Portions of this review are sampled from their previous standalone editions (by Joshua Zyber, Peter M. Bracke, Aaron Peck, Drew Taylor, and Nate Boss), and are linked accordingly.
From high school drop-out and rental store clerk to one of the loudest, most prominent voices in Hollywood today, Quentin Tarantino's path didn't hit the routine bases along the way. Instead, he learned what customers liked, what they wanted to see in films, and set out on a different filmmaking path. In the twenty years since his first directorial credit with 'Reservoir Dogs,' Tarantino has crafted a unique homage in each of his outings, lovingly recreating kung-fu and samurai tales after gangster yarns, blaxploitation fare, and B-movie tropes. His films have won countless awards, most prestigious among them the Palme d'Or at Cannes, an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and another for actor Christoph Waltz for his role as Colonel Hans Landa, a role defined as much by Waltz's performance as Tarantino's meaty script.
In order to celebrate Tarantino's varied career, Lionsgate has compiled a number of his films into one box set (the largest for the director to date!). This set does not include every film credited to Tarantino to date, be it as an actor, writer, producer, or director. Instead, this box set focuses primarily on his directorial fare, with the inclusion of one title that was written by Tarantino but had little other involvement. Fans should note that this box set does not mark the American home video debut of 'Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair,' nor does it contain any of the Robert Rodriguez 'Planet Terror' from the 'Grindhouse' double feature, instead offering Tarantino's 'Death Proof' in its extended edition.
Titles included in this almost-career retrospective release include:
'Reservoir Dogs' - '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.
'True Romance' - 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…
'Pulp Fiction' - 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.
'Jackie Brown' - Female Flight attendant Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) just got busted carrying a big load of cash into the country, cash that was meant for the short tempered illicit arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). Robbie is the last person anyone wants to cross, as he has a habit of ending his business relationships in a less than survivable manner. ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) is pressing Jackie to help bust Robbie or go to jail, while veteran bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) is after Jackie for another reason. In order to survive her complicated predicament, Jackie must double-cross anyone in her path, and not slip up once, or she'll lose her freedom, or her life.
'Kill Bill Vol. 1' - Originally planned as a single movie, the script for 'Kill Bill' soon grew so epic and unwieldy that it had to be split into two separate pictures. 'Vol. 1' is the more action-packed of the pairing and the one that sets the plot in motion. Uma Thurman stars as a mysterious character initially known only as The Bride who awakens from a four-year coma determined to hunt down and exact revenge on the five people responsible for putting her in that state. It turns out that The Bride was once part of a secret organization called the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and is more than proficient with kung-fu, firearms, and "the exquisite art of the samurai sword." For the crime of attempting to leave the DiVAS, get married, and start a new life, her four colleagues and the mentor/father figure/lover in charge of the team (the Bill of the title) wiped out her wedding party and put a bullet in The Bride's head. That's the sort of thing that leads a person to hold a grudge. In this first installment, our heroine makes her bloody To-Do list and tracks down her first two targets: Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), master of edged weapons; and O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), current head of the Japanese criminal underworld.
'Kill Bill Vol. 2' - 'Vol. 2' picks up after the vengeful Bride (Uma Thurman) has crossed the first two names off her "Death List Five," the tally she keeps of her former colleagues in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who betrayed and left her for dead. Still deserving of bloody retribution are Budd (Michael Madsen), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), and of course Bill (David Carradine), her former mentor and lover and the man who put the bullet in her head. As she makes her way to wrap things up with this trio, we're also served an extensive flashback to The Bride's training with the mystical kung-fu master Pai Mei (Gordon Liu, in a role derived from several Shaw Bros. films of the 1970s).
'Death Proof' - Tarantino's interpretation of what grindhouse B-movies should have been, filtered through his own sensibilities. The film starts on a languid, hot summer night in Austin, TX. A trio of young babes led by a radio DJ and local celebrity called Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamaiia Poitier) are out on the town trawling bars, getting drunk, and smoking weed, all the while endlessly talking about the sort of things that Quentin Tarantino characters usually talk about -- in other words, pop culture touchstones that are both meaningless and deeply imbued with personal relevance at the same time. In this case, the main topic of conversation is music of the 1970s, Julia's particular expertise. At some point, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) introduces himself. The girls sum him up pretty quickly as a middle-aged hanger-on, a little pathetic in his attempt to impress the ladies with his dubious Hollywood connections and a jacket adorned with sponsorship labels from the likes of IcyHot and Husky. Yet there's also something strangely charismatic about him, mixed with no small measure of creepiness. They don't give him a lot of thought and eventually say their good-byes expecting to never see him again, but Stuntman Mike has other plans for the evening.
