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It’s been a long time coming, but at long last we finally have a true ‘Special Edition’ of one of the most acclaimed films of the 1990s – Reservoir Dogs. The directorial debut of writer/director Quentin Tarantino has been poorly represented on DVD thus far, so it was with great interest that I sat down to pour over this latest offering from Artisan Entertainment, a company with a fantastic track record in producing great DVDs. As an added bonus, Reservoir Dogs is available in a variety of special packaging themed around the characters from the movie. I went for the Mr. Pink packaging. Laugh if you must…

It’s worth noting that this review contains spoilers for those who have not seen the movie.

Reservoir Dogs: 10th Anniversary Special Edition
Film
For the most part, the story concerns the aftermath of a bungled jewel heist and how the criminals involved deal with a situation gone awry. The majority of the action is set in an abandoned warehouse, and we are introduced to the main protagonists by the clever implementation of non-sequential flashback sequences. It is in between these flashbacks that the four surviving gangsters try to piece together what went wrong, who is to blame, and how they are going to get out of the mess they now find themselves in. Unbeknownst to them, one of their ranks is actually an undercover police officer that has infiltrated the group so that Joe Cabot, the criminal mastermind behind the job, can be brought to justice. As the film hurtles towards its bloody climax we learn more about the gangsters' backgrounds and motivations, especially the characters of Mr. Blonde, Mr. Orange and Mr. White.

Featuring brilliant performances from all of the principals, Reservoir Dogs is a powerful bit of cinema. The dialogue is, to paraphrase one of the characters, “super cool” and is littered with pop culture references. Just check out Mr. Brown’s (Quentin Tarantino) opening ‘Madonna speech’ for proof of that. Steve Buscemi is awesome as Mr. Pink, the weasel-like gangster who ultimately reveals turns out to be the only professional among the bunch. Michael Madsen plays his usual tough guy/psycho role to a tee and Harvey Keitel also puts in a fine performance as the father figure of the group. An extra special mention must go to Tim Roth for his portrayal of Mr. Orange, as he is simply superb. It’s also worth watching out for great performances from the late Lawrence Tierney (as Joe Cabot) and Chris Penn as his son (Nice Guy Eddie). However, it is the film’s non-linear nature that impresses the most, and this is certainly a worthy precursor to Quentin’s masterpiece, Pulp Fiction.

Video
Now we move on to the most controversial aspect of the release—the video transfer. The anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is a definite improvement over previous efforts in certain areas, and when compared to my UK R2 disc, which also claims to be 2.35:1, this release seems to contain a little more picture information to the top, bottom and sides. The image is also very clean, with no obvious artefacting, ensuring that everything looks very sharp and detailed.

Unfortunately though, the transfer isn’t without its fair share of problems. Of principal concern is the woefully inadequate black level, with many items (such as the criminals' suits) appearing as more of a grey colour than the black they should be. Some scenes are so bright it becomes a real distraction, particularly the start of chapter fifteen, which is horrendous. That said, most of the time it’s just about tolerable, but this kind of inconsistency really irks me. Colours are also often muted, but again this is highly variable. I’ve read a number of reviews that insist this is the way Quentin Tarantino wanted the film to look, but I simply can’t believe this to be the case. Momentum Pictures’ UK R2 release contains a transfer that exhibits vastly superior black levels and much improved contrast and colour. Obviously this is just my personal opinion, but Artisan really seems to have dropped the ball with this one. A 10th Anniversary edition is supposed to be something very special, but the disappointing transfer definitely damages the package overall.

Reservoir Dogs: 10th Anniversary Special Edition
Disc two contains a fullscreen transfer for those of you who detest the ‘black bars’ that are normally associated with widescreen transfers. While the film was shot in Super35, which should minimise the loss of picture information normally associated with the panning and scanning process, you’re still not seeing the film the way the director originally intended.

Audio
With the exception of the extra features, the audio has received the most attention when compared to previous releases. You get the choice of both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, as well as a Dolby 2.0 Surround track.
 
