Lionsgate presents Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc in a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer. Other than seeing the film theatrically during its initial run my experience with the film over the last 17 or so years has been through VHS (full screen and widescreen versions), laserdisc, and of course DVD. For a home video release the Blu-ray easily tops all of those other options when it comes to video presentation, but ultimately this could have been so much better.
True, the last time I saw the film theatrically was around 17 years ago, and my memory of how it looked when it played could have been replaced by some of the other shoddy or lackluster home video presentations over the years, but I’m positive the film did not look entirely like this. The image looks like it has been severely boosted in a few ways to appeal to the high-def enthusiasts. Colours appear a bit brighter than I recall, and contrast has been boosted significantly as well in quite a few sequences, with some intense whites present. Skin tones lean a little on the orange/yellow side, not looking in any way natural (but in all honesty this aspect is worse in the transfer for the simultaneous Blu-ray release of Jackie Brown.)
Some of this I could live with and in all honesty my memory of how it looked could be wrong or this is the way Tarantino wants it to look, after all this transfer was apparently approved by the man himself, so I can accept that my memory is wrong. What I couldn't get around was a jittery strobing effect that occurs a lot throughout the film. At first I figured it may be a configuration somewhere that got changed on my set up (I have a kid who is fascinated by the remote so that’s always possible) but after verifying everything and throwing in other discs to check them, ones that I knew looked fine, I didn’t notice anything like it anywhere else. Then while doing screen grabs I found a few that presented the issue. Basically any time there was a fast moving object on screen there was a trailing effect, something I would expect from an interlaced transfer, not a progressive one. It’s not constant but when it’s noticeable it is really hard to ignore and irritated me to a great degree.
On the other hand what the transfer has going for it is that this is actually the sharpest I’ve seen the movie since the theater. You notice some really fine details in clothing, pores on the faces of the actors, and the fine curls in Samuel L. Jackson’s Jheri curl wig. Some darker moments look a little washed but definition was still, at least, pretty good. I can’t say film grain was all that prominent and I suspect some scrubbing has gone on but if that’s the case it didn’t really harm the image as a whole and it’s not a real concern, though I would have preferred it to remain.
So despite the cons does it look better than other home video versions? Yes, it’s the best I’ve seen the movie since seeing it in the theater, but its competition isn’t all that great. There has been some obvious over-manipulation to the image, I suspect to make it an acceptable “high-def” experience geared more towards the technophiles than cinephiles but it at least doesn’t reach the horrendous extremes of something like what Universal did with The Big Lebowski. Yet it doesn’t look much like a “film” and the strobing effect was an issue for me. Could have been so much better. 6/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
The lossless DTS-HD 5.1 surround track we get really goes the extra mile. The track is crystal clear with excellent volume and range. Dialogue sounds crisp and clean, always easy to understand, and some of the louder moments, like the film’s opening title sequence with the now famous rendition of “Misirlou” playing over it, also manage to come off very clean with no distortion.
Still there were a few things that bothered me. Maybe the sound track has always been like this and I’m just noticing it now because the quality and clarity of the track is really amazing but sometimes it really feels like it’s trying too hard to make use of the surrounds. There are quite a few moments where it feels too much emphasis is being placed on sound effects coming from the rear speakers, especially during the opening diner scene and a scene where Bruce Willis’ character is driving down the street, and they sound like they’re being forced back there rather than naturally flowing back there. These moments create a rather odd, somewhat unnatural sound design.
The soundtrack has always been kind of odd on home video, though, so it could all be related to the original mix, and it could even be intentional, but it’s something that I just really noticed this time around. Past that I did rather like the track. It may try a little too hard but it’s loud, sharp, and incredibly clean. 8/10
Thankfully Lionsgate doesn’t just simply port everything from previous editions. It does include a lot of what was previously available on the Criterion laserdisc and the previous special edition DVD but it also adds some lengthy material that I was rather surprised by in terms of quality.
New to this edition is the 43-minute interview segment called Not the Usual Mindless Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat, which features actors John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Eric Stoltz, and Rosanna Arquette. It starts with Travolta recalling when he first met Tarantino, who talked to him for hours about his career, the things he did right and wrong, and then got into details about projects he hoped to cast the actor in. Funny enough, Tarantino wanted to cast Travolta in From Dusk Till Dawn, planning to cast Michael Madsen in Pulp Fiction, but Travolta expressed more interest in Fiction, stating he didn’t like vampire movies, and this led Tarantino to rethink the role of Vincent. From here Jackson jumps in and talks about his casting session (where he was called “Mr. Fishburne” by someone) and moving on everyone then throws in what drew them to the script, what it was like working with Tarantino, talk about specific scenes (the needle scene in particular) and just the overall pleasure of working on the film. Funny enough this piece is really as the title suggests: it’s an excellent, fairly insightful collection of interviews that are also incredibly entertaining. I’m not sure if this is Lionsgate’s doing, but if it is I’m really impressed! (This feature is presented in high-definition.)