'Inglourious Basterds' - Colonel Hans Landa (Waltz), also known as the "Jew Hunter," Shosanna (Melanie Laurent, as a girl whose family was gunned down due to Landa's cold pursuit), and Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) couldn't be any more different, yet these three forces collide in Tarantino's World War II film, which takes great liberties with historical accuracy. As the stories of these three clash and interconnect, we see the lengths each will go, to win the war, to take revenge, or to, quite simply, kill some Nazis.
Diamond and drug thieves, a woman scorned seeking the ultimate revenge, hit men who love to chat, a woman most dangerous when put in a corner, a stunt driver with a murderous appetite, and a triumvirate of WW2 era characters battling to end the war one way or another…it's quite a collection of varying themes in this eight film box set. Fans have their favorites and their least favorites (in my eyes, Tarantino was at his absolute best with 'Basterds,' following his worst film by far in 'Death Proof'), and there's no absolute best to worst list with this saga of flicks. Each film has something for someone, a new focus, a new series of films to kindly homage and tease, a new gimmick or trick to be cutting edge and original. It's hard to dislike a man like Quentin Tarantino. He put his money where his mouth is, and decided to pursue his dream, doing what he loves, and we all get to share in it. For a self-taught man whose works have influenced his pedigreed peers, there's no greater example of success than the film store clerk who took his love of movies to a whole new level.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Massive. Box. Set.
'Tarantino XX' is the kind of release I didn't see ever happening, for a number of reasons. First, the potential devaluation of the films, second, the rights issues due to the films belonging to different studios. Apparently, all that changed when Miramax sold its film library and Lionsgate snatched up the rights to four successive films to go alongside the one they already owned rights for. This eight film collection, which covers almost the entirety of Tarantino's catalog, includes discs from Lionsgate, Warner Bros., Universal, and The Weinstein Company/Dimension, and is not limited to titles directed by Tarantino, as 'True Romance' is a Tony Scott film based on a Tarantino screenplay.
The movie discs themselves are all identical to the ones previously released (to the point that some players will ask you to resume play if you've ever played the prior editions), though they now feature new artwork, featuring the set's red, black, and yellow color scheme and a various object representing each film. (like a syringe, a bat, the hit list, and so on). Some feature different coding or number sequences on the bottom of the disc, but the actual playback and functionality remain the same, down to the menu navigation, which varies dramatically throughout this release due to the varied studios and disc ages. This set includes nine BD50 discs and one BD25, with no region code markings on the discs (the box indicates Region A exclusive playback, though), with two new exclusive extras discs.
Packaging on this set is both its strength and its weakness. It's impossible to not love the amazing artwork for this set. The fold-out six segment digipak sleeve has random quotes from the films beneath the disc trays (which are double stacked across five of the paper compartments), and amazing artwork representing characters from each film on the opposite side. Unfortunately, this set is DVD height, and aside from a very small Blu-ray logo in the top left corner of the package and a tiny, tiny logo in the technical specifications, there is nothing to prevent people from thinking this is a DVD set (especially since there isn't a day and date DVD release!). Not even the sticker located on the outside of the shrinkwrap says Blu-ray, just "10 disc set." As great a job was done packaging these movies, a very important step was missed along the way, and a DVD sized case really doesn't help matters.
'Reservoir Dogs' (4/5) - 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.
'True Romance' (3/5) - 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.
'Pulp Fiction' (4.5/5) - 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.
'Jackie Brown' (4/5) - Going into this review, I had very low expectations for 'Jackie Brown,' due to my distaste for both import versions I've seen, as well as the fact that this title is one of the many Miramax properties dumped onto Blu-ray without a remaster, sometimes from questionable source elements. Well...thankfully, I was wrong to be worried. That isn't to say that the disc couldn't be better, and there are some very obvious areas leaving room for improvement, but fans should be quite satisfied with how this Tarantino film looks in high-def on Blu-ray. The best news, to me, is the fact that the dirt issues that were abundant in the Polish import are not a concern here. Yes, there's a tiny dirt blip here and there, and a few little scratches, but for the most part, the picture looks really, really clean. In fact, the film doesn't show much age at all, aside from the random soft shots that really are the definition of random, popping up sporadically to remind people of how great the sharp shots look!
