Death Proof (UK - BD RB)
Chris has also taken a look at Quentin Tarantino's half of the Grindhouse flick
Three friends—Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito), Shanna (Jordan Ladd) and local radio disc jockey 'Jungle' Julia Lucai (Sydney Poitier)—are driving trough Austin, Texas on their way to a bar to celebrate Julia's birthday. However, unbeknownst to them, they are being followed by a mysterious man in a souped-up 1970 Chevy Nova with a skull on the hood. While drinking at the Bar, Julia reveals that she made an announcement on her show earlier that day, offering a free lap dance from Arlene to the first guy to call her Butterfly, buy her a drink and recite a certain poem. As the evening wears on, we're introduced to Pam (Rose McGowan), who has been left stranded at the bar by her boyfriend. Her plight is overheard by another patron, who introduces himself as 'Stuntman Mike' (Kurt Russell) and offers to give her a ride home.
After spending some time at the bar flirting with Pam, Mike approaches the other girls and zeroes in on Arlene. Although initially frightened by Mike, he fulfils all of the necessary criteria for the lap dance and she agrees to go through with it to prove she's not 'chicken shit'. At the end of the evening Arlene leaves with Julia, Shanna and their pot dealer Lanna, while Stuntman Mike gives Pam a lift home in his 'death proof' stunt car. Shortly after leaving the bar, Mike reveals himself to be a sadistic misogynist as he takes the terrified Pam on a high speed ride before breaking hard enough to force her to smash face-on into the dashboard, killing her. Mike then sets his sights on the other girls, overtaking their car and then hurtling towards them at high speed with his lights off. A split second before impact Mike flips his lights on, but it's too late for the unfortunate girls, who are all killed in a variety of gruesome ways.
Fourteen months later, after being cleared of any wrongdoing in girls' deaths, Mike is once again on the prowl, this time in Lebanon, Tennessee. He comes across another car full of girls—Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Abernathy (Rosario Dawson), and Kim (Tracie Thoms)—who all work in the movie industry. They are on their way to the airport to pick up another of their friends, stuntwoman Zoë Bell, after which they stop off for a bit to eat. In the diner Zoë manages to convince them to take a detour so that she can test drive a white 1970 Dodge Challenger (or the 'Vanishing Point car' as she calls it). The girls agree, unaware that they are being stalked by the deranged Mike who once again tries to use he 'death proof' car to lethal effect. However, these ladies are no damsels in distress, and when Mike makes his move he realises that he might just have fucked with the wrong women.
As with Planet Terror, Death Proof has been extended beyond the original theatrical version, with around twenty-four minutes of additional footage reinstated. I didn't see Death Proof in its original incarnation and without a commentary track it's hard to say exactly where the new footage fits in, but I'm sure the helpful folks at the IMDb will be able to sort you out if you're interested.
Death Proof is a film of two halves, and nowhere is this better illustrated than the video presentation. Arriving at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC), the first half of the film is much like its counterpart Planet Terror, with innumerable film artefacts and many a visual hiccup. It's not quite in the same league as the beautiful filth of Rodriguez's film, but it is still intentionally grimy and therefore quite hard to objectively criticise (not that reviewing is entirely objective anyway).
However, about half way through, just as the film moves into its second act, the transfer suddenly switches from grindhouse to gorgeous. Gone are film artefacts and print damage (save for a few minor white specks here and there), to be replaced by a strong, detailed image with bold colours and an almost 'shiny' appearance. It's quite jarring, but ultimately an effective tool for visually separating the first act from the second. On balance I think I actually prefer the dirty opening act, because it helps sell the low-budget feel and somewhat dubious acting, but all-in-all I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the transfer, probably even slightly more so than Planet Terror.
Death Proof arrives with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack that, like the video, has a bit of a split personality. The first act is almost exclusively front-oriented, with what little surround action there is being restricted to the patter of rain during a few scenes at the bar and the occasional musical cue. In fact the rears are used so sparingly you could be forgiven for thinking that you're listening to a stereo mix at times (albeit with some nice panning). During this segment dialogue is also a little hard to discern, but after a while I came to the conclusion that it was an intentional move on Tarantino's part. The stand out element for me was the bass, which roars with guttural ferocity every time Stuntman Mike revs his muscle car's engine.
The second act of the film opens up the soundstage considerably, with greater integration of all five channels and—gasp—even some discrete sound effects. Dialogue is also easier to pick out in this segment, while bass remains as throaty as ever. However, what really impressed me was the quality of the soundtrack. Unlike Rodriguez's Carpenter-esque score for Planet Terror, Tarantino has opted for his usual blend of quirky and downright catchy songs. It is their presence that helps to elevate the track from average to great, and I defy anyone to be able to get April March's 'Chick Habit' out of their head.
