I'm sorry, did Judge Patrick Bromley break your concentration?
You won't know the facts until you've seen the fiction.
The movie that changed movies in the 1990s—for better and worse—gets a great HD upgrade and reminds us why it made such a big splash in the first place.
Facts of the Case
You know the story (stories) by now. Hitman Vincent Vega (John Travolta, Blow Out) is tasked with taking out Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman, The Accidental Husband), wife of notorious gangster Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames, Out of Time). Things go horribly wrong. Marsellus tells boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis, The Jackal) to throw a big fight, but Butch has other plans. Things go terribly wrong. Vincent Vega's partner, Jules (Samuel L. Jackson, Iron Man 2), experiences a change of heart when a hit doesn't go as planned—but not before things go terribly wrong for the pair. Everything connects. Everything is told out of order. It's Pulp Fiction.
Sixteen years after its release, it's difficult to talk objectively about Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. It's less a movie at this point than a cultural event, reshaping the movie landscape in the second half of the 1990s for better and (mostly) worse. At the center of the film is its maker, Quentin Tarantino, a director who has come to overshadow his own work and one of the most divisive filmmakers of the last two decades. There are those who worship him and will tolerate no dissent, just as there are reactionaries who blame him for the downfall of moviemaking and consider his every word and move to be overexposed and overrated. Discussing Tarantino movies at this point becomes almost impossible without discussing him, as though we're now required to review him as a human being first and foremost and his body of work second.
I won't bury the lede: I'm a Tarantino fan. Not a slobbering, hyperbolic fanboy, but I do genuinely love all of his movies and find him to be a unique talent in today's movie landscape. If you do not, that's OK. But you may want to stop reading at this point, because I have no interest in defending him against the opposition and even less interest in hyping readers into a frenzy. He is not for everyone, and I won't claim that his detractors simply don't "get" him for the same reason I wish those same detractors wouldn't claim to loathe Tarantino because they're able to see through him—that they, in a sense, "get" that he's a fraud where the rest of us do not. There are many different kinds of films and many different kinds of filmmakers and the world is a rainbow and all of that. Let's move on.
Being as it inspired so many bad, hollow movies and single-handedly ushered in several years' worth of "bullet comedy" (in which murders existed as punchlines) and the Cinema of Cool (doesn't matter if it serves the movie or even makes sense, so long as its cool; the influence of both can be felt even years later in dreck like Troy Duffy's Boondock Saints movies), it's easy to forget just how good Pulp Fiction really is. We remember it now as a series of iconic moments—images included in clip reel after clip reel—but sitting down to actually watch the movie from beginning to end is a reminder of just what a buzz it's able to provide. One of the main criticisms always leveled against the movie is that it's nothing more than an assembly of references and homages. To some extent, that's true, but what makes Pulp Fiction work is the way that Tarantino puts it all together; he synthesizes a lifetime of movie love and geek obsessions in a way that feels not only original, but tremendously personal, too. He gets blamed for introducing the self-aware, pop-culture-laden dialogue that would permeate the next decade (the Age of Irony), but that shouldn't take away from the fact that Pulp Fiction's dialogue is incredible (and Oscar-winning, in case that carries any weight with you). I'm not talking about the "Royale with Cheese" stuff or even Samuel Jackson's pre-murder speech—some of the more famous passages from the script. I'm talking about those lines that you've forgotten, and the ones that don't exist to be taken out of context and quoted. The dialogue in Pulp Fiction has the zip and pace of a '30s screwball comedy, which one wouldn't expect from a movie that also features a leather-clad rapist referred to only as "The Gimp."
