Every generation has its defining cinematic landmarks, and for many people, 'Reservoir Dogs' was one of those moments. Critics called it the most revelatory piece of celluloid in decades. Fans said it redefined the modern language of film.
All of which clearly leaves me in the minority when I say that I absolutely, unequivocally and passionately hate 'Reservoir Dogs.' I find it an ugly, mean-spirited, boring, derivative, and monotonous fest of self-conscious dialogue and unappealing characters, whose sole decent scene is a rambling tribute to Madonna's "Like a Virgin."
The story is likely familiar to anyone reading this. 'Reservoir Dogs' is a heist film without the heist. Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son "Nice Guy" Eddie (Chris Penn), are plotting to steal a stash of diamonds, and pull together a group of six career criminals, each given a color code name: Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker), Mr. Brown (Quentin Tarantino), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen). Unfortunately for the would-be robbers, someone in this motley crew is an undercover cop. As loyalties within the group begin to unravel, complications (and much bloodshed) ensue. As the tagline says, "Every dog has its day." And some bite far worse than others.
'Reservoir Dogs' continues to be hailed as a milestone in independent film, yet I've personally never found it a particularly assured work. Tarantino certainly knows how to (over)write dialogue -- it is incessant, and the cast handles it ably, spouting forth words at a rapid-fire pace. But with so much quantity it is easy to overlook the lack of quality. The story languishes amid all the wordplay, and Tarantino's pacing seriously drags. The film's caper complications are recycled from a million pulp fictions, which would have been fine had Tarantino brought any of the mature visual finesse that so enlivened his later works like the 'Kill Bill' films. Yet 'Reservoir Dogs' is a visually static movie -- bland, repetitive, and far too self-contained. And though his use of music was hailed at the time as groundbreaking, apparently most critics hadn't seen any of the myriad of '80s underground movies that just as adroitly used music to tell a story, including every Scorsese crime flick ever made (from whom Tarantino cribs mercilessly). There really is little new in 'Reservoir Dogs,' which makes the film's continued high esteem quite puzzling.
Then there is the violence. There's an oft-told tale about an early festival screening of 'Reservoir Dogs.' Uber-horror director Wes Craven was in attendance, and during the now-infamous "ear cutting" scene, Craven was siad to be so disgusted by the apparent reveling in sadism that he walked out. This led Tarantino to later exclaim, "The director of 'Last House on the Left' walked out of my fucking movie!?" The Craven-Tarantino fence has reportedly never been mended since then, and the scene in question remains one of the most shocking and graphic displays of violence ever seen in a mainstream motion picture.
I have to side with Craven on this one. I had the same reaction, and watching this most unpleasant scene again, I still feel the same way. It is not the violence itself (which is a cake walk after all the horror and exploitation movies I've enjoyed over the years) but instead, it's the tone. For Tarantino, at least in this first movie, the images seem not to matter. They are simply inconsequential and emotionless "movie images," regurgitated from the thousands of scenes the ex-video store clerk had stored in his brain.
But instead of this self-reflexivity giving 'Reservoir Dogs' a comic book tone, or delivering the fun, ironic thrills of Craven's 'Scream,' it just feels scummy. The forebearer of today's current generation of "Splat Pack" filmmakers (including 'Hostel's Eli Roth and the makers of the 'Saw' films), Tarantino's sole interest in 'Reservior Dogs' appears to be in upping the ante in terms of violence, vulgar dialogue and amoral characterizations. And to be fair, he does this spectacularly -- but to what end? For me, ultimately it all comes off as one long ego stroke designed to make the director look cool for being so desensitized to the images he is putting on the screen.
'Reservoir Dogs' revels in this "coolness." Tarentino's approach is so hip and detached that you can laugh at anything -- it's all homage and pastiche after all, so why not? But since when is a filmmaker's juvenile ability to distance himself or herself from their material something to be celebrated?
Ultimately it's that disconnect that leaves me so dispirited by 'Reservoir Dogs.' It's all surface, and the emptiness underneath is rather depressing. I'm sure I sound like your curmudgeonly, out-of-touch old grandpa, but be assured -- I do not find 'Reservoir Dogs' offensive. And I actually do like Tarantino. But 'Reservoir Dogs' has none of the thematic relevance of 'Pulp Fiction,' the stylistic bravura of 'Kill Bill,' or the humanity of the underrated 'Jackie Brown.' It's not moviemaking, it's masturbation.
