A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Duel

May 10, 2011

Duel

Steven Spielberg presents: road rage – the movie.

I recorded this off of TV in the mid-eighties. Chanel 38 I think. I was intrigued of course because I had heard that it was Steven Spielberg’s big debut. It’s been a lot of time since I last saw it, but I can pretty much remember the gist of the movie: sometime in the seventies a guy in a little car is terrorised by a big menacing truck. Looking back on it before we put it in tonight I couldn’t for the life of me remember how Spielberg was able to milk such a simple concept into a seventy minute made for TV movie.

I mean, this is seventy minutes of a car and truck trying to pass each other. How can such a thing be maintained? How can such a thing possibly work? Amanda and I had a lot of discussion as we watched the movie about if it qualified as a tense thriller. In my mind it is a sort of cinema milestone and achievement in experimental film making. I view it from a very academic standpoint and find myself analysing Spielberg’s technique rather than simply watching the movie. Amanda, on the other hand, was caught up in the tension of the movie and actually had a quite visceral reaction. Which proves, I suppose, that Spielberg has considerable talent.

There are clear indications here of the Spielberg we know and love. The Spielberg of Jaws and Jurassic Park. He does actually manage to make a big rusty truck into a menacing and frightening foe. When the truck pulls slowly into the shadows of a tunnel and turns its headlights on (with accompanying musical sting) it has a great sense of malevolence. This is a truck that will kill you. An impersonal and implacable enemy with no morals. That’s a pretty cool accomplishment.

Oh, the movie isn’t perfect. It has huge great swaths of nothing happening. It has a completely unnecessary and rather irritating voice-over (which I don’t remember from the version I saw on TV – maybe it was added for the extended theatrical cut.) There’s a whole scene where Mr. Mann (our protagonist) gets his car stuck under a school bus that felt like it drained the tension from the movie like a punctured tire.

On the other hand, there is some genuine adventure and tension here. Mostly thanks to a great score by Billy Goldenberg (heavily influenced by the score of Psycho) and a whole lot of fantastic editing. I’d have loved to have seen some of the camera rigs involved in filming this. They have tight shots of rear view mirrors, cameras mounted on car bumpers, cameras right in the passenger seat, cameras looking through the windshield. My favorite angle in the whole film is a camera mounted about a meter out to the side of the big rig near its tail end looking forward down the road which bounces and shakes like crazy when the truck rumbles to life. It makes the truck feel like an angry beast, which is perfect.

I’m not particularly caught up in the tension of the movie, but watching this tonight I found myself feeling tense on my wife’s behalf, which was kind of cool. I also shared her disappointment that in the end the truck, which is clearly labeled to hold flammable contents, neither burst into flame nor exploded. Proof, I suppose, that this movie wasn’t made in the eighties.

May 10, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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