Then there are the characters. Though it's the out-of-sequence plotting and colorful dialogue that made Pulp Fiction famous, it's the characters that make the movie live and breathe. Tarantino is working with well-worn "types" (by design; after all, the movie's title lays out all of the filmmaker's intentions), but infuses them with depth and personality and lives that exist outside of the movie. Characters talk about trips they've taken and jobs they've had; some speak in a shorthand that underscores their familiarity with one another, while others are just getting to know each other. What they all have in common is that they don't simply exist to further the plot or to expose personality traits in, say, John Travolta's Vincent Vega. They feel like real people living in a larger-than-life movie world, and I'd argue that it's that element that makes Pulp Fiction such a special movie experience. It helps that the cast is first-rate. So much has been written about Travolta's "comeback" that I won't add much more except to say that he really is great in the movie (all funny and sweet and dopey); he hasn't been this good since Blow Out and hasn't been as good since. In fact, rewatching Pulp Fiction, it made me a little sad to think of how Travolta has squandered his second chance in the years since. It's hard to imagine that the guy doing that great, sleepy, heroin walk up to Mia Wallace's door is the same guy from Old Dogs. It's a testament to just how good several of the cast members are—namely Samuel L. Jackson and Ving Rhames (though both had been acting for years, this was the movie where audiences finally took notice—that they've spent much of their careers ever since playing variations on the characters created here. The originals are still the best.
For fans of the movie, it's never looked better than on this new Blu-ray release. The full 1080p HD transfer, supervised and approved by Tarantino himself, is incredibly film-like, retaining the detail and grain structure of the original celluloid release. Colors are rich and bold, skin tones are natural and contrast is strong throughout. It's a first-rate HD transfer for a movie that deserves no less, and ought to make upgrading your old standard DVD copy a no-brainer. Things only get better from there, though, with a reference-quality lossless DTS-HD audio track that's perfectly balanced. Because Tarantino movies are so dialogue-heavy, it's easy to forget what exciting sonic experiences they are as well (even more so in his later work), and the track on Pulp Fiction served as a great reminder. All of the still-great dialogue is clearly presented, while the awesome music cues and frequent bursts of violence will rock your home theater. It's a really fun listen.
More good news: unlike some other recent Blu-ray releases, all of the extras (and there are a lot of them) have been ported over from the excellent special edition DVD of several years back. Though there are only two new features—a cast and crew retrospective called "Not the Usual Mindless Boring Getting to Know You Chitchat" and a critics roundtable called "Here are Some Facts on the Fiction" (both presented in HD)—the supplemental section is bursting with excellent bonus content dating all the way back to the original Criterion laserdic box set (which I owned). There's nearly a half-hour of deleted scenes introduced by Tarantino, a decent 30 minute documentary ("Pulp Fiction: The Facts"), some behind the scenes footage for both the Jack Rabbit Slim's and Butch/Marsellus car crash sequences, a trivia track, still gallery, a short featurette on the production design, an interview with Tarantino conducted at the Independent Spirt Awards, footage from Tarantino's Cannes acceptance speech in '94, a long piece from Siskel & Ebert At the Movies devoted to Tarantino, a totally exhaustive trailer and marketing gallery and, my personal favorite, a fantastic hour-long interview with Tarantino on The Charlie Rose Show in which the filmmaker discusses not just making Pulp Fiction but all of his favorite movies in general. If you're a fan, it's a completely rewarding hour.
As a fan of Tarantino, I have a theory that anytime you're watching one of his movies, it's easy to start thinking that the one you're watching is his best film. I know there are plenty of people who think Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction is his best, but for me the theory only works for anything after Pulp Fiction (it's a tossup between Jackie Brown and Inglourious Basterds for me). That's because while Pulp Fiction is incredibly entertaining and well made—not to mention iconic and most likely the movie for which Tarantino will be remembered—it's not really about in the way that his later movies are. It's an incredible exercise in style and technique and features terrific dialogue and characters. In many ways, it's exactly why we go to the movies. If I'm holding anything against it, it's only because Tarantino demonstrated in later movies that he's capable of even more. Still, it's a great movie and a great Blu-ray, and one that I'll be spinning a lot in the years to come. Dig it.
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