Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2 (US - BD RA)
Gabe revisits his favourite Tarantino films, but likely not for the last time...
Four years ago, a beautiful blonde bride (Uma Thurman) and her wedding party were attacked by the Deadly Vipers Assassin Squad, under the direction of their leader, a mysterious man that goes by the name Bill (David Carradine). The assassins made one mistake, they didn’t kill the Bride, and after four years in a coma she’s ready for her revenge. It’ll be a long road to vengeance, but one thing is certain, at the end of the road the Bride will surely kill Bill.
It’s been four years since the second part of Quentin Tarantino’s first real ode to the grindhouse, Kill Bill, was released in theatres, and the hype has finally and thoroughly subsided. Now, as a fan, I can look back at the events of Beatrix Kiddo’s bloody affair without concerning myself with the baggage that came with the two film release, films which came so many years after Jackie Brown that even passing Tarantino fans were salivating at the mere possibility of a new film. Does everyone remember that first teaser trailer, the one that came before the films were divided? The one with the Tomoyasu Hotei Battle without Honor or Humanity song? That was a great teaser. Remember the news of the film being cut into halves, when the hype and expectations kicked into hyper-drive?
A lot of folks realized too late that Kill Bill wasn’t made for them—it was made for Quentin Tarantino. Despite the cult popularity of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and (to a lesser extent) Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s own personal tastes proved surprisingly varied, and even less mainstream then most fans had initially assumed. Then Volume Two was released, and it was even more varied, and even more experimental. Kill Bill as a whole is quite possibly the most self indulgent, self-serving motion picture ever released by a major studio. For some people this was a rude awakening, but for others, like yours truly, it was like watching a filmmaker you hadn’t quite trusted craft the sexiest pornography imaginable.
There’s been so much written about these films already that I doubt anything I have to say is going to change any opinions on anything to do with them, so putting it as simply as I can, it genuinely felt as if Kill Bill was made specifically for me, taking into account everything I love about film, music and pop entertainment.
Tarantino stirred homage to samurai fiction, spaghetti westerns, kung-fu operas, Italian horror and crime epics, and even an animated sequence into his homage pot. Watching Kill Bill is like conversing with a fellow multi-genre lover as he doles out his 35mm, OOP VHS and DVD collections, then dares you to step up your fandom and obsession to his level. And after the party of lights, colours, flash bulbs, camera tricks, and stolen imagery that was Volume 1, Volume 2 ended on a personal and dramatic note. The beauty of these films isn’t the deft homage alone, it’s the way that Tarantino manages to create an enthralling and entertaining mythology around the deft homage. He even makes distinct and sophisticated statements on the nature of revenge towards the end of Volume 2.
I also admit that I wasn’t, and am still not a fan of Tarantino’s work pre- Jackie Brown. Frankly I found Reservoir Dogs dull, and Pulp Fiction overwrought. I didn’t appreciate Tarantino’s sense of humour, I thought his compositions were lacking depth and intrigue, and I wasn’t fond of his wordy language (unless it was coming out of Sam Jackson’s capable mouth). With Jackie Brown I was convinced that Tarantino could write adult and interesting characters, but I still wasn’t convinced of his camera control, or ability to create his own adult and interesting characters (as Jackie Brown was based on an Elmore Leonard novel). With Kill Bill Tarantino proved his aptitude with the visual medium of film, and stopped depending solely on mouthfuls of flowery language.
Besides an almost shocking handle on graceful steady cam, complex action, expert split screens, and wonderfully post-modern stage setting, Tarantino’s greatest achievement here is the production of an almost infinitely exploreable mythology. Tarantino and his good friend Robert Rodriguiz had been trying to create a universe for their films for years, but I didn’t find myself buying into it until Kill Bill. Now I’m all ready for more journeys into this world. Hell, I’m willing to sacrifice any future Tarantino originals to see more of the same.
Buried in the mess of style and substance the performances in these films have been overlooked, or basically forgotten. Uma Thurman was given a stunt role, a part so steeped in parody that it was hard to mess up, but even harder to do right. Thurman was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe, but I’d put her above most of the 2003 and 2004 Academy Award nominees. David Carradine admirably overcame decades of shoddy productions, and old fashion bad career moves to make Bill one of the most surprisingly likeable characters in recent history. There’s simply no reason to think of Bill as anything but a bastard in the first film, but when we finally get to know him he’s positively loveable (too bad Carradine squandered this good will with STV and Yellow Book commercial work). Perhaps the most exciting cast elements are Sonny Chiba and Gordon Lui, specifically considering the humour and breadth they’re able to lend to their characters that, again, could’ve been jokes alone. Credit is also due to Michael Madsen and Daryl Hannah for digging themselves out somewhat embarrassing later careers to deliver two truly ‘cool’ performances (though like Carradine they seem to have wasted these gifts ever since).
