Miramax/Roadshow Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 148 mins .
R . PAL
Quentin Tarantino. The name has almost become a cultural archetype. At its utterance, some cringe, others grin, and yet others again wet themselves uncontrollably. His films both subvert and challenge the foundations of contemporary cinema. In an ironic manner, Tarantino throws back to the roots of cinematic genre to produce something remarkably fresh and contemporary. Since his debut Reservoir Dogs, and now his finest hour Pulp Fiction, he has become the international icon of the contemporary filmmaker. It may sound as if I’ve hit the ‘hyperbole’ key, and let it run for a while. But let me assure you, dear readers, that all hyperbole has been cast aside! Tarantino is the real deal. The ‘objective truth’ key has been struck, and it falls on Pulp Fiction.
The image that made Pulp Fiction.
We begin our tale of three intertwined tales with Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta). Two hitmen, with terribly conflicting personalities. One dabbles in the biblical and philosophical, and the other, well… does a little less thinking. The role of Vincent Vega resurrected the spluttering career of Saturday Night Fever star, John Travolta. Which some will praise Tarantino for, and others will burst into cursing fits of rage. Independent on your personal Travolta angle, it must be known he grinds acting down to a fine art, playing a bumbling, troubled drug-addict with superb ease. Along Jules and Vincent’s way, they meet a host of other characters including two terribly unprofessional, but hopelessly loveable highway robbers, Pumpkin and Hunny Bunny. As well as the audience favourite, Mr Wolf (Harvey Keitel).
Casting aside any sense of chronology, Tarantino moves us to the second of his three tales of crime and corruption, introducing crime boss Marcellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) and his enigmatic wife Mia (Uma Thurman). Tasked with “showing Mia a good time”, Vincent explores the possibilities, and ultimately ends up in ghastly, but hilarious, situations.
Which is exactly what Tarantino does. He builds characters, and then throws them into the deep end. And often, the deep end gets considerably deeper, as any one of his films progresses. His latest opus Kill Bill, crafts the character of The Bride, delving in and out of her history, all the while building her character. Kill Bill is not about what happens to The Bride; it’s about how The Bride reacts to the situations she’s thrust upon. This is a testament to Tarantino’s superb writing. He builds such well-developed and interesting characters. What happens to them is not of the audiences concern, or even their interest. It is what they say and do – it is how they react. It’s like a Robert Altman film, just funnier, and more violent.
The final, infamous chapter to Pulp Fiction revolves around prize fighter Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), another minion in the Marcellus Wallace led empire of crime. After going against Wallace’s orders, Butch finds himself in a world of pain, meeting two seedy store owners, as well as a very long sword. Sifted among Butch’s tale is Christopher Walken’s famous monologue, documenting his years as a POW alongside Butch’s old man. This is brilliantly scripted and acted scene, one of Tarantino’s trademark monologues, that you won’t quickly forget.
These three tales (of which quickly digress into around six) are told in quite random order, losing any real sense of time and place. It’s almost ethereal, the way we watch Jules and Vincent walk out, and twenty minutes down the track, we watch them walk in. It is in this device that Tarantino has earned his fame. I can watch Pulp Fiction now, for the fourteenth time, and still be genuinely surprised and entertained. He crafts such a dynamic experience, that few can hold a candle to. Obvious influence, American legend Martin Scorsese, is the only other director I can think of who can create films that leave such an impression on their audience. As if each subsequent experience supersedes the rest.
Travolta in his element.
This is a film that simply oozes perfection. Every line of dialogue, every obscure camera angle, every cut between takes has the Tarantino brand all over. What is remarkable is the fact that a huge portion of this film is steeped in homage and intertextuality. Tarantino throws back to the Leone era of spaghetti westerns, to the Scorsese chapter of raw American cinema; yet does it as if it’s his own. And he does it without insulting his audience. A key point of debate surrounding Tarantino’s directorial style is the ultimate question: “genius, or rip-off”? There are many who don’t consider his brand of bringing what is classic into a contemporary light worthy of such critical acclaim. Others, including myself, believe what he does is worthy of all praise thrown. He has taken what is old, and made it new. It is the ultimate of clichés. Yet, it is one that is never fully recognised. Pulp Fiction, Tarantino’s very crowning achievement, envisions this to its fullest extent. Movie buffs will sit and grin wholeheartedly while watching something Tarantino, picking his influence here, or pointing at a direct homage.
