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Must Own
4.5 stars
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
5 Stars
HD Video Quality
5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
5 Stars
Supplements
3.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
1 Stars
Bottom Line
Must Own

Inglourious Basterds

Street Date:
December 15th, 2009
Reviewed by:
Drew Taylor
Review Date: 1
December 7th, 2009
Movie Release Year:
2009
Studio:
Universal Studios
Length:
153 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

This summer was full of expensive, state-of-the-art spectacle that bored me silly. But at the end of the season, something came along that thrilled, excited, and amused me more than an army of computer-generated robots, aliens, or superheroes. And that movie was Quentin Tarantino's wonderfully surprising 'Inglourious Basterds.'

Although it got shortchanged at Cannes (still, it was the only American film to score an award - for Christoph Waltz's performance as Col. Hans Landa) and got the seesawing hand of ambivalence from most of the American critics, 'Inglourious Basterds' is a one of a kind war movie that's as arty as it is entertaining.

The main story is basically broken up into three stories, each charting a different character's trajectory. Of course, this being a Quentin Tarantino film, all three arcs converge at the end in one of the most spectacular (and cathartic) climaxes in recent memory. (Like the 'Kill Bill' films, Tarantino divides 'Basterds' into "chapters," each with a wonderful title.)

Story arc 1 follows Col. Hans Landa, played by Christoph Waltz, an SS officer who has earned the nickname "The Jew Hunter." As the film opens (the first chapter is called "Once Upon a Time… In Nazi-Occupied France"), he is interrogating a French dairy owner suspected of hiding Jews. In one of the more stunning camera moves, we glide down below the floorboards and see the Dreyfus family, with teenage daughter Shosanna (Melanie Laurent, covering her mouth to keep from yelping). Tarantino is interested in suspense, in drawing the scene out like saltwater taffy until the tension is so unbearable that something has to break. And when that taffy snaps, terrible things happen.

Arc 2 follows Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt, proving that he's the handsomest weirdo character actor on planet earth), the leader of the titular, misspelled Basterds, a troop of plainclothes Jewish-American soldiers, dropped behind enemy lines. Raine's nickname is "The Apache," because he demands 100 Nazi scalps from all the Basterds. As for those left alive - Raine carves a ghastly swastika into their foreheads as a reminder of the atrocities they committed during the war. Among the Basterds is The Bear Jew (filmmaker Eli Roth) and Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger), a former German soldier who went berserk and killed a bunch of Nazis.

The third arc is that of Shosanna, now grown and operating a cinema in German-controlled Paris. A German war hero Frederick Zoller (Daniel Bruhl) becomes infatuated with Shosanna and suggests that the world premiere of the movie based on his exploits ('Nation's Pride') be held at her theater. Soon, she hatches a plot to kill all the Nazis who attend that premiere, which, oddly enough, dovetails perfectly with a plot hatched by the British and to be carried out by the Basterds ("Operation Kino") that involves destroying the same theater.

All of the plot threads come together towards the end with a thrilling, unforgettable, gore-soaked climax the likes of which you've never seen.

Fans of 'Jackie Brown,' who found themselves waiting patiently for Tarantino to stop messing around with and riffing on his favorite 1970's trash movies, and make an honest to God film again, will be happy. This might be his most sophisticated, intricately plotted, gorgeously shot film yet. In addition to all those junky movies he loves so much, his appreciation for European cinema is clearly on display (a good 75 percent of the movie is subtitled for crying out loud!), with particular attention paid to the French New Wave. Also, somewhere in there, Tarantino became the master of suspense, with each "chapter" a different set up for his hoooooold and release formula. There's a scene where the Basterds meet a German turncoat in an underground tavern that will blow your mind.

Late in the movie, Brad Pitt looks directly into the camera and says, "I think this might be my masterpiece." I couldn't agree more. This is 2009's best film.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

'Inglourious Basterds' Blu-ray release is a dual-layered 50GB disc. It is Region "free" and has a second disc with a digital copy.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'Inglourious Basterds' is Tarantino's most beautiful film and this 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer (2.39:1 aspect ratio) faithfully reproduces it for high-def. The results are absolutely stunning.