Following this is another new feature, also presented in high-def, called Here Are Some Facts On the Fiction, a 21-minute panel discussion between critics/scholars Elvis Mitchell, Scott Founlas, Stephanie Zacharek, Tim Lucas, and Andy Klein. Here they discuss the impact of the film and their initial impressions of it. It’s a decent “scholarly” round though sort of feels like “fanboyism” instead of analysis but it’s a decent conversation. It’s made a little more interesting by the sole dissenting voice that belongs to Zacharek. I don’t agree with her thoughts on the film, though I was amused by one comment she made regarding possibly the most annoying aspect of the film and Tarantino, namely the “directors” who have been influenced by him. Tarantino has been influenced by dozens of directors and has a vast knowledge about film that he draws from, but those who have been influenced by Tarantino have only been influenced by Tarantino and have no idea who Howard Hawks or Samuel Fuller or any other director Tarantino loves is, and their work is all the more worse and annoying because of this. In the end a surprisingly decent conversation if not great.
All remaining supplements are presented in standard definition. Carried over from the previous DVD edition is a 30-minute documentary called Pulp Fiction: The Facts. It’s decent but somewhat fluffy, gathering together interviews with those that have worked with or knew Tarantino during the time who discuss how Tarantino got his start in Hollywood (selling a script for Natural Born Killers) and how he made his way up to make Pulp Fiction. We also get interviews with some of the actors from the set talking about the film. Not bad and interesting, but in all honesty the new 43-minute interview mentioned previously trumps this and is probably more interesting.
Next are 5 deleted scenes. We first get 4 scenes with introductions by Tarantino, which were originally included on the Criterion Collection laserdisc. These scenes include an extended scene in Eric Stoltz’s apartment, a scene where Mia interviews Vince with a video camera, a longer, alternate cab scene between Willis and de Medeiros, and then an extra scene from Monster Joe’s scrap yard that features Dick Miller. There is then another extended scene from the DVD, which is an extended bit of the “date” between Vince and Mia, which doesn’t have an intro by Tarantino. In total they run 25-minutes and are interesting, though rightfully cut (they would have easily killed the pacing.) Tarantino’s intros are a little obnoxious but they detail, in long winded ways, why they were cut. The guy’s a film geek, though, so I do find it somewhat easy to forgive him when he gets carried away.
Also from the Criterion laserdisc are two behind the scenes montages. First is a 5-minute piece from the Jack Rabbit Slim’s set while the second is a 6-minute look at the filming of the scene where Butch hits Marcellus with his car. They are of course loaded with behind-the-scenes footage which includes Tarantino directing. The most amusing moment, though, would have to be where Tarantino asks Willis where this film fits in his career and Willis mentions it could be the beginning of a downward spiral (Tarantino jokes it could be his Stroker Ace). Not overly insightful but they’re amusing enough.
Pretty useless is a 6-minute featurette from the DVD about the Production Design of the film. Here David Wasco talks about the sets, the locations, and the Gimp.
A really cool addition is 16-minutes of an episode of Siskel & Ebert from 1994 where the two talk about Tarantino and Pulp Fiction and the impact the film had already had on the movies. They show their original review for Reservoir Dogs (“meh” at best) and really examine the violence in his films since it received so much heat for it (and they of course point out how so much of it actually happens off screen.) Great addition and I really wish more discs would include stuff like this (as of now I can only recall MGM’s Blue Velvet disc and Criterion’s Hoop Dreams disc doing something similar.)
After this is an 11-minute interview segment from the 1995 Independent Spirit Awards where Michael Moore interviews Tarantino, Jackson, and producer Lawrence Bender. It’s entertaining but not overly insightful and most information here is repeated from previous features. Also found here is a 5-minute clips from the 1994 airing of the Cannes Film Festival where Tarantino gives his acceptance speech after his film is read as the winner of the Palme d’or by Clint Eastwood. Tarantino is giddy of course but it’s actually a charming speech.
The biggest surprise for me still is the 55-minute interview with Tarantino on The Charlie Rose Show. It’s easy to get irritated by Tarantino because of his spazziness and fanboy mentality, but he really knows his stuff, and really knows his movies, and it’s best displayed here where he talks about that love starting with how he got into film, talks about his favourite directors, which includes De Palma, Scorsese, Coppola, Melville, Fuller, Hawks, Leone, Godard, and so many more, and then talking about the specific films he loves. His love for these directors is really almost touching and when he trashes a director he does love (like he does when he talks about De Palma’s Bonfire of the Vanities) it’s actually done with respect (he admires how when a great director fails he does it spectacularly.) During the tail end he talks about getting Reservoir Dogs and then Pulp Fiction made, and then addresses the controversy about the violence in his films. This section doesn’t prove as engaging unfortunately but is a fine conclusion. Still, the first 40-minutes or so are actually quite entertaining, especially for film buffs.
The disc then concludes with an extensive collection of marketing material, including a stills gallery loaded with photos from the set, of props, and so on. We also get a marketing gallery loaded with trailers from around the world (also on the Criterion laserdisc), TV spots, posters—primarily Japanese—and then the Academy Award campaign ads. Also carried over from the DVD is a Trivia Track, which is a subtitle track that plays over the film giving details about the film, its production, and its standing in film history. I guess it’s supposed to replace a commentary but it’s not particularly intriguing. There’s also a soundtrack listing which is a chapter menu that takes you directly to songs in the film.
Missing are a number of DVD-ROM features that were on the DVD, including a copy of the script, a DVD-ROM trivia game, and one of those “do it yourself” commentary deals where you could record your own track (no loss there.) Also missing is an interview/introduction with Tarantino that appeared on the Criterion laserdisc.
There’s some good material here, when you get past the filler. Most of it comes from other sources but I was impressed with the two new ones Lionsgate has included here and they alone offer a rather engaging look into the making of the film. More scholarly stuff looking into the film’s impact would have been great but I’ll live with what we get. 8/10