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September 19, 2004

{     Steven Spielberg's "Duel"     }    

duel.jpg The mark of a truly great film is when the audience forgets how flimsy the plot is. At its most basic, Duel is 90 minutes of watching your Dad getting chased by some maniac in a big fucking truck. That’s really all there is to it. There are essentially two characters in the whole thing, one of which has tires. There are no plot twists and there are no surprise endings. One may think that the action involved in telling the story would grow slightly repetitious with such a premise being drawn out to a prolonged duration, thus having a decidedly negative impact on the overall effectiveness of a film cast in the suspense genre. One must also factor in that: (1) the director, a film-school dropout, has never shot a feature-length film before, (2) the film needs to be shot in under 3 weeks, and (3) that it is to air on network television... all of which sums up to triple whammys in the eyes of most. But what makes you so goddamn smart? This is big bucks, bitch. Behind the wheel is Steven Spielberg. Young Steven Spielberg. Back before he made movies about airports, when he liked films involving people getting chased by all types of crazy shit. Movies where people suffer at the hands of some indestructible beast hellbent on eating your soul until some equally-as-crazy motherfucker blows the shit up. Before T-Rex fucked up that dude on the toilet and before Jaws made your little brother afraid to jump into the pool, there was the country fried redneck forefather of all those motherfuckers, Duel. Other than a stolen glance at some fancy boots, you never see the driver…but what you do see is an enormous truck tearing ass down the highway, deadbent on fucking up some asshole in a red sportscar. Fuck E.T. and fuck Tom Hanks looking for his luggage. This is Duel, motherfucker. It is hard to believe that some kid who got his start directing Columbo episodes would go on to become the most financially-successful movie director of all time. Duel is a clear indication of the greatness to come as Spielberg effectively constructs the storyline to maintain a constant sense of pressure and intensity that only continues to build until the final moments of the film. The constant shift in pacing with the cat-and-mouse games within the film equally toys with audience, creating an overall feeling of discomfort and dread. The deliberate lack of providing the audience with an identity of this madman truck driver is perhaps the most important aspect of the film’s structure as the vehicle transcends that of being an operated piece of machinery and begins to take on a more organic quality, equally as monsterous as the creatures found in Speilberg’s later works. As much as the picture depends on the director, Duel is essentially a one-man show starring Dennis Weaver, who does an excellent job toeing the line in his portrayal of the panicked everyman caught behind the wheel in this extraordinary battle to the death. While Weaver is, in essence, the hero of the film, his character is utilized in such a way that we still kinda wanna see him get fucking nailed by that truck. Weaver’s performance runs the spectrum, from distinctly understated to the cartoonishly flamboyant, which is exactly what this film needs in order to work for an hour and a half. I was surprised to see Duel get such a deluxe treatment with this blowout special edition. The VHS has long been out-of-print and previous plans of a DVD release were always halted by Spielberg himself. Duel has always been the bastard stepchild in the Spielberg filmography and it’s nice to see it finally getting its due. The behind-the-scenes pieces on Duel are interesting and engaging, especially for a movie that so little is known about. While a commentary would have been nice, it comes as no surprise as it seems Stevie is a little shy when it comes to grabbing the M.I.C. But no matter, the Gods have smiled upon us and finally released Duel on DVD. So go join the rest of us and spend all your hard-earned cash on a bunch of plastic discs. You’ll be glad you did.

     » Steven Spielberg's "Duel" Appreciation Page

Comments

I have only the vaguest memory of this film- reinforced by it's trickle-down influence as elements of "Duel" were blatantly appropriated into television programs like The Incredible Hulk and Knight Rider.
We must praise the DVD gods for their bountiful Special Edition blessings, bringing such gems to light.
Also re-released recently: "Clerks" and "THX 1138", two films that show the raw talent of directors who have later succumbed to less-than-fantastic filmmaking. Perhaps we expect too much...

Posted by: Adam at September 22, 2004 5:26 PM
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