As it turns out, the aural elements of this disc are a lot tougher to review than many of the titles I’ve had in my hands lately. I’ve listened to both the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks very closely, comparing scenes time and again, and it seems clear that in this instance there is little to elevate one above the other (and this is from someone who has occasionally raved about the superiority of DTS). Reservoir Dogs is equally enjoyable in either format, although if pushed I’d have to say the DTS track sounds marginally ‘cleaner’ than the Dolby track. Still, I also think the Dolby track delivers punchier bass than the DTS, so we’re right back where we started again.

Whichever format you plump for, you’ll be suitably entertained. Be warned though—Reservoir Dogs is not the sonic assault you might have imagined. As a predominantly dialogue-driven piece of work, ‘Dogs offers little in the way of surround action, and what little there is often sounds ‘forced’ and somewhat artificial. Before I give you the impression that the remixes were a waste of time, the surround channels are used to good effect during the musical numbers and at certain intervals for ambience. Providing you don’t expect miracles from this track and you should avoid disappointment. The biggest plus is that the all-important dialogue is as clear as it ever was (unless it’s Quentin giving his ‘Madonna’ speech).

I don’t think I can leave the audio section without commenting on the fantastic soundtrack. Tarantino’s ability to choose the perfect song for every scene (although I’m sure he has help from time to time) always staggers me. Reservoir Dogs was probably the first soundtrack album I ever bought, and great tracks like ‘Little Green Bag’, ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ and ‘Coconut’ remind me why it never left the car stereo.

Reservoir Dogs: 10th Anniversary Special Edition
Extras
Without a doubt, the most impressive facet of this release when compared to previous efforts is the supplemental section. The features are spread over two discs, with the first containing the majority of the more ‘worthy’ features. First up we have a commentary track featuring Quentin Tarantino, producer Lawrence Bender, executive producer Monte Hellman, cinematographer Andrezj Sekla, editor Sally Menke, and cast members Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Michael Madsen and Kirk Baltz. The track is actually just a series of clips from interviews skilfully stitched together to run the whole length of the feature. The content is very interesting, and usually relevant to the scene you’re watching, but at times the sound quality leaves much to be desired.

The original interviews segment features newly recorded conversations with Chris Penn, Kirk Baltz, Michael Madsen, Lawrence Bender, Tim Roth and Quentin Tarantino. Each interview lasts between six and fifteen minutes, and make for very interesting viewing. Chris Penn, whose interview is supposedly conducted in the back of a truck, is also looking a more than a little chunky compared to his appearance in Reservoir Dogs (and that’s saying something).

For me, the deleted scenes are one of the most interesting aspects of this release. Five are included, although the last two are simply alternate angles of the infamous scene in which Mr Blonde removes a cop’s ear with the aid of a straight razor… The first scene, which is entitled ‘Background Check’, runs for a little under five minutes and provides a more background information on the character played by Harvey Keitel. It’s nice to have this kind of scene on this DVD, if only so all us geeks can discuss Mr White’s real name down the pub. It’s just a pity he shares a name with a certain ginger celebrity gardener… Things to look out for are a female cop named McCluskey looking up Mr White’s rap sheet on computer (an Atari ST no less) and some of Tarantino’s trademark pop-culture references. Does anyone remember the Monkeys? Although this is an enjoyable scene I can understand the reasons behind its omission from the final cut. I feel the characters work very well with a certain air of mystery about them, and this scene removed some of that mystery.

The second scene, entitled ‘No Protection’, runs for just under three minutes and concerns Mr Orange’s discomfort about the lack of protection he’ll receive during his undercover mission, while the two and a half minute ‘Doing My Job’ features Mr White, Mr Pink and Nice Guy Eddie taking a car ride after the heist. This scene would supposedly have taken place around the same time Mr Blonde was having fun with the cop in the warehouse, and it mostly deals with Mr White’s insistence that Nice Guy Eddy get a doctor to care for Mr Orange. Fans of Pulp Fiction may notice that a certain nurse also gets a mention during this scene. As I mentioned before, scenes four and five are simply alternate takes of the ear removal scene in which you get to actually see the removal of the cop’s prosthetic ear. The scenes aren’t entirely finished, and aren’t anywhere near as shocking as you might think.

Finally on disc one, we have the original theatrical trailer, which runs for around one and a half minutes. The trailer does a fairly good job of promoting the film, but I doubt many will give this a second look.

