Pulp Fiction (US - BD RA)
Gabe still isn't a huge fan, but look at these updated comparison screen caps!
It’s kind of ironic that Pulp Fiction and The Lion King are making their Blu-ray debuts the same day, at least from my critical point of view. Both films were released in 1994, and changed the face of the film and pop culture landscapes in ways that still apply nearly 20 years later. Both films were surprise box office hits ( Lion King more so than Pulp Fiction), and both Blu-rays were among the most requested since the format’s inception. Most importantly to this review, however, is the fact I don’t share the general public’s affection for either groundbreaking cinematic masterpiece. Perhaps it’s just 1994? I don’t respect Forrest Gump, True Lies, Interview with the Vampire or Four Weddings and a Funeral nearly as much as the majority of film fans either. Whatever the reason, I gladly accept that these films mean something to other people, and don’t wish to rain on anyone’s parade. If you’re one of the millions of people that count Pulp Fiction among your favourite motion pictures I recommend you shoot right past the next couple paragraph to the part where I look at this Blu-ray’s technical specs as objectively as I can manage. I’m also skipping a plot synopsis because, you know, we all know this movie.
Those of you still reading this might wonder what I can possibly dislike about Pulp Fiction. I’ll be brief. Pulp Fiction is a film I respect for its narrative choices, performances, and most especially the manner that it brought a post-modern savvy back to mainstream crime movies. Apparently mid-‘90s audiences craved entertainment that reminded them of the past. It’s little coincidence that Robert Zemeckis’ would score box office and critical acclaim the same year with such an obvious appeal to public nostalgia, or that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson would reintroduce post-modern elements to the horror film with Scream only a few years later. Thanks to Reservoir Dogs (I film that, unlike Pulp Fiction, I outwardly dislike) I discovered French and Hong Kong New Wave crime cinema, and without Pulp Fiction I probably wouldn’t have discovered the joys of American Noir at such a tender age. I also adore just about every film Quentin Tarantino has written and directed since Pulp Fiction (save his piece of Four Rooms, which I can’t stand, and Death Proof, which I simply enjoy rather than adore), so I do revisit Pulp Fiction on occasion to recall the writer/director’s roots.
Pulp Fiction works best when Tarantino is reveling in the unexpected over his forced sense of ‘cool’. All these years later we know Mia is going to OD on heroine, that Marvin will be shot in the face, and that there’s a ‘gimp’ in Zed’s basement, but there was no predicting these insane events during a blind, first time viewing. I suspect it is the constant over-telling of these stories coloured my luke-warm response to the film. There are some celebrated elements of the film I’ve never understood, and it’s these that usually get me labeled a ‘hater’ during conversations concerning the film. I’ve never understood the utter joy so many others derive from watching Travolta and Thurman twist for what seems like a half hour of screen time. I’ve also never understood the thrill people got when Tarantino and Jackson incessantly talk about nothing. It’s not as if John Cassavetes, Jim Jarmusch and Alex Cox hadn’t making films featuring characters incessantly talking about nothing for decades already. What is it about Tarantino’s special brand of nothing made such a long-standing connection with audiences? I agree that Samuel Jackson speaks these words with brilliant cadence, and I could probably listen to him quote fake bible verses for hours (the last third of the movie, the section in which Jackson is the pseudo lead, is undoubtedly great filmmaking, and the main reason I still watch the film), but almost every other particularly wordy segment coming out of almost every other actor’s mouth (yes, outside the third act, which I already admitted is amazing great, I’m including Travolta in this broad generalization) strikes me as awkward in both rhythm and content. But that’s just me, the rest of you really shouldn’t let me be the stick in your craw.
In case it wasn’t already clear, I’m not quite familiar enough with Pulp Fiction to act as an expert in comparison, but I do own the film on DVD, and studied the caps on Chris Gould’s Hong Kong Blu-ray review while watching this new, director approved 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer. I feel like this makes me a somewhat worthy contributor to the conversation. The first thing my somewhat unfamiliar eye notices is that this version of the movie starts really damn bright. It’s as if the sun has been moved several dozen miles closer to the earth, and I half expect Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer’s faces to melt off. The rest of the transfer follows the lead set here, and is generally brighter, and slightly warmer than any other version I’ve seen of the film. The colour timing is completely understandable given the repeating gold colour motif, and I quite like the richer quality this affords the reds (Mia’s lips, Vincent’s car, the interiors of the cocktail bar), which now appear more homogeneous in overall hue (previously pink elements are now more fully red). In general I find myself preferring these dynamic colours, but the (I’m going to call it) ‘over’ brightening blows out most of the subtlety in daylight shots, and more hyper-white sets (the Wallace house). Most of the film is overlaid with noticeable, occasionally even noxious edge haloes. The haloes and more homogenous palette slightly flattens some of the foreground elements on the medium and wide shots.
Details are generally quite sharp (you can really see the Jheri in Jackson’s curl), from what I can see slightly sharper than the HK release Chris reviewed, but not entirely natural thanks to the more vibrant palette, and what appears to be some relatively minor DNR enhancement. The disc’s producers haven’t gone overboard trying to smooth out the natural grain and artefacts inherent in 35mm film stock, but I do notice a curious lack of grain, and a curiously waxy quality to some of the faces and clothing. The best details are found in close-up textures, and the tiny contrasts that go along with the close-up textures. Some of the darker sequences, most of which are delegated to Butch’s more distinctly noir part of the film, are sizably clearer than my DVD copy (though the lack of grain here still troubles me). Background details are less consistent, but still much better than my DVD copy, and at least as solid as those on Chris’ HK screen caps. All in all there is no doubt that this is an upgrade over all non-HD versions of the film, but there are some serious issues keeping this transfer from perfection.
