene in the lounge where he tries to identify his pursuer. Spielberg does a masterful job of increasing the intensity using very basic techniques – lots of first person perspective and quick cuts during the chase scenes. The most effective tool used in the film was the fact that he never reveals the identity of the truck driver – the truck itself is the bad guy (very reminiscent of “Maximum Overdrive” without the cool Green Goblin face on the front).
I was surprised to find the great care that was put into this transfer. When I read that this was originally a made for TV movie made in 1971, I was expecting a really terrible picture with washed out colors. I was impressed when I saw a nice, clean image with vibrant colors (the film’s many brown tones, the red of Mann’s bright, shiny car and the crisp ever-present blue skies all stand out nicely). Some grain is evident but it does not distract from the viewing experience. The image was fairly sharp – much more than other television shows from the same era now on DVD.
Surprisingly, Duel is presented in a newly mixed 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, along with the original mono soundtrack. The DTS track is really well used – the surround speakers are used to fill the room with the menace of the devilish semi. The bass will get a good workout to intensify the aggressive, growling semi truck sound. Dialogue, for the most part, is very clear and well defined throughout. There is not much music (which also tends to increase the intensity), but when there is music it is well balanced with a decent dynamic range.
There are 3 featurettes in Duel. The first one is “A Conversation with Director Steven Spielberg,” which runs for about 35 minutes. This a great piece with Spielberg going in depth about his thoughts about making Duel – from preproduction, to casting, to his anxiety about working with producers and other TV executives, and also going into his thought processes as his chooses certain shots and angle while juggling the schedule (he was given 10 days to film Duel).
The second featurette is “Steven Spielberg and the Small Screen.” Here Spielberg discussed his history in the television industry which began at the ripe old age of 21. This was a very interesting piece to watch, as I did not know that Spielberg got his start in TV (I, like most other people, first heard about him following Jaws). He discussed his frustrations with the industry at the time due mostly to his young age and his different concepts when it came to television (he used lots of wideshots, whereas most other directors of the time used more close-ups).
The last featurette is “Richard Matheson: The Writing of Duel”. In this piece, Matheson discussed his earliest ideas of the story 10 years before it was published as a short story in Playboy. He then served as the screenwriter for the TV movie that was made 7 months after it was published. He also discussed the choice of Spielberg as the director, the casting of Dennis Weaver , and the meaning of the title.
The Extras are rounded out with photograph and poster gallery of 14 photos and 7 posters, the 1 minute trailer, bios on the cast and filmmakers and 4 pages of production notes.
Duel is a very enjoyable thriller that does stand the test of time. It was obvious that a lot of care was put into the presentation of the picture and sound. Definitely recommended as a rental and for the Spielberg fans out there – pick this one up for the extras.
Special Features List
- A Conversation with Director Steven Spielberg Featurette
- Steven Spielberg and the Small Screen Featurette
- Richard Matheson: The Writing of Duel Featurette
- Photograph and poster gallery
- Cast & Crew Bios
- Production notes