Moving on to disc two now, we come to critics’ commentaries. This section features Amy Taubin, Peter Travers and Emanuel Levy, who offer commentary on specific scenes from the movie. Now this may forever label me a philistine, but I really think some of these critics need to chill out and stop reading so much into the films they watch. Sometimes a chocolate bar is just a chocolate bar, not a phallic symbol… Taubin in particular seems to take great leaps of logic simply to justify her existence as a critic. Or maybe it’s just me. Still, if you like this sort of thing then the fifty odd minutes of commentary found here will be right up your street.

Reservoir Dogs: 10th Anniversary Special Edition
The K-Billy Interactive Radio is an odd little feature. The different ‘stations’ feature audio clips that range from an interview with incarcerated villain Sampson Beck, Jerry Rafferty of Steeler’s Wheel giving some insight on the origins of the song ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’, some amusing outtakes of comedian Steven Wright recording his dialogue for the film and a ‘hidden’ channel with a strange easter egg entitled ‘Reservoir Dolls’.

The next section is entitled ‘The Class of ‘92’ and features around forty to forty-five minutes of interviews with the likes of Tarantino, Alex Rockwell, Chris Munch, Katt Shea and Tom Kalin. The interviews concentrate on the filmmakers’ experiences at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival and make for interesting viewing. Also in this section we have the ‘Sundance Institute’s Filmmaker’s Lab’, which is very similar to a feature found on the DVD release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Hard Eight’. This sequence features actors Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino (watch out for his horrendous overacting) and an unknown running through a couple of scenes from the film. It’s nice to see Steve Buscemi’s take on Mr. White, although the guy who played Joe Cabot really wasn’t suited to the part.

In addition to tributes to Lawrence Tierney and Eddie Bunker, the ‘Tributes and Dedications’ section of the disc also features a number of interviews with people such as Pam Grier, Monty Hellman, Jack Hill and Roger Corman. The tributes are very amusing, especially Tierney’s. Both Tarantino and the cast recall many stories about the actor, who was apparently a little bit difficult to work with on occasion (and that’s an understatement). Still, the memories are found, and Chris Penn in particular has a very amusing anecdote about the man. The interviews with Grier, Hellman and the others are also very interesting, and run from anywhere from two and a half to five and a half minutes.

‘The Film Noir Web’ contains around twenty minutes of interviews with Mike Hodges, Robert Polito, John Boorman, Donald Westlake and Stephen Frears, who discuss the art of film noir adaptation. Also included are the text-based ‘Noir Files’, which offer a very comprehensive look at the genre. To be honest text-based extras aren’t really my cup of tea, but I’m sure many people will enjoy wading through the large amount of information contained in this section. The ‘Noir Files’ are divided into four categories: ‘The Basics’, ‘Writers and Directors’, ‘Books and Films’ and ‘Characters and Actors’.

Now we move on to the lighter extras, the first of which is entitled ‘Small Dogs’. This is a four-minute look at the Reservoir Dogs action figures that you may have seen in your local shops. Another four-minute feature entitled ‘Securing the Shot: Location Scouting with Billy Fox’ is a short walkthrough of the various locations used in the film, while the ‘Reservoir Dogs Style Guide’ is an impossibly short (twenty two seconds) feature that shows clips of the characters looking, well, stylish!

Finally we have a Poster Gallery containing three of the films’ theatrical posters. Now although I have to question the worth of a gallery with only three items, it doesn’t detract from what is a very nice collection of extras.

Reservoir Dogs: 10th Anniversary Special Edition
Overall
A decade on from its original theatrical release, Reservoir Dogs is still one of the “coolest” films around and a personal favourite of mine. While there’s no doubting the film’s greatness, what should have been the definitive release of the movie has been marred by a below par video transfer. Thankfully the extras alone make this package worthwhile, offering as they do pretty much everything that any self-respecting Reservoir Dogs fan could ask for. Unfortunately I can’t help thinking that we’ll see a “visually corrected” re-release at some point in the near future, if only to squeeze that little bit extra out of those who bought this DVD and are unsatisfied with the transfer. Then again maybe I’m just too cynical. All in all this though, this package still comes highly recommended.


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