This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track quickly massacres my DVD release even at modest volume levels as the first notes of Dick Dale’s ‘Miserlou’ sear through the speakers. Then the groove of Kool and the Gang’s ‘Jungle Boogie’ spreads over the stereo channels, and gives the LFE a bigger bounce thanks to a heavy bass groove. Of course anyone that knows the film knows things quiet down considerably after this, and Tarantino’s patented dialogue takes aural precedence throughout the bulk of the film. Be assured, however, that the uncompressed quality of this track makes all your favourite musical moments sound better than they ever have. For the most part non-musical ambience is secondary, centered, and consistent in general tone. Dialogue is less consistent in volume, clarity and distortion due to the general lack of ADR and other post-production tinkering. Tarantino is all about capturing performances on set, and sometimes this leads to some purposeful lapses in consistency. There are a few pieces of non-vocal noise that crack out of the mix throughout the film, and many of these happen to be massive gunshots. The aural complexity usually changes up from scene to scene. For example, the Jack Rabbit Slim's set features a little more general vocal ambience, and the faux-live sound of the music is effectively warm and features an effective multi-channel echo. Other effective surround movement include Butch’s general vehicular mayhem.
Like Lionsgate’s Jackie Brown disc, most of the extras here were already available on Miramax’s DVD release, but there are a few newbies. ‘Not the Usual Mindless Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat’ (43:00, HD) is a new series of retrospective interviews with John Travolta, Samuel Jackson, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Eric Stoltz, and Rosanna Arquette. Subject matter includes meeting Tarantino, the process of being cast, the screenplay, the rehearsal period, the shooting process, the Cannes Film Festival screening, the public’s reaction to the film, and the film’s lasting legacy. ‘Here are Some Facts on the Fiction’ (20:40, HD) is a critics roundtable including moderator Elvis Mitchell, Scott Foundas, Stephanie Zacharek, Andy Klein, and personal favourite Tim Lucas. Zacharek is a woman after my own heart, being a non-fan appreciating the film without loving it (she also loves Jackie Brown), and Lucas gets right off on a Mario Bava tip, which leads into some discussion concerning the film’s comic book elements. There’s also some nice appreciation for the film’s comedy.
From here we move on to the vintage stuff, starting with ‘ Pulp Fiction: The Facts[/I]’ (30:30, SD), a featurette that chronicles the film’s life, including interviews with The Intruder director Scott Spiegel, KNB effects artist Greg Nicotero (who worked on The Intruder, producer Lawrence Bender (who had directed The Intruder), Samuel Jackson, Tim Roth, John Travolta, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Uma Thurman, editor Sally Menke, and Tarantino himself. This is followed by five deleted/extended scenes, with a thoroughly obnoxious director’s introduction (24:30, SD), two raw behind the scenes montages (4:40, 6:00, SD), a look at the highly detailed production design (6:20, SD), an episode of Siskel and Ebert at the Movies entitled Pulp Faction: The Tarantino Generation (16:00, SD), an interview conducted by Michael Moore at the Independent Spirit Awards (11:30, SD), footage from the film’s Palme D’Or win at the Cannes Film Festival (5:20, SD), an interview with Charlie Rose (55:30, SD), five trailers, TV spots, posters, Academy Award campaign trade ads, still galleries, a trivia track, soundtrack chapter stops, and trailers for other Lionsgate releases. I feel it’s important to note that Roger Avary is mentioned once, in text as one of the co-winner of the best original screenplay Oscar, and he appears in the background as ‘Roger’ during the Independent Spirit interview (he’s asked to stand behind Tarantino, then disappears between shots). Tarantino doesn’t even thank him during his acceptance speech.
I’m sorry I haven’t been fully charmed by Pulp Fiction, but I do recognize what makes it so special, and can’t argue against the worldwide love dumped upon its cinematic legacy. Without Pulp Fiction the Hollywood mainstream would’ve never embraced a multitude of my favourite films of the ‘90s and ‘00s, including just about every other film Quentin Tarantino himself made. Objectively speaking I do think some fans will be disappointed by this release, but only just. This 1080p transfer is a sizable upgrade over all other non-HD versions of the film, but it has some problems, and some fans are going to have problems with the changes made to the basic look of the film (changes the director has approved). The new, uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is more or less perfect, and there are a couple of new extras added to the already relatively extensive Miramax DVDs original extras.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and DVD releases 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. Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the Lionsgate Blu-ray screen-caps.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 4th October 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Not the Usual Mindless Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat, Here Are the Facts on the Fiction', Behind the Scenes Footage, Pulp Fiction: The Facts, Production Design Featurette, Siskel and Ebert at the Movies: The Tarantino Generation, Independent Spirit Awards Footage, Cannes Film Festival Footage, Charlie Rose Show Interview, Still Galleries, Trivia Track, Deleted Scenes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: John Travolta, Samuel Jackson, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Christopher Walken, Harvey Kietiel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Film-Noir and Thriller
Length: 154 minutes
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