The Death Proof Blu-ray is a little bit of a let-down after the fantastic supplemental material found on the Planet Terror disc, but what there is manages to entertain. Once again I've decided to break the extras down into separate entries, rather than write about them in elongated paragraphs.
Stunts on Wheels: The Legendary Drivers of Death Proof (20:39 SD): This is one of the longest featurettes on the disc and deservedly so. It concentrates on the insane men and women who drove the cars in the film, pulling off all of the crazy stunts that are often accomplished with computers nowadays. Tarantino talks about the various stunt drivers, who include Chrissy Weathersby, Steve Davison, Tracy Dashnaw and the legendary Buddy Joe Hooker. It's impressive to watch these guys perform the incredible stunts at upwards of seventy miles per hour!
Introducing Zoë Bell (08:57 SD): This is a short featurette that introduces us to the stuntwoman turned actress, who first worked with Tarantino on Kill Bill (where she doubled Uma Thurman). Bell is an incredibly likeable Kiwi with an infectious personality and a lot of talent. The director is clearly very impressed with her work on the film, both as an actor and as a stunt performer.
Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike (09:32 SD): This featurette introduces us to the character of Stuntman Mike and includes interview footage with both Tarantino and Kurt Russell. They discuss topics such as the genesis of the character and the life experience that Russell was able to bring to the role.
Finding Quentin's Gals (21:13 SD): As you might expect, this featurette details the casting process for all of the major female parts. Tarantino and some of the girls are on hand to discuss the process, with much time spent on Vanessa Ferlito (he wrote the part for her), Rosario Dawson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Uncut Version of 'Baby, It's You' Performed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead: This is just the full take of the actress singing 'Baby it's You', which proves that Winstead actually has a pretty decent voice.
The Guys of Death Proof (08:14 SD): This is the companion piece to Finding Quentin's Gals and once again features Tarantino enthusing about Michael Parks, Eli Roth, Omar Doom, Michael Bacall and, er, himself. It wasn't as interesting as the girls featurette (for obvious reasons), but I liked it well enough.
Quentin Tarantino's Greatest Collaborator: Editor Sally Menke (04:36 SD): This is a short love letter to Tarantino's long-time editor, Sally Menke. Again, it mostly features the director in talking head mode, discussing his working relationship with Menke and generally telling us how great she is. There's also an amusing bit at the end where he gets various members of the cast to say hi to her on film.
Double Dare Trailer (02:35 SD): This is a trailer for a documentary about Zoë Bell and legendary stunt woman Jeannie Epper, who used to double Lynda Carter in Wonder Woman. Jeannie Epper's list of credits is astonishing, as is the fact that she still continues to work into her sixties.
Death Proof International Trailer (02:20 SD): Although it makes no mention of either Planet Terror or Grindhouse, the trailer is actually pretty decent, even if it does slightly misrepresent the film.
International Poster Gallery: again, this basically does what it says on the tin. I'm not a big fan of still galleries, but it's nice that they've been included all the same.
Extended Music Cues: Extended versions of three musical cues by Ennio Morricone, Guido & Maurizio de Angelis and Franco Micalizzi. All three are presented in PCM audio, which is nice.
BD-Live: As with Planet Terror, the BD-Live features for this release are not available more than two weeks after release. What a gyp.
I said it in my Planet Terror review and I'll say it again here: I have no frame of reference to accurately compare this film to grindhouse movies of old. I didn't grow up watching them and I haven't discovered a love for them in later life. I guess it's a cultural thing, as movies of that nature seem to be a much bigger deal in the States than here in the UK. If you want to read a review full of comparisons and references to other genre flicks you'll have to wait until our own Gabe Powers gets his hands on the films.
With all of that said, I liked Death Proof. It's not without its shortcomings—forced dialogue and stilted, amateurish delivery—but many of those can be attributed to the intended tone of the piece (at least I hope that's the case). The cast are generally likeable, the girls are serious eye-candy and Russell's Stuntman Mike is a memorable villain. The stunts are also fantastic, and that's coming from someone who's not that into cars and vehicular stunts in general.
Once again I'm glad I waited for the Blu-ray release of the film for the enhanced audio-visual presentation, but I can't help feeling a little short-changed by the extras. They're not bad, but there's nothing particularly exciting either. Perhaps one day we'll get the full Grindhouse experience on Blu-ray, but until that day this makes a pretty decent stopgap if only for the strength of the A/V transfer.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 26th January 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Italian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English HoH, Spanish
Extras: Featurettes, Trailers, Poster Gallery, Extended Music Cues
Easter Egg: No
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Kurt Russell, Zoë Bell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Sydney Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rose McGowan, Marley Shelton
Length: 114 minutes
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