Tony Scott's 'True Romance' is the very definition of a modern day cult classic.
When the movie came out in 1993 it was horrendously marketed by Warner Brothers (there's certifiable proof of this in the special features section of this disc - more on that in a minute) and seemed to befuddle critics. (The film's extreme and sudden mixture of violence and comedy, something currently dubbed "Tarantinoesque," after 'True Romance's' neophyte writer, was an alien concept at the time.)
The movie bombed. Hard. It made an embarrassing $11.5 million theatrically, which seems like even more of a grotesque parody when you factor in the film's cast (even if these stars seem somewhat faded today, think of their wattage back in 1993) - Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Christopher Walken, and Samuel L. Jackson. Yeah, just chew on that.
Like all cult classics, it found its audience belatedly, in this case thanks to the booming market of home video, which let people, bowled over by the same dynamism that mystified critics, watch the film over and over and over again.
And what were they watching, again?
For those who have managed, after all these years, to sidestep the cult of 'True Romance,' let me recap a bit of the plot. Christian Slater plays the Tarantino stand in - a movie-obsessed nerd named Clarence who works in a comic shop, has imaginary conversations with Elvis (an obscured Val Kilmer), but has very little real human interpersonal contact. For his birthday, he indulges in a Sonny Chiba triple feature, alone. That's where he meets Alabama (Patricia Arquette), a goofy, raucous girl, who he eats pie with, and then beds. Shortly after, he finds out that Alabama is a call girl, this is her first "gig," and that she is monogamous. So, they get married. Clarence goes to retrieve Alabama's things from her pimp, the savage, one-eyed Drexl (Gary Oldman, in an all-time-best role), ends up killing the pimp, and takes the wrong suitcase - instead of grabbing her clothes, he grabs a suitcase full of cocaine.
So that's where our adventure really begins - with the pair traveling from Detroit to Los Angeles where, with the aid of Clarence's buddy Michael Rapaport, they want to sell the dope to a Joel Silver-esque movie producer. Of course, they have to outrun the various sordid parties who want to get their hands on that stolen merchandise…
The movie still holds up amazingly well as a raucous, free-wheeling romance. (Nothing's worse than watching a cult movie and ending up wondering what the fuss was all about.) This is Tony Scott at his most visually acute and cohesive - his over-cranked, sexed-up, amped-up style fits this world perfectly, and he doesn't let the aesthetics get in the way of the storytelling (although the chunky rain of feathers at the end does feel like a bit much). Speaking of the storytelling, this is also Tarantino at his most punchy and fresh, before we had become accustomed to his singular brand of screenwriting. From the superb cast to the twinkly score by Hans Zimmer (an ode to Carl Orff's music from Terence Malick's 'Badlands'), it's just a wonderful experience and a movie you really can watch a hundred times over. 'True Romance' breeds true romance.
Note: this is the "unrated director's cut," but considering this is the version that's been the predominant cut since the VHS days, I'm not entirely sure what's different. (I'm not sure I've actually seen the "theatrical cut," to be honest.) Given the space available on the Blu-ray disc, it would have been nice to have had both versions included, via branching, or had multiple discs like 'Blade Runner.' I know: dream on.
The word that comes to mind is "meh." The movie is a rich, layered visual experience, but this 1080p/VC-1 transfer is flat and lacks the punch that the movie really deserves. There's been an unnecessary amount of noise reduction applied to the image, which decreases the amount of texture and detail that the image clearly deserves.
Flesh tones are noticeably off, looking positively waxen, blood looks as phony and bright as Halloween fright make-up, and there are plenty of instances of ringing and edge enhancements. The transfer is probably an improvement over the last standard special edition release, with black levels generally good throughout. This probably makes it the best-looking home video edition of the movie, but I really don't understand why this wasn't given a more deluxe treatment. Tony Scott has always been a guy known to "smoke up" the set - to pour smoke into a set so that it catches the light and gives it an eerily distilled quality. For some reason, while the image sometimes has an amazing amount of depth (like during the rollercoaster sequence), a lot of time, the scenes that contain this kind of smoky hue (mostly indoor scenes) just serve to flatten out the picture, robbing it of the desired effect.
Considering the fact that this film didn't cost a lot tp produce, and has made its money back a billion times over, mostly thanks to endless home video editions (including this Blu-ray release), this transfer is really befuddling. Couldn't Warner Brothers have put up the money to strike a new transfer from a fresh print and really make this Blu-ray release an event for its legion of fans, instead of giving us this sloppy, half-assed rehash?
The disc's lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track certainly packs more of a wallop than the somewhat iffy video. Quentin Tarantino's rapid-fire dialogue is clear and crisp (even when things are going crazy or Scott layer's sound effects and/or music on top of it), usually up front and center. Gunfire packs the appropriate punch (in this movie, characters don't just shoot other characters, they unload on them), and the film's soundtrack - filled with of-the-era rock music (as well as classical and acid house compositions) really booms, making a marked improvement over the mixes from previous home video releases.
There are also continued elements of ambience throughout the movie, which is nice since the track could have easily fallen into a pattern of just front-loaded dialogue and pops of extremely loud action. Instead, there's lots of subtle rear channel activity, and the overwhelming result is impressive. Again, maybe if Warner Brothers chooses to really give this the high def release it deserves, they could supplement it with a truly spectacular audio mix.
This disc also comes equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 and French Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Just an FYI, the "animated photo gallery" advertised on the box isn't actually on the disc. So, all you animated photo gallery enthusiasts out there will undoubtedly be disappointed. Most of the special features are from the previous standard definition special edition, which was spread across two discs. So, it's nice to have them all on one disc, but it would have also been nice to have a few new features (in HD!) Alas, it was just not meant to be.
'True Romance' is one of my favorite films and I'm sure there are many of you out there who feel similarly. While this isn't the deluxe Blu-ray edition we all deserve (and many of us were expecting), it's strong overall, with adequate picture and sound and a host of special features that we may have seen before, but are still well put together, fun, and informative. For those of you who absolutely love 'True Romance' and refuse to wait for another edition, then at least you'll be getting the movie in the best condition it's ever been in on home video. For those of you who actually want a little more from your high def releases, you may want to sit this one out and wait for a future release. Still, I can recommend this edition without much hesitation. I'm just not in love with it.