'Basterds' is rich in period detail, and this transfer is perfect for that. Detail is amazing all around - the costumes (you can really notice the death's head on Landa's cap) and settings (like the autumnal killing field) look truly wonderful, and the little Quentin-verse details (posters etc.) really pop and are more noticeable. All of this stuff works to pull you into his gonzo world.

The color palette of 'Basterds' is surprisingly subdued, with the exception of the color red, which pops up in Shosanna's blush and lipstick, on the Nazi flags, and (this being a Quentin Tarantino film) in the bold splashes of blood. These moments really pop in a truly outstanding way.

Skin tones look great too. Black levels are deep and dark. There's a fine layer of grain that makes it look like an honest-to-god movie. And there are neither technical issues like artifacts or things like blips or scratches or anything else. As far as I can tell, this is more or less a perfect transfer. It's got that dimensionality that digitally reproduced films sometimes lack, but is present and accounted for here.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Equally impressive is the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. A Quentin Tarantino movie really is the ideal choice for any surround sound system, as it's a combination of heavy dialogue and explosive, action-type set pieces.

Both sound absolutely wonderful here. The dialogue, the sharpest and most multi-lingual of Tarantino's career, is always crisp and clear, even when the events surrounding the dialogue get out of control crazy.

The surround really kicks in with something like the tavern sequence in the "Operation Kino" chapter. The ambience and atmospherics are really nice at the beginning of the sequence, with people talking amongst themselves in the background and foreground. And then, when things go to hell, things really kick up another notch, with bullets flying, blood splashing, and debris careening through the air.

Likewise, the killer soundtrack Tarantino has assembled is dynamite. Both his choice orchestral cuts (most of them from other films) and his pop song choices (like the brilliant use of the David Bowie song from 'Cat People') sound radiant on this track. Everything is just gangbusters (there are no hisses or pops or any other anomalies or technical issues, either). This is an exemplary track.

There are also French DTS 5.1 and Spanish: DTS 5.1 audio tracks along with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. On the subject of subtitles, I want to talk about the one thing on this entire disc that annoyed me - it's during the tavern scene in the "Operation Kino" chapter. The subtitles are located on the image (instead of in the black netherworld on the top and bottom of the widescreen frame), and there's a cluster of bottles and other things, halo lit by Robert Richardson's heavenly photography. The subtitles are right over that haloed patch and sometimes you can't read them (or it at least makes it very hard). It was literally the only time I was unhappy watching this wonderful film's equally wonderful high definition presentation.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Universal has assembled a nice collection of special features here that should appeal to the casual fan and the diehard (like me) alike. There could have been more in the way of interactive features, but I'll get to that below.