'Reservoir Dogs' makes its third major trip to disc with this new 15th Anniversary Edition, which is hitting Blu-ray a couple months after its standard-def debut. Lionsgate has minted a new high-def master to mark the occasion, and the upgrade is readily apparent. The previous disc releases had a washed out look that was way too harsh, and suffered from a color shift towards green. This new remaster is a sharp improvement, and one that fans who have memorized every frame of this film should definitely notice.
Lionsgate properly frames 'Reservoir Dogs' at 2.35:1 widescreen, and the 1080p transfer is encoded in MPEG-2. The source has held up well, with appropriate film grain that remains consistent. Contrast is no longer too hot, giving the movie a more pleasing, natural sense of depth. Colors appear correct at last, with that sickly green tint removed and fleshtones generally accurate, if a little red at times. Overall detail on this Blu-ray version is clearly heightened versus the new standard-def release; the famous shot of the gang walking down the street framed against a long background wall, for example, reveals better texture and improved sharpness. There is still a bit of softness, with some of the white-on-black of the costumes and framing appearing slightly edgy. I suspect a bit of artificial boosting of sharpness was done to compensate. But all in all, 'Reservoir Dogs' has certainly never looked better.
Lionsgate has also splurged for DTS-HD 6.1 Matrixed Surround and Dolby Digital Surround EX soundtracks. The results are again a clear improvement, particularly in the increased depth and heft to the original source elements.
'Reservoir Dogs' may not immediately seem like a film that would have great surround sound, but there is actually quite a bit going on in the rears throughout the film. Sure, the dialogue is by far the mix's most prominent feature, and it's balanced expertly with the score and effects (even the rapid-fire delivery remains clear and distinct). But the surrounds kick in often, particularly on the period songs, and with a few atmospheric effects. Front-to-back pans, on the other hand, tend to sound a bit gimmicky, with gunfire and similar sounds having an obviously processed feel, as the original elements have clearly been tweaked for maximum home theater effect. Dynamic range is quite impressive for a low-budget indie made in 1992. Bass is far more hefty than I thought, and only a bit of the most shrill dialogue seemed a bit tinny. Dated aspects aside, this is a very laudable effort.
Supplement-wise, this Blu-ray version of the 'Reservoir Dogs - 15th Anniversary Edition' can only be described as a disappointment compared to what you get with the recently released standard-def version, which is so packed with a mix of both new and old supplements that the list would take up this whole page. Tons of commentaries, documentaries, rare footage, festival clips, etc.
The new extras produced for this 15th Anniversary Edition are surprisingly bad. "Playing it Fast and Loose" runs 16 minutes, and features interviews only with various film critics and historians, including Sharon Waxman, Peter Markham, Mark Evan Schwartz and the always-annoying Harry Knowles. Unfortunately, with none of the mountain of audio commentaries and other making-of features that graced previous DVD editions of 'Reservoir Dogs,' there is just not enough context. Waxman and Markham in particular are astute in stumping for the importance of the film and Tarantino, but Knowles deep-sixes the entire enterprise with his inarticulate ramblings and by having the nerve to actually dub the film "ResDog." God help us.
Even more lame is "Profiling the Reservoir Dogs," which provides fictional histories for Mr. Brown, Mr. Pink, Mr. White and Mr. Blonde. Apparently, Mr. Blue and Mr. Orange just aren't cool enough to be included, or perhaps Lionsgate just ran out of money...
Finally, we have the "Pulp Factoid" viewer, which brings the sensibility of "Pop-Up Video" to the world of Quentin Tarantino. This is by far the best of the extras, and unlike recent subtitle tracks on Fox's Blu-ray titles, is actually about the inspiration behind the movie and other production trivia, and not just military hardware or whatever.
If nothing else, the marketing of Tarantino's movies is always fun, but alas, no Theatrical Trailer or other promotional materials are included.
'Reservoir Dogs' has legions of fans, but I happen to not be one of them. Nevertheless, the film remains a landmark, and should be seen by anyone interested in recent cinema history and/or the Tarantino's influence on current film. Lionsgate has delivered the Blu-ray goods in terms of video and audio, with a much-improved new transfer and soundtrack. However, they've really skimped on the extras -- this version can in no way can replace the much fuller featured standard-def editions of the film. For that reason, I can only recommend this as a purchase for true fans; all others, wait for the inevitable double dip.