'Kill Bill: Volume 1' (4/5) - The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer for 'Vol. 1' is presented in the movie's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The photography by Robert Richardson swings wildly between some sequences in black & white and the rest in super-saturated color. The vibrant yellows of The Bride's track suit and truck pop right off the screen. The picture is quite sharp, sometimes extremely so, with excellent detail. You can clearly make out the wires holding up the Air-O jet and see every freckle on O-Ren's face. In one or two isolated spots, I noticed a little bit of streakiness in facial features that may be the result of DNR or a compression fault, but this was not a consistent problem. Film grain is properly resolved without looking sparkly. Much to my relief, I saw no edge ringing artifacts at all. This disc is a quantum leap improvement over the DVD.
'Kill Bill: Volume 2' (4/5) - Just like the first movie, the 'Kill Bill Vol. 2' Blu-ray looks great in high definition and is a tremendous improvement over the DNR-infested and obscenely Edge Enhanced DVD edition. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is similarly presented in the movie's original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The picture is outstandingly sharp and detailed, and especially revealing of the weathered skin of characters like Bill and Esteban. It's also amazingly free of edge ringing artifacts. Colors are bold and leap off the screen. The black & white scenes have perfect gray scale. The Pai Mei training sequences were deliberately shot to look like a 1970s kung-fu movie and are a little grainy and washed out by design. That's a stylistic decision, not a transfer flaw.
'Death Proof' (4/5) - Death Proof' has been deliberately designed to emulate a tattered theatrical print that's been run far too many times at the grindhouse theater. The picture has recurring appearances of simulated film scratches, dirt, debris, and jump cuts. However, while Robert Rodriguez really went overboard with the effect and made every single frame of his movie look like it'd been scraped off the projection room floor, Tarantino's film is more organic and natural. The film damage is often sporadic. In fact, the entire last act of the movie is virtually spotless. In addition to the film damage effects, 'Death Proof' goes through three distinct phases in visual appearance. The first act looks a little soft and faded, with washed out contrasts that lose detail in both whites and blacks. At the transition to the second storyline, the entire picture turns black & white for an extended scene, as if the footage had to be spliced in from a b&w dupe print. At the end of the scene, the image immediately pops back into full color that's much sharper and more vibrantly saturated than before. As noted above, this entire final section of the movie is nearly devoid of the scratch and dirt effects.
'Inglourious Basterds' (5/5) - 'Inglourious Basterds' is Tarantino's most beautiful film and this 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer (2.39:1 aspect ratio) faithfully reproduces it for high-def. The results are absolutely stunning. 'Basterds' is rich in period detail, and this transfer is perfect for that. Detail is amazing all around - the costumes (you can really notice the death's head on Landa's cap) and settings (like the autumnal killing field) look truly wonderful, and the little Quentin-verse details (posters etc.) really pop and are more noticeable. All of this stuff works to pull you into his gonzo world.
The color palette of 'Basterds' is surprisingly subdued, with the exception of the color red, which pops up in Shosanna's blush and lipstick, on the Nazi flags, and (this being a Quentin Tarantino film) in the bold splashes of blood. These moments really pop in a truly outstanding way. Skin tones look great too. Black levels are deep and dark. There's a fine layer of grain that makes it look like an honest-to-god movie. And there are neither technical issues like artifacts or things like blips or scratches or anything else. As far as I can tell, this is more or less a perfect transfer. It's got that dimensionality that digitally reproduced films sometimes lack, but is present and accounted for.
'Reservoir Dogs' (4/5) - 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.
'True Romance' (3.5/5) - 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.
'Pulp Fiction' (5/5) - 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.
