I rented this because I wanted a) hot Burt, and b) 70s cheese. I got hot Burt, for sure, but this movie is actually pretty good and nowhere near as cheesy as I'd hoped.
I had been meaning to re-watch this since I read the novel last summer. The movie follows the novel fairly closely, with a few exceptions that I'll talk about. I was surprised that, for a movie that was written by the author of the novel, there are quite a few sequences that are purely cinematic, the most obvious example being the Dueling Banjos sequence. Now, that's a nice sequence, but I can't for the life of me figure out what it's really doing in the movie. What purpose does it serve? There's an interesting bit of trivia I read on the IMDb that says that the kid onscreen actually couldn't play the banjo, and someone else was behind him, sticking his hand under the kids arm and doing some screen picking. Interesting.
The other purely cinematic sequence is the genuinely exciting whitewater sequence that occurs soon after our protags get in their canoes. In fact, a lot of the whitewater sequences are great and really thrilling, helped immeasurably by the fact that the actors did their own stunts. [This also made me then wonder: why were the rafting sequences in The River Wild so dull?]
The film opens with voiceovers of the characters giving their rationale for going on the trip. This comprises a fairly large section of the book, and goes a long way toward setting up the four characters, so it was curious they would introduce this dialogue separate from the characters who speak it, as we can't place the voices with faces until later in the movie. The Burt Reynolds character, Lewis, is much crazier in the movie than he comes off in the novel. In the book he's just a deluded macho man who considers himself superior to everyone. In the movie, he's the same, just taken to an egregious extreme, with an added element of utter nonconcern for the well-being of his friends. They have also amped-up his friends' distrust of him for the movie, which pays off well in terms of tension as the movie goes on. There's a great character note when Burt cuts off Ned Beatty in order to deliver another platitude about man, nature, etc. You can see how pissed Ned is, and this helps further the whole character dynamic before things really fall apart.
For the man-watchers out there, this movie has Burt at the PEAK OF HIS DEWY HOTNESS. It doesn't hurt that he spends the whole thing in a sleeveless black rubber vest opened to his navel, and tight army green pants. His whole arrogant sneering distain for his friends just adds to his overall lickability. I love arrogant sneering distain.
I was also very impressed with Ned Beatty's performance. I had only seen him be bumbling nincompoops [Superman] or snide wimps [The Incredible Shrinking Woman], but he really gave a very vivid and convincing performance here. He looks truly terrified as he goes down the river, especially with the way he forgets to paddle when they're going fast-and I read on IMDb trivia that he was the only one of the four who can handled a canoe before filming. Go Ned, I'm a convert.
One thing the movie couldn't really get across that was a large part of the novel was the way that Jon Voight's character is supposed to be REALLY becoming part of nature and getting in touch with his inner primate as he scales the cliff. That is a very large part of the novel, but it just can't really be expressed here. You will notice that the film does a bunch of strange polarized color effects during this sequence, but that just doesn't go very far to really express what's happening. The same goes for the emotional consequences of the trip afterward. but the movie makes up so much in the visceral excitement a novel just can't manage that I suppose it all evens out.
I had my eyes open for homoerotic content leading up to the big event, or even afterward, expecting that there would be some that would be crystallized in the. big event [I'm trying not to spoil this for the one person left who may not know what happens], but if it was there, I didn't see it. The book was filled with a lot more homoeroticism between the men that was brought to the fore and cast into relief by the big event, but for the movie I think they chose to dial that down, so as not to cause too much ambivalence in the audience during and after the big event.
And that's alls I gots to say.
Yeah, it's a pretty decent movie. If you don't know what happens, don't let anyone tell you!