But when it all comes down to it, it isn’t the chronological abandonment, or the scores of intertextual references that have made Pulp Fiction the classic that it is today. It is the very simple method of blending extreme violence, with laugh-out-loud humour. The incredibly vulgar, with the incredibly hilarious. This is indeed a film to test your moral limits. The illusive criminality that underplays each and every one of us is exploited to its fullest. Tarantino has taken a different angle on the age-old genre of crime fiction, and by doing so has won over the appreciation of millions of moviegoers, worldwide. It’s almost as if Tarantino has created a genre of his own, that only he can live within.
I began by removing the hyperbole key from my keyboard and replacing it with my favourable ‘objective truth’ key, to which has been used to write this review, of such a stunning film. However, as it seems, I don’t believe there would have been a whole lot of difference between these two keyboardular styles. Pulp Fiction, is simply that good. Looking back over the past 10 years of cinema, there are only very few films that reach the heights of Pulp Fiction. And all of them have done it through means of startling innovation, one example, Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Pulp Fiction embodies a slightly different method of innovation, and by doing it has shaken the realms of cinema itself.
Tarantino: writer, director... actor?
The entire transfer is very soft and lacking in specific detail. For example, background scenes don’t appear as sharp and crisp as they could. This also means that shadow detail is significantly low, making the film appear more ‘contrasty’ than you’d normally expect. I didn’t find this distracting, at all. Yes, it would have been great to have a perfectly detailed transfer, but I don’t think it would have fitted the film.
Quite strangely (and to my surprise), this transfer was completely free from grain. We’re presented with a remarkably smooth transfer, very clean and soft. It perfectly suits Pulp Fiction. Apart from the odd film artefact (as a white or black spec), this was an exceptionally clean transfer.
Colours were rich and vibrant, presenting themselves clearly without being over saturated, and without bleeding. The black levels were solid, and quite a bit more prominent than the last release – meaning there is greater colour contrast in a scene, which in turn deepens the colours. While Pulp Fiction’s palette isn’t ‘limited’ in the sense of a muted colour spectrum, its colours don’t vary to a great degree within scenes. This is no Amelie.
Aliasing was scarcely found, and it’s only the occasional shimmering (on blinds and such) that reminds us we’re watching a DVD.
Overall, I found it a very easy transfer to watch. It does lack detail, but it seems to make up for it by casting aside all grain, and producing a very rich and full image.
The first of the two soundtracks presented, a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, is what you would expect from a film like Pulp Fiction. It features very few surround effects, wholly focussing on reproducing the dialogue in the centre channel. All music tends to remain towards the front of the soundstage, only occasionally filling the surrounds. It does suffice, but is not great.
Bruce Willis goes back to his roots as a stealth ninja.
The DTS 5.1 soundtrack is definitely better, and will be the pick for those who have equipment to decode it. There is a far greater surround presence. (Virtually) all the fantastic music numbers featured in the film find their way to the rear speakers and sub, resulting in a far more immersive experience. General ambient noises (like voices in the diner, or cars driving by on the street) come through the rear speakers, again engrossing the listener.
Dialogue tends to remain anchored in the centre channel (like the Dolby track), but makes use of the right and left front speakers, to add direction effects or some reverb. The same slight distortion occasionally found on the Dolby track remains here, leading me to think that it’s a problem with the original soundtrack.
An audio descriptive Dolby Digital 2.0 track also features, which simply reads text and describes some visuals.
