I have a hard time believing that 'From Dusk Till Dawn' didn't have any sequences with Quentin Tarantino behind the camera calling the shots. Always have. The Robert Rodriguez flick, based on his outline of the story, was adapted for the screen by the recent Academy Award winner, and features a number of his trademark shots. The film, which starts out as a fugitives on the run story that quickly turns into a supernatural splatterhouse, acts as a meshing of the styles of the two fan favorite helmers, and the result is a memorable, if uneven little actioner that has a great sense of humor, plenty of guts and gore, and some great, memorable characters, featuring the breakthrough performance of Hollywood staple George Clooney.
The story of a pair of brothers (Clooney and Tarantino as Jacob and Richard Gecko) on the wrong side of the law, seeking asylum in El Rey, Mexico, 'From Dusk Till Dawn' may very well be one of the best constructed genre defying flicks ever. We have the story of the men on the lam, who could not be any more different if they were from different parents. We have the police efforts to stop them, and the family (Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Liu) who accidentally cross paths with the Gecko brothers and prove to be the catalyst they needed to make their way across the border away from the US Agents hunting them down after their murder spree and bank robbery. There's the element of black comedy in the way that all five of the major characters interact, on their micro-road trip to lands below the border.
And then there's vampires, strippers, and a battle between survivalists and the demonic forces seeking to feed on their bodies and steal their cargo. The twist in the story couldn't be more out of the blue if it were a random outbreak of zombies in the works of Shakespeare (though they do fit in 'Pride & Prejudice'), as the film makes a sharp turn and a massive detour. The grass isn't always greener on the other side, I suppose you could say. Especially not in the sandy, dirty Mexican underground.
'From Dusk Till Dawn' was my first exposure to Rodriguez's filmography, and due to the clever uniqueness, it made me seek out the works of the director who, much like Tarantino, made films that obviously appealed to him, critics be damned. A year removed from 'Desperado,' and featuring a few of the same faces (like Cheech Marin, an almost baby faced Danny Trejo, and the gorgeous Salma Hayek), Rodriguez made what may be his most forgotten mainstream non-children's film (yeah, we're not counting those damned 'Spy Kids' flicks), an unforgiving, unrelenting two toned romp that doesn't fall short of entertaining. It's a fascinating, bizarre work, to be sure.
Say what you will about Clooney, he proved here that he could handle the role of the leading man, even if he didn't get top billing, losing out to the grizzled Keitel playing the pastor who lost his faith. Clooney may not have been the first (or sixth) choice to play the part of Seth Gecko, but the thief/killer with a conscience (at least compared to his brother) fit him perfectly, as his dominating voice is perfect for barking orders and taking charge, while Tarantino makes the psychopathic Richard seem like more of a layered character than a one note dick. Keitel could bring a paper bag to life, so it's obvious that he acts the part of the rock in the film, while Lewis (and her career) seemed to peak here, that final interesting hurrah following 'Natural Born Killers,' 'Cape Fear', and 'Kalifornia,' before seemingly slumming it in forgettable or bit roles for the better part of a decade.
'From Dusk Till Dawn' is to B cinema what the 'Grindhouse' films were to their respective film sub-culture, with a few stars (including makeup genius Tom Savini and Fred Williamson) and numerous references making this a fitting, interesting homage. It's full of interesting kills, action and excitement, witty dialogue, believable, fleshed out and realized characters, and, lest we forget, a certain bar south of the border named after a certain maneuver sure to land one in a sexual harassment or assault case, chock full of hard characters, harder monsters, and plenty of eye candy. As the film stops, so that we can see Hayek's prolonged provocative dancing, right before the shit hits the fan, we have a film that ran the gamut, hitting that hot and sweaty sex appeal in a memorable sequence featuring the world's luckiest snake.
Tarantino and Rodriguez's collaboration may start to lose steam once the vampire onslaught begins, and becomes dependent on some silly contrivances, but there's no denying the fun to be had here. 'From Dusk Till Dawn' is a film that wants to get you as invested as possible in the story prior to the moment the bar appears, and tries its best to keep its hooks in you when it does the Kansas City Shuffle. It's sure to lose some, including those who weren't fully into the characters, but if you go into this film expecting some savage, nasty undead slaughtering, you'll be fine and dandy.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'From Dusk Till Dawn' is one of four Dimension titles that are being distributed by Echo Bridge, a small studio best known to Blu-ray owners as those guys who released that twenty movie cube box set. It is housed on a BD25 disc, in a locking non-eco keep case. There are no pre-menu trailers or any distracting content, just a two button menu (a slow reacting scene selection, and a play button) featuring a full video and audio loop, one sound option and no subtitles to speak of.
This film was released in Canada in 2008, and was one of the best received titles to come out of the distributor from our neighbor to the north. It has to be noted that on the back of the cover to this release, there is a picture that is not from this film, rather one of the followup features in the franchise. That should tell you what kind of quality control and detail was put into this release.
