Oh, I’m sorry, did I break your concentration?
Quentin Tarantino crafts a winding tale of crime, and in the process makes arguably the most influential and often-imitated movie of the 1990s.
I remember going to see Pulp Fiction during its initial release in 1994 with some trepidation. It was subject to the sort of misguided controversy that still drives the American press wild and only results in selling more tickets. I can’t say that I quite “got” the movie until repeat viewings on video. It gradually became one of my favorite movies. This summer, a local bargain theatre booked Pulp Fiction for a two-week run. I took my wife to see it for her first time. She didn’t quite appreciate it, but then she’s never met a Michelle Pfeiffer movie she didn’t like (just to give you an idea of her tastes). That theatrical viewing made me realize that Pulp Fiction isn’t an action movie; it is a drama driven almost entirely by its well-crafted dialogue.
Pulp Fiction was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won for Best Original Screenplay. It is number 95 on the American Film Institute’s Greatest American Movies list, and (as of this writing) is ranked #23 on the Internet Movie Database’s Top 250 list.
Pulp Fiction tells the intertwining tales of two hitmen, a boxer just past his prime, two petty thieves, and a gangster’s wife. Overseeing and tying together the disparate plot threads is the aforementioned gangster. Pulp Fiction‘s zigzagging plot is told in a far from conventional manner. It is told non-sequentially, but not in flashbacks and flashforwards like most writers would do. It is left up to the viewer to piece together the plot and to discover how the stories relate to each other.
Jules (Samuel L. Jackson, The Phantom Menace, The Negotiator, Deep Blue Sea) and Vincent (John Travolta, The General’s Daughter, Face/Off, Saturday Night Fever) are two low-rent hitmen in the employ of Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames, Out of Sight, Con Air, Mission: Impossible), the baddest gangster in Los Angeles. The duo is sent to retrieve a mysterious briefcase from four would-be double-crossers. A bloodbath ensues, in the middle of which Jules has an epiphany and realizes he must leave the business. Jules and Vincent later have a run-in with a couple trying to pull off their last robbery in a coffee shop. We then meet Butch (Bruce Willis, The Sixth Sense, Armageddon, Die Hard), a boxer who is conspiring with Marsellus to fix a boxing match. However, Butch plots to win the fight and run with Marsellus’ loot. He would’ve gotten away scot-free, if it weren’t for his wristwatch. In the middle act of this story, we are treated to a “date” between Vincent and Marsellus’ wife, Mia (Uma Thurman, Gattaca, Beautiful Girls, Mad Dog and Glory). Their quiet evening of dinner and dancing concludes with a nightcap gone horribly awry.
The preceding summary tells the story as sequentially as possible. In the hands of any other director, it would be a jumbled mess. But Quentin Tarantino has a knack for telling stories in this manner. His gift is for writing carefully sculpted dialogue, and for eliciting performances that make us believe that these characters would speak like this. His formula works when he directs the film, as with Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. (I don’t include Jackie Brown because the dialogue was just cribbed from Ellmore Leonard’s novel.) John Travolta delivers a performance that rescued his once-promising career from another Look Who’s Talking sequel. Samuel L. Jackson, Ving Rhames, and Uma Thurman each give performances that transformed them from bit players to second-tier stars. Also, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, and Harvey Keitel (among many others) give memorable supporting turns. The soundtrack can perhaps also be given a starring role in this film. Hollywood execs should take notice that a soundtrack filled with new and classic tunes can set the tone of a movie without telegraphing every emotion shown on-screen.
And thus ends the glowing portion of this review. I can think of precious few positive things to say about Buena Vista’s DVD publication of this movie. For starters, they used the Alpha keep case. I’d almost prefer that they sold it in a used Big Mac wrapper. This may be my pet peeve, but the movie starts as soon as the DVD is inserted. I like the luxury of choosing to commence play from the menu. Speaking of the menu, it features the box/poster art with the addition of cheesy animated smoke from Mia’s cigarette. There might as well not be any menus, because there is NO extra content on the disc. Nothing. The VHS edition had more extra content than this DVD, for it contained several deleted scenes in a section at the end of the movie. Unlike most deleted scenes, they would have worked in the movie. The scenes fleshed out some of the character, and let you know the meaning of Mia’s “An Elvis man should love it” comment. The recommendations screen contains poster art, but no trailers, for four other Miramax releases that have little or nothing in common with Pulp Fiction.
The film is presented in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic letterboxed format. The picture quality is adequate. Colors are nicely saturated, and few compression artifacts were visible. Dirt specks from the negative were quite noticeable in several well-lit scenes. The audio is very dialogue-centric, so don’t expect to work out your kick-butt sound system. It sounded quite pleasant on my Poor Man’s System. The effects had nice dynamic range, and there was good left/right separation. Here’s my two nice comments. One, there’s 27 chapter stops, and the scenes are divided quite nicely. Two, even though the layer switch takes place during the middle of a chapter, it’s at perhaps the best place in the movie (5:27 into Chapter 15) for such a switch to occur.
For die-hard fans of the movie like me, ownership of this disc is a begrudging must. However, I hope that Miramax will reissue it someday with an anamorphic transfer, a director’s commentary track, and the deleted scenes I gave up when I got rid of my VHS copy. Better yet, maybe Miramax and the rest of the Disney conglomerate should stop subjecting DVD owners to crappy transfers and give us our money’s worth.