Pulp Fiction is a dialogue-driven film, with very few special effects, other than the fantastic soundtrack. These two soundtracks (the Dolby and DTS) both reproduce all dialogue well, if occasionally distorting. The pick of the two is the DTS, which adds a dynamic element to what is an otherwise distanced soundtrack.
There are many who argue that an audio commentary from Quentin Tarantino would be the best thing since sliced bread. Considering how he takes 25 minutes to say something as simple as “yes”, in response to a closed question, I’m not sure how great the idea of an entire commentary would be. If he was commissioned to do one, I’m sure he’d insist on recording four or five, and placing them all on the DVD, to which we are to play in succession.
Having said that, I must announce that there is no commentary on this disc. And I’m the better for it.
Roadshow have put together the same extras package found on the older overseas special editions. It’s interesting that it’s taken about 3 years for us to get it. But at least it’s here.
Tarantino's signature 'trunk cam'.
‘Pulp Fiction: The Facts’ (30:31)
This is more a ‘Quentin Tarantino, this is your life’ featuring interviews from producer Lawrence Bender, a host of cast members (mostly off the Pulp Fiction set) and the Tarantino-man himself. They look at his beginnings in Reservoir Dogs and writing True Romance, with some nice behind-the-scenes footage. This is one of those great ‘rags to riches’ stories, of one very interesting man.
‘The Charlie Rose Show – Interview with Quentin Tarantino’ (55:26)
You will either love or hate this featurette, just like the film itself. Tarantino and Rose go into significant detail about Tarantino’s past work and life, which proves quite interesting. Tarantino talks a lot, offering a lot of information over this hour-length feature.
‘Siskel & Ebert – Pulp Faction: the Tarantino Generation’ (16:00)
Two of the world’s most famous film critics discuss Tarantino’s film, as well as his “flair for self-promotion”. This is an interesting little feature, presented very well. They look at how Tarantino represents an entire generation of new filmmakers. Roger Ebert is one of the best critics around, and is always a good listen.
‘Production Design Featurette’ (6:22)
Two people from the Pulp Fiction production team talk about the sets and locations, specifically the Jack Rabbit Slim’s restaurant. They discuss Tarantino’s vision and influences. It is interesting just how far they stretched such little money.
‘Interview footage from Independent Spirit Awards’ (11:28)
Documentary nut/author Michael Moore interviews Tarantino at the Independent Spirit Awards, commenting on the success of Pulp Fiction. This is quite a funny interview, if a little silly. Roger Avery and Samuel L. Jackson make appearances, also proving hilarious.
‘Palme d’Or Acceptance Speech’ (5:19)
Quentin Tarantino won the most prestigious film award in the world in 1994, and quite simply, this is his speech accepting this award. Clint Eastwood makes a cameo appearance as the head of the jury, announcing the award. So many smiles!
To round off the extra features package are 5 deleted scenes introduced by Quentin Tarantino, as well as two brief scene-specific ‘behind the scenes’ featurettes. On disc one, three theatrical trailers can be found, for films - Jackie Brown, True Romance and of course, Pulp Fiction.
Unfortunately there are no subtitles to accompany these extra features.
If you’re a Pulp Fiction fan, this new edition from Roadshow is well worth picking up. Even if that means your old single-disc edition slides its way to the back of the shelf. A superb set of extras accompany a great film. The audio and video qualities are both very good, and both the best we’ll see on DVD format.
"Everybody be cool. This is a robbery!"
It is interesting to note that this is one of the first DVD releases to sport a brand new classification logo from the OFLC. As you’ll see instore, or on the cover image at the top of the page, the new logo is considerably larger and more noticeable than the old style. It has been met with widespread criticism, mostly quite negative, as many feel it ‘detracts from the cover art of the DVD’. If you don’t like it, there’s not much you can do about it. Other than start ordering DVDs from overseas.
As already established in the review, this is an outstanding film. It is one of my all time favourites, and one to cherish. It is not every day (or even every year) that a film like Pulp Fiction comes along, and it is your job to realise its brilliance! No, I don’t work for Roadshow! Just buy the DVD!