A pair of mob hit men (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson), a mob boss and his wife (Ving Rhames and Uma Thurman), a boxer soon to be on the run (Bruce Willis), and a duo of small time robbers (Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth) cross paths in Quentin Tarantino's career defining 'Pulp Fiction.' Mundane trials like retrieving a briefcase, going on a date, and fighting in a headline bout have never been so complicated.
Much has been said about 'Pulp Fiction' in the fifteen years since its release. Hailed as a revolutionary film that would change cinema, Tarantino's Oscar winning (Best Original Screenplay) sophomore effort is a mainstay in the top ten on IMDB, one of only seven films from the '90s to be on the first AFI 100 list, a 96 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a safe bet fan favorite since its release. It has also been lampooned by those who found the tale incomprehensible and overflowing with dialogue that is far too self aware.
There's no such thing as a universally adored film, but 'Pulp Fiction' comes close. The edgy, stylized look at Los Angeles crime is both witty and gritty, dramatic and emphatic. The mixture of stories, told a bit out of order, captures the viewer and holds them in a two and a half hour stranglehold that flies by as though it were an hour. Perfectly paced, with strong performances from the entire cast (earning three acting Oscar nominations, though none won), and a strong feel of the era, there is no denying that this somewhat cruel, but oddly mysterious film has earned its excessive accolades.
Where am I going with this? It's much like stating the obvious to say 'Pulp Fiction' is a beloved film that made Tarantino's career, or that the film defies the odds with it's ability to stay fresh with numerous repeat viewings. I can throw compliments at 'Pulp' all day, and still have pages worth of praise waiting to be spewed at anyone willing to listen. I can also say that no matter how great the film is, it's not perfect.
The dialogue, the driving force of the film, is far too convenient, too Hollywood, drawing some viewers out of the film's onscreen world. Any character with a line has something smarmy to say, with witty comebacks that took less than a split second to both think up and spew, to the point that whenever someone meets an early demise, it's almost expected that they drop one last hipster slogan for use on future t-shirts. The dialogue even stalls the story itself. Take the tale of Vincent Vega (Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Jackson). They have an entire drive to ramble and banter on, about hamburgers, weed, and foot massages, yet when they get to their destination, they conveniently find out they are a few minutes early, step aside, and continue their back and forth. As soon as their conversation is over, it's magically the exact time they need to confront some unfortunate souls. Even on the date between Vincent and Mia (Thurman), they'd rather gab than eat, as the food doesn't even get touched, save for the milkshake that gets about a minutes worth of conversation.
The overly aware dialogue isn't the most criminal aspect of 'Pulp Fiction,' though. That honor goes to the fact that the film revived the career of Travolta. After three 'Look Who's Talking' films in four years, the former big time star hadn't been in a memorable film in years. Leave it to Michael friggin' Madsen passing on the role for 'Wyatt friggin' Earp' to open the door for Travolta's career resurrection, garnering an Academy Award nomination. For this, I hold Tarantino and Madsen both accountable for 'Battlefield Earth,' 'Be Cool,' and every other craptastic "film" Travolta has "blessed" with his "talents" since.
While the leads for the film shine like stars (yes, even Travolta does a good job), it's the supporting roles, with their quirky presence and unique speech patterns, that make the film. Christopher Walken, with an appearance that seems ripped straight from his infamous Sicilian speech in 'True Romance,' only appears for one scene, but is easily one of the most memorable characters due to the darkly comic undertones of his entire presence. Harvey Keitel pops up as a mob fixer, a man who solves whatever problem is thrown at him, staying cool and collected while those around him are akin to chickens with their heads cut off. Tarantino himself stops by (and this time doesn't take a quick bullet) as the only man who may be possibly helpful to an unfortunate situation involving brain matter and the backseat of a vehicle.
Already fifteen years old, 'Pulp Fiction' has aged gracefully so far, and doesn't seem that likely to show its age and fall from public grace any time soon. With an iconic soundtrack taking turns leading the way with sharp dialogue that's as quotable as any film ever made, and career defining (or redefining, as the case may be) performances, Tarantino's epic is sure to be a stalwart in the annals of film history as one of the greats, no matter how flawed or contrived it may be.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Pulp Fiction' comes to Blu-ray (finally!) courtesy of Lionsgate. The slipcover (which has a nifty worn and wrinkled look to it) proudly states that this release is "director approved." This set only contains one 50GB Blu-ray disc. The disc is housed in an eco-friendly Blu-ray keepcase.
I've got to say it, 'Pulp Fiction' has never looked better.
Something to keep in mind is that 'Pulp Fiction' has a purposeful aged look, giving it the feel of the pulp magazines it's referencing. So, the visuals aren't going to be crystalline in the way modern action movies look on Blu-ray. The entire movie appears just a tad softer, and a little bit grimier, but it's all adding to the effective storytelling.
Even with the inherently softer appearance of the film itself, you'll still notice the perks of high definition right off the bat when you can see individual hairs poking out of Jules' Jheri curl. Black levels are wonderfully succinct, offering a depth and dimension that is lacking on the DVD version. Colors, even though intended to be muted, are very strong indeed. For example, Uma Thurman's simply crimson lips pop off the screen. Skin tones are always very natural looking. Beads of sweat can be seen clearly running down the face of Marsellus. Chunks of brain and skull are easily noticeable in Jules' hair and on his suit after Vincent blows the head off of Marvin.
Even though the movie has a permeating softness to it, there were a few shots during the Jack Rabbit Slim's scene that seemed just a bit fuzzier than they should have been. The transfer has been freed of any distracting bits of dirt and grime. There are no technical problems to point out. Noticeable DNR and edge enhancement are non-existent. In short, this is the video transfer fans were hoping for.
Now here's where you'll get an upgrade from the Danish import version. Frankly Lionsgate's new 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is every bit as demo-worthy as any of the modern action and adventure movies that have come out on Blu-ray in the past few months. This is a very fun, very energetic mix that uses every channel with purpose.
The rears are alive much of the time, especially during the dance scene and the scenes in the diner. Dialogue is perfectly intelligible, even during Bruce Willis' whispered lines. Gun shots sound a bit tinny, but they've always sounded that way. Actually, the gunshots in 'Pulp Fiction' sound much more realistic than they do in other movies. When Jules lays into his Biblical verses the entire soundstage quakes. The crescendo of his prophetic voice fills the room. LFE has its moments, and when called upon offers a resonate force of bass.
I loved every minute of this engrossing audio mix. It reminded me of the movie's theatrical presentation. Audiophiles and fans alike will find this one a pure treat.
If you've been holding out for the American release of 'Pulp Fiction' on Blu-ray, well, now you can breathe easy. This is simply the best the movie has looked and sounded in years. The new special features are very much worth a gander, even though we would've all liked to see a new commentary for the movie. It's been a long time coming, but finally 'Pulp Fiction' is on Blu-ray, and it gives me great pleasure to highly recommend it.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.