  • Extended and Alternate Scenes There are three scenes included in this section, each is fairly brief and doesn't differ that much from its theatrical counterpart. The first scene is Lunch with Goebbels - Extended (HD, 7:10), which is basically the same as in the movie except from a different angle; La Louisiane Card Game - Extended (HD, 2:07), which just lops off the scene of the Basterds looking at the bar from across the street and adds some more of the card game everyone plays in the bar; and Nation's Pride Begins - Alternate (HD, 2:09) which is just two more minutes of everyone sitting down before the climactic movie starts.
  • Nation's Pride - Full Feature (SD, 6:10) Huzzah - the "full feature" version of the movie-within-a-movie in 'Inglourious Basterds.' Eli Roth, who costars as one of the Basterds, directed this campy little bit of black-and-white B-movie, and it's a lot of fun to watch.
  • Roundtable Discussion (HD, 30:45) This is a surprisingly in depth conversation with Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino, hosted by dread-locked former New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell. One of my favorite bits in this little interview was Tarantino's explanation of why language is so important to the movie. I'll let you watch it to hear the answer, but it's really quite interesting. Also interesting is Brad Pitt telling Elvis that he doesn't line up acting work one on top of the other, he does a job and then waits for the next. He says that when he used to line up a bunch of stuff he would get antsy and walk out. It made me think of all the grief he caused Aronofsky on 'The Fountain.' But maybe that's just me.
  • Making of 'Nation's Pride' (HD, 4:00) This is a dryly tongue-in-cheek 'making of' doc about the phony movie-within-a-movie, complete with interviews with the director (Eli Roth, in character, completely over the top) and other characters from the movie; just like the rest of the movie - a stupid amount of fun.
  • The Original 'Inglorious Bastards' (SD, 7:39) The first part of this feature is about the Italian B-movie that Tarantino loved so much that he stole the title, so he brought the director and one of the stars of the original, spell-checked 'Bastards' onto the movie. The second half of the feature is just random clips from the original feature, without any real rhyme, reason, or context. This is one of the few features on here that you can skip, no problem.
  • Conversation with Rod Taylor (HD, 6:43) This is a great, lengthy conversation with Rod Taylor, famous for being in Hitchcock's 'The Birds' among many others, about the process of playing Winston Churchill in Tarantino's wild war movie. He's a great personality, really generous and funny, and this is absolutely required watching. The saddest part, though, is that Universal had to add a title card right before the feature starts explaining who Rod Taylor is. Oh boy.
  • Rod Taylor on Victoria Bitter (HD, 3:19) Another great Rod Taylor anecdote - this time about Quentin Tarantino bringing him his favorite beer and talking about movies! Watch it!
  • Quentin Tarantino's Camera Angel (SD, 2:42) This is a really funny little bit about Quentin Tarantino's hilariously foul-mouthed clapboard girl. Well worth watching.
  • Hi Sallys (SD, 2:09) A collection of the cast and crew saying hello to the editor of 'Inglourious Basterds,' Sally Menke. Cute but you can skip it.
  • Poster Gallery Tour (SD, 11:00) Elvis Mitchell returns to take us on a tour of the posters seen in the film - both the ones based on real films and the ones concocted by Tarantino and his cohorts. This is really interesting and an essential extra on this disc.
  • Poster Gallery I like the Japanese one.
  • Trailers In this section you'll get the domestic teaser trailer (HD, 1:45), which consists largely of Brad Pitt's "motivational" speech to the Basterds; and the domestic trailer (HD, 2:23), which is an expanded version of the teaser. The thing you'll realize when you watch both is that there are a few scenes that didn’t make the "extended or alternate scenes" section but are extended bits of scenes in the movie - there's one shot of Landa saluting Hitler's motorcade, presumably on the night of the 'Nation's Pride' premiere; there's another shot from the Hugo back story sequence which shows a Basterd running and screaming and firing a huge gun. Would love to hear more about these scenes. Additionally, you get the international trailer (HD, 2:08), which has the cool tagline "If you need heroes, send in the Basterds;" as well as the Japanese trailer (HD, 1:07) which has crazy Japanese subtitles.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

As good as the features on this disc are, the Blu-ray exclusive stuff leaves a bit to be desired. Unfortunately, Universal chose not to do a U-Control feature on here. I was really hoping for a "Timeline" feature which would track the movie according to actual historical events and show where the "spit" happens as the movie veers more and more into fantasy territory.

The disc is BD-Live ready, that annoying Universal News Ticker shows up on every "page" of the disc.

  • Killin' Nazi Trivia Challenge It's a trivia game. Skip.
  • Pocket Blu Interactivity This new technology is supposed to let you control aspects of the Blu-ray disc, as well as receive additional content, on your iPod Touch or iPhone device. How the world ever existed without this, we'll never know.
  • D-Box If you have rumble-worthy chairs - turn it up and kill some Nazis!

Final Thoughts

With just a couple more weeks left in the year, Universal has delivered one of the year's best Blu-ray discs. Quentin Tarantino's orgiastic World War II masterpiece is perfect for repeated home viewing, and with reference-quality audio and video, plus a whole host of engaging bonus features (many of them in high definition), this is a genuinely great package for a genuinely great movie. Must Own.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-50
  • Digital Copy
  • Region Free

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.40:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound
  • French DTS 5.1 Surround Sound
  • Spanish DTS 5.1 Surround Sound

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • French
  • Spanish

Supplements

  • Extended & Alternate Scenes
  • Roundtable Discussion
  • Nation's Pride
  • The Making of Nation's Pride
  • The Original Inglorious Bastards
  • A Conversation with Rod Taylor
  • Rod Taylor on Victoria Bitter
  • Quentin Tarantino's Camera Angel
  • Hi Sallys
  • Film Poster Gallery Tour
  • Killin' Nazis Trivia Challenge

Exclusive HD Content

  • BD-Live

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