One of the film's (both parts) most defining sequences is the one where Elle Driver attempts to murder Beatrix as she lies sleeping in a bullet to the head induced coma. These five or so minutes epitomize everything Tarantino was trying to achieve with the film. The scene’s early shots of Beatrix recall Citizen Kane directly. Then Driver enters the scene wearing a trench coat similar to that worn by the killer in De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, and as if to slam home the point of the homage, the belt and stitching is literally drawn onto the coat. Over her eye is a patch, in homage to Thriller: A Cruel Picture, and she whistles the theme to Twisted Nerve, while the screen breaks into very DePalmaian split screen (or possibly it’s John Frankenhiemer inspired, I suppose). Driver’s preparation harkens back to Dressed to Kill again, but also recalls Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi’s Gialli, which are known for their procedural and fetishistic close-up weapons worship. When Bill calls to stop the hit, his face is obscured, maintaining the mystery until the second film. This sequence recalls several specific films from many different genres, but makes the scene an important character introduction for Driver, and character verification for Bill, both of whom aren’t officially introduced into the plot until the second film.
It’s not all sunshine and cornflakes though; these are the US theatrical release, R-rated versions of the films. This is a minor problem in the case of Volume 2, but anyone that’s had the pleasure of seeing the international, Universal cut of Volume 1 knows what they’re missing, and if they’re anything like me they can never go back to black and white bloodshed, censored animation sequences and amputations, or the missing jokes in the Crazy 88 sequence. I don’t need the ‘Whole Bloody Affair’ version; I just want each film uncut.
Kill Bill looked pretty good on DVD, and I assumed the only real difference between that and this Blu-ray release would be a general lack of compression noise and edge enhancement. I was wrong; there were apparently leagues of room for improvement. Honestly, I felt like I was watching a Hong Kong bootleg when I ran a direct comparison to the DVD (the R1 release of Volume 2, and the R2 release of Volume One for your notes).
Part of the fun of these films, and possibly their most impressive aspects, are the many different film stocks and lighting tricks Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson used to tell such an homage steeped montage of a film. In their own way these choices tell the story just as well as the character dialogue.
The super saturated and soft-focused Pasadena sequence just leaps off the screen with vibrant pastels, each solid, clear, and relatively noiseless. The glaring whites of the following scenes are much more defined then the blooming chaos that accompanied the DVD release. The most noise in the entire first film appears during the animated sequence, but the noise appears so deliberate I have trouble believing otherwise, that and I hadn’t really noticed it on the DVD release due to a general lack of detail. The early Japanese sequences are as soft as the Pasadena sequences, but not quite as colourful, so details aren’t quite as sharp as Blu-ray lovers may be expecting, though noise still remains virtually absent. The black levels of the Yakuza meeting scene pushed my television to its limit, and the gory details of the fight at the House of Blue Leaves are breathtaking (if only they were in colour).
Volume 2 begins with that beautifully lit black and white sequence, which unlike just about every other black and white sequence is actually presented in true black and true white. The following Bud and Driver sequences are probably the most naturally lit scenes in either film, and reveal the sharpest details and deepest depth of field. These scenes also demonstrate the most colours of any in the film, though not quite as overly splashy as some of the other sequences. It sounds a little funny, but one of the transfer’s greatest assets is actually Uma’s blonde hair, which looks almost like a special effect it’s so detailed and yellow. The Pai Mei scenes are more blown out and high contrast, featuring deep blacks, and fiery whites. The colours are muted too, mostly revelling in rich greens and deep blues. These scenes are also the grainiest of the second film, but the grain here is far finer than that of the DVD release. Just about my only complaint with the entire collection is the last act, which features a little bit of icky red noise in low-lit skin tones, and some minor edge enhancement on middle and background figures.
Kill Bill’s sound design is perhaps the most pronounced and hyper reactive of any non-animated or non-effects heavy feature I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Okay, so there is an animated scene, but you know what I mean. Unfortunately for me, I still cannot listen to uncompressed PCM tracks with my current set up, so I’m stuck with a good, but not perfect, Dolby Digital track. The Dolby track is still a slight improvement in general compression then the DVD’s DTS track, but it’s a close call.
