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 Disc: Vital Stats
'Pulp Fiction,' easily one of the most wanted titles on the Blu-ray format, does not have an official domestic release date that has stuck. The title has been released in France (in a steelbook), and in Denmark, which is the origin of the disc being reviewed. The packaging states that it is Region B, however, the disc has long been verified as being Region All, playable in any Blu-ray player.
Presented in an AVC MPEG-4 encode in the film's natural 2:35:1 window, this import of 'Pulp Fiction' looks absolutely astonishing, in the good way, of course.
From the start, silly little details, like the stray strands in Honey Bunny's hair, the fuzz on Pumpkin's arms, or the stubble on his chin that actually pops off his face in profile shots, are superb. Black levels are rich and detailed. Backgrounds are deep and detailed, creating a great three dimensional feel that never seems flat. Contrast is spot on, colors are vivid, though they can be a bit over saturated at times (sometimes stylistically in a scene, which I won't judge against).
There were a few random, somewhat insignificant negatives in this transfer, preventing the elusive perfect mark. While dirt is very much kept in check throughout the 154 minute runtime, there are still some clumps that find their way on screen every now and again. There are also some light halos from time to time, though they're very random, and not very obvious or distracting. Some shots have what looks like a blur on the sides, especially the scene with the midget waiter at Jackrabbit Slim's, while, lastly, some facial features can be a bit waxy, leaving the question of whether DNR was involved. This is still a gorgeous, gorgeous release.
This import of 'Pulp Fiction' starts with a menu asking for language (never you worry, English isn't an option), and once one of these European languages is chosen, the film plays. While the film defaults to whatever language you picked for subtitles, they are removable, and the default lossy Dolby Digital track can be swapped out for a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. If you were wondering about the disc having an English soundtrack, the answer is yes, as both tracks are English.
Dialogue is always clear, though at times it seemed to have a bit of a feedback sound behind it, with louder moments carrying a slight echo if in an enclosed shot. The bass level gets plenty of opportunities to tell its tale, with bits of the world famous soundtrack getting a slight rumbly accent, while random action oriented sequences (and some atmospheric, like the first opening of the briefcase) also get some low end assistance. While dialogue is obviously prioritized, there are some scenes where noise can almost overshadow the spoken word, and I mean silly things, like the rubbing of the hit men's suits against themselves in the hallway almost drowning out their conversation.
This mix is a bit of a front heavy at times. In the famous car ride conversation, the rears are nearly silent, with random activity picking back up once the dastardly duo reach their destination. Some scenes, like the apartment shooting, have no directionality, no surround presence, while the replay of the event, extending the Jules and Vincent tale, has some great movement for the very same sequence. When Vincent's car makes its late night dash, as with some random passing vehicles, there are some automotive motion effects. There is also a fairly good bit of ambiance that hits the rears, while the score obviously treads round the sound stage, but dialogue stays front and center.
This is where fans are presented a dilemma. Wait for the domestic release, which is sure to be about as loaded as Mia Wallace, or stick with this release in the interim, which comes with nary a single extra.
Love it or hate it, it's hard to deny the impact 'Pulp Fiction' had in the mid '90s. A classic tale, with timeless characters, and a bevy of instantly quotable lines, this is surely Tarantino's masterpiece. Not bad for only his second mainstream go round behind the camera after 'Reservoir Dogs.' With gorgeous video and good audio, this disc will be the ultimate temptation for fans who can't wait for the domestic release. Recommended.
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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.