While this film is being released on May 3, 2011, Best Buy stores are already selling this disc, as of April 5. The online portion of the site does not mention this as an exclusive, or even being available yet. If you cannot find it on the shelves, ask a customer representative if they can look up the stock number in their system and check the sale date.
So, how does Echo Bridge do with possibly the biggest film that landed in their laps, in regards to the video? If I had to guess a number, representing the dollar amount spent by the company, or anyone involved, in ensuring 'From Dusk Till Dawn' had quality video, I'd put the number at about 32, and that's if I'm being generous. Beware, all ye who enter here: there's already a better looking Blu-ray release, from one of the most notoriously sketchy Blu-ray distributors, that was out a full two years prior.
It took some time, but we have proof, right here, that Alliance up in Canada may not be the laziest, sloppiest company releasing Blu-rays. Echo Bridge's 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode at 1.78:1 (from 1.85:1) is a disappointment, and there is no other word for it...except maybe if you add the word frustrating before disappointment. Or call it a damned shame. Or a pitiful excuse for a Blu-ray. You get the point. When a release is only 9.99 in stores, and even that feels like it was too much, something is horribly wrong.
The real killer isn't the flaws in the disc. What I disliked most was how very good the film looked at times. It's ridiculous that a film can be so sparkling, with amazing details and liveliness and lifelike textures, almost hyper-realistic, so eye catching and beefed up, only to fall into a murky ugly waste of a mess in the next shot. That's the case here. Strong moments are not dominant, in terms of the runtime of the film. On a bright note, grain levels don't appear to be tampered with, and there isn't any real banding issues of note.
That said, edge enhancement can be blatantly obvious, artifacts do their best to spit in your face with their brazen obviousness (particularly in Clooney's black attire), and skin tones are constantly en fuego, and that's an understatement. It's hideously hot! When a character's skin is more ablaze than a bright orange bedspread, something just ain't right. The random flatness, even in closeups, is pathetic, but it's complimented often by noise spikes, busy whites, and shots lacking any depth whatsoever. Also, lest we forget, blacks often find themselves crushing. Hair is often an indistinct blob. Hooray!
Strike one for Echo Bridge. This is a sloppy quick cash-in release, and nothing more.
The audio for 'From Dusk Till Dawn' is a tad bit confusing. See, the back of the boxes for all four of the Echo Bridge releases bowing in the first week of may all indicate that they're 2.0 Stereo. Is it Dolby Digital, Linear PCM, Dolby TrueHD, DTS, what?
None of the above. See, despite the packaging, the only audio option on 'From Dusk Till Dawn' is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. So, crisis averted. The problem, of course, is this misprint, this sloppy, lazy mistake on the part of the distributor, is a sign about how little they care, and it will affect sales, as consumers seeing the lack of extras may also see that 2.0 and call bullshit on the release, budget price or no.
So how does it sound? Not bad, but not great. Dialogue is in your face, front and center, proper, but not harsh. It literally feels like it's right in front of you, speaking inches away from your nose, which is pretty neat. The music in the opening of the film is very subdued, but as the film rolls on, and hits Mexico, music gains power, as the tone changes, like a teenager finally moving past that awkward voice-changing stage. Gunfire has a great distinct pop, with a tiny bit of echo in some instances, while rear speakers get a great amount of activity, including plenty of localized effects, even if a few of them are a bit clunky and forced.
Bass levels aren't all that amazing, but they do have their moments. The Benny's World of Liquor explosion is beyond tame and lacking in the cajones factor, but in the Titty Twister, we get some good roar, often for extended periods of time. The mix is often quiet, with some random surges of strength, which is fairly bizarre, while a few lines feel horribly looped in, and some of Tarantino's lines are tough to discern. To be fair, his mumbling nature was a difficult listen in the Canadian disc, as well. Also, to be fair, this track is absolutely neutered in more than one respect compared to its import counterpart.
So, how 'bout them extras? This Blu-ray release has absolutely nothing, not even a trailer. Keep in mind, the previous DVD release had an audio commentary, outtakes, featurettes, galleries, trailers, deleted scenes, and a bonus feature focusing on the making of the film, called 'Full-Tilt Boogie'. It was a pretty loaded two disc set. The only thing loaded on this release is probably the people putting it together.
I hate to say it, but Alliance out of Canada wins a head to head competition, as the official USA release of 'From Dusk Till Dawn' is lacking. Severely. It could have been worse, if the misprint on the back of the package had been accurate, but even still, this one is ugly. The Tarantino/Rodriguez tag team film deserved so much more than this. Instead, we get a cheap dump that insists on putting an ugly ass barcode on the disc itself. The entire release feels cheap and dirty. If you can't get the Canadian release, this one may have to do, sadly. If this release is a sign of things to come, get ready to have some of your favorite films butchered on Blu-ray by the complete lack of effort put out by Echo Bridge. This is shameful, a barebones mishandling of a fan favorite.