Using mostly unoriginal or ‘acquired’ music wasn’t something new for Tarantino, after all, he was the guy who brought about newfound popularity of Stealer’s Wheel’s ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ and Dick Dale’s ‘Miserlou’ several decades after they were first released, but using score rather than pop music was a stroke of genius. The Kill Bill CD soundtracks are two of the best homemade mix tapes you’re ever likely to hear, even if they are incomplete. I’ve got special love for the use of ‘Il Grande Duello’, ‘Battle without Honor or Humanity’ and ‘Flower of Carnage’ in Volume 1, and ‘Silhouette of Doom’, ‘Il Mercenario (L'Arena)’ and ‘Three Tough Guys’ in Volume 2.
Musically speaking, and from the point of view of pure audio design, movie one’s best scene is the steady cam walk around the House of Blue Leaves as the 5,6,7,8s belt out their most famous song. Following that we have Beatrice’s fight with Go Go, which is brimming with stylized and over-the-top audio shenanigans, and the arrival of the Crazy 88, which gives the rear channels an effective work out by way of revving motorcycle engines.
The ace scene audibly on Volume 2 is the burial scene, which starts with a cool, whistled score and some of the bassiest hammer hits you’ll ever hear. Then, while Thurman gasps and weeps into the centre channel, the surrounds are attacked by the sound of shovels of dirt being thrown onto her coffin. As the dirt becomes thicker the sound becomes muffled, and more prominent in the back speakers. Eventually the ever so subtle sound of Bud’s pick-up pulling away is heard, leaving a cherry atop the aural sundae.
I’d love to tell you this set features a Quentin Tarantino commentary track, pop-up facts pointing to the specific films paid homage on screen, and in depth documentaries about the making of the films, but there’s nothing new on either of these Blu-ray discs. You’d think that someone who enjoys talking as much at Tarantino would be dying to record commentary tracks, and you’d think that being friends with Robert Rodriguez he’d want to compete with making-of documentaries like Full Tilt Boogie, but apparently you’d be wrong.
Volume 1 comes with a twenty-two minute featurette, two 5,6,7,8 performances, and trailers for every Miramax released Tarantino film, all in standard definition. The featurette, which you all saw on the DVD, is informative enough, and includes a number of cute stories, such as QT’s discovery and hiring of the 5,6,7,8s, but it’s mostly just a tease. The musical performances are the best extra on the disc, but they aren’t even anamorphically enhanced. So sad.
Volume 2 features another behind the scenes featurette (this one running twenty six minutes), which works on the same relatively entertaining and relatively informative level as the making-of on the other disc. Again, though, this is mostly a fluff piece, with a lot of footage from the film and EPK interviews, which teases a possibly more fully developed documentary. The disc also features a three and a half minute deleted scene, featuring Bill kicking Michael Jai White’s ass. This is the only hi-def extra on either disc. The scene is pretty cool, but it really doesn’t have much place in the narrative Tarantino was telling. Everything ends with a live musical performance featuring Robert Rodriguez and his band.
So I love Kill Bill, and I’m sure you do too, so the question of purchasing these Blu-ray discs really comes down to your level of patience. Apparently the Weinsteins own the rights to the US release of the uncut version of the film, but if their treatment of Grindhouse is any clue, we aren’t going to be seeing the ‘Whole Bloody Affair’ version anytime soon. I’m personally hoping for a Japanese Blu-ray release of Volume 1 sometime in the next year. These discs look and sound great (I’m sure even greater for those of you with PCM capabilities), but they are the cut versions, and have basically nothing in the way of extras.
But the Kill Bill adventure doesn’t have to end here, many, if not most of the films Tarantino has quoted here are readily available on DVD. Take a trip to this site to learn a little more. I personally recommend Hannie Caulder, Django Kill, City of the Living Dead, Deep Red, Seven Notes in Black (aka The Psychic), Shogun Assassin, Tokyo Drifter, Death Rides a Horse, The Five Deadly Venoms and especially Lady Snowblood, from which Tarantino takes the film’s basic structure. I’m going to continue looking for copies of Rolling Thunder, Samurai Fiction and Twisted Nerve.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 9th September 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: PCM 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Extras: Behind the Scenes, Trailers, Musical Performances, Deleted Scene
Easter Egg: No
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Lucy Lui, Gordon Lui, Sonny Chiba
Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama and Thriller
Length: 248 minutes
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