'Jackie Brown' (4/5) - This track isn't the muddy, blending mess found on the import. In fact, it's a very well separated, very clearly discernible mix that features superb dialogue clarity and very good separation. The soundtrack fills the room nicely, and rears do get some very, very light ambience and effect, but otherwise, this is still a front heavy affair. Bass levels are better pronounced, with some actual soul coming through the music, for a change. While I did have some issue with the presentation of a few of Forster's lines, which were occasionally hollow sounding, I didn't have any real concerns with the rest of this track.
'Kill Bill: Volume 1' (5/5) - Even better than the picture quality is the fantastic soundtrack, which is offered in standard Dolby Digital 5.1 or uncompressed PCM 5.1 formats. The PCM track in particular is a knockout. The sound mix has rich music, walloping bass and amazingly sharp sound effects. Punches, kicks, gun shots and clanging swords are all reproduced with vivid immediacy. The squishy gore sounds will make you squirm in your seat. In the midst of all this, dialogue is always clear and discernable. Some of the source music is a little thin and shrill, but that's part of the charm of the soundtrack and not a flaw. Unlike some more aggressive sound mixes, the surround channels are not consistently engaged throughout all of 'Vol. 1', but when they're employed (like the House of Blue Leaves battle), they're put to very creative and effective use. This is a great audio track.
'Kill Bill: Volume 2' (5/5) - 'Vol. 2' features another fantastic soundtrack, again offered in either standard Dolby Digital 5.1 or uncompressed PCM 5.1 formats. Everything I had to say about 'Vol. 1' applies equally here. The resonant music, the thunderous bass and the cracking sound effects are just as flawlessly reproduced in the PCM track. Although not as aggressive as some movies, the surround channels are put to good use when they need to be. What stands out to me even more in the second movie is its striking contrast between quiet moments and loud moments. The sound mix maintains an excellent balance from one to the other. This is great work and I couldn't ask for better. The majority of dialogue in the movie is spoken in English, except for the Pai Mei scenes that have Cantonese dialogue. The disc defaults to displaying English subtitles during those scenes. The subtitles are contained within the active movie image (not the lower letterbox bar) and are safe to view on a 2.35:1 Constant Height projection screen.
'Death Proof' (4/5) - The lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is also an excellent representation of the movie's artistic intentions. In keeping with the grindhouse spirit, audio in the first half is mainly basic stereo without much surround activity. Dialogue is sometimes a little flat, and some of the source music is shrill (like it's being played off old vinyl), but most of it sounds just fine. Things pick up in a big way in the second half with the chase scene. The surround channels are put to much more aggressive use and the roar of revving engines will get your subwoofer rocking.
'Inglourious Basterds' (5/5) - Equally impressive is the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. A Quentin Tarantino movie really is the ideal choice for any surround sound system, as it's a combination of heavy dialogue and explosive, action-type set pieces. Both sound absolutely wonderful here. The dialogue, the sharpest and most multi-lingual of Tarantino's career, is always crisp and clear, even when the events surrounding the dialogue get out of control crazy. The surround really kicks in with something like the tavern sequence in the "Operation Kino" chapter. The ambience and atmospherics are really nice at the beginning of the sequence, with people talking amongst themselves in the background and foreground. And then, when things go to hell, things really kick up another notch, with bullets flying, blood splashing, and debris careening through the air.
'Reservoir Dogs' (1/5)
'True Romance' (4/5)
'Pulp Fiction' (3.5/5)
'Jackie Brown' (3.5/5)
'Kill Bill: Volume 1' (1.5/5)
'Kill Bill: Volume 2' (1.5/5)
'Death Proof' (2.5/5)
'Inglourious Basterds' (3.5/5)
It's hard to believe that it has already been twenty years since 'Reservoir Dogs' was released and introduced the movie-going public to Quentin Tarantino, a name that would become etched in cinematic history. The film fanatic turned filmmaker with a penchant for homage and reference has made an amazing assortment of films in that span, and has not only attracted some of the biggest names in the industry, but has also made a few names along the way. His influence on cinema is indisputable.
This box set celebrating Tarantino's work contains eight of his films, along with two excellent bonus discs. Fans will most likely already have most of the films, and I'd wager body parts that the bonus discs won't be sold in retail stores by their lonesome ever, so this set may be one of those guilty pleasure releases, timed just right for the holiday gift giving season. With solid discs, especially for their age, from beginning to end, along with a heavy load of supplements to boot, I think this set is worth checking out, once it hits your desired price point.