In Get Shorty, John Travolta plays Chili Palmer, a mobster who works out of Miami and is affiliated with a big time thug named Ray Bones (Dennis Farina). Ray is a violent man who doesn't like to be messed with, and Chili takes care of business for him.
Ray sends Chili out to Las Vegas to collect on a sizeable debt owed to him, but once he's there, a casino big wig talks Chili into rerouting over to Los Angeles to collect an even larger amount owed by a filmmaker named Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman). Harry is an eclectic man, who produces and directs low budget b-grade horror movies out of California. When Chili heads out that way and gets a taste for filmmaking industry, he figures he can use the skills he learned while working in the mafia to produce his own movies, with a little bit of help from Harry.
Soon Chili gets involved with Harry and his cohorts – Karen Flores (Rene Russo), a b-movie actress and Harry's go to girl for all of his films; Bo Catlett (Delroy Lindo), Harry's money man who gets all of his disposable income and investment capital from selling drugs; and Martin Weir (Danny DeVito), Karen's ex-husband who happens to be a pretty recognizable star in Hollywood, something his insanely inflated ego is only all too happy to tell you about. Weir's nickname happens to be Shorty.
While Chili and his new friends are out in LA making movies, Ray Bones is wondering what happened to him and so he heads out to California to check things out for himself. Chile begins to fall in love with Karen as they spend more time together, and a whole lot of people are going on about a locker at the Los Angeles airport that's got a whole lot of money stored inside of it.
Get Shorty's director, Barry Sonnenfeld, made a name for himself as a cinematographer, most notably through his fantastic work with Joel and Ethan Coen on such films as Miller's Crossing and Blood Simple. Get Shorty was only the fourth film he'd directed at that point, but his experience behind the camera lends itself well to his directorial duties. The film moves along at a pace that many might consider slow, but in reality it's quite deliberate. This isn't an action movie or a crime story, it's a clever satire of the Hollywood machine made by those who work within its confines.
Say what you will about John Travolta's career, but he shines in this role just as he did in Pulp Fiction the year before. He plays his role with just enough smugness to remind us he's a hood, but at the same time as the movie goes along and he gets involved with Karen and starts to make his film, we find he's not a totally unlikable guy – and he never loses his cool. Travolta delivers the dialogue perfectly, as does the rest of the cast, notably Hackman and DeVito who are both great in their supporting roles. Dennis Farino does an admirable job playing the heavy, and seeing James Gandolfini in a small role playing a bodyguard is fun as well.
The main reason to see the film though, aside from the solid camera work, fun and witty story, and solid performances, is the dialogue. A lot of people rag on Quentin Tarantino for trying to sound like Elmore Leonard in his dialogue, and Get Shorty is a good example of just how sharp Leonard can be. The script, adapted from Leonard's book by Scott Frank who also adapted Minority Report, does a great job of bringing the sharp wit and earthy speech patterns of Leonard's hard boiled characters to the big screen.
The brand new 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen high definition transfer looks very good, but doesn't quite deliver as much as you'd have probably hoped for.
First, the bad news: those familiar with the first DVD release will remember that the movie looked a little bit soft in terms of detail. Sadly, that is still the case here. The bigger problem is in the contract levels, which seem to be a little darker than they probably should have been. I tested this on two different sets and an both sets had to adjust the levels a little bit to get it up to where it looked right to my eyes.
The good news is that the colors look nice and solid, black levels don't pixelate, edge enhancement is minor (though there are one or two scenes where it is quite painfully obvious), and the transfer is pretty strong once you eliminate the contrast issues. Print damage is almost entirely non-existent and the image is clean as a whistle from start to finish. Grain has pretty much been abolished on this transfer and for the most part, it is pretty good – I just felt that it could have been better.
There are two English audio tracks on this release – a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix and a DTS 5.1 Surround Sound mix. There are also dubbed versions supplied in French in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and in Spanish in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo.
Aside from a few minor instances where effects and background noise play a bigger role in things, the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes sound pretty damn near identical. The DTS does have just a hair more bass, but other than that, you'll be hard pressed to notice much to differentiate the two mixes. There are one or two scenes where the dialogue is a tad bit low in the mix but if you take those out of the equation (they're really quite minor) you're left with two very nicely mixed tracks that deliver solid bass, a pretty stable high end, and accurate, lifelike dialogue. Background music swells up nicely from behind you in a couple of scenes, giving the movie a little extra drama, and gunshots and sound effects ring through clearly.
MGM has supplied optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish as well as an English closed captioning selection.
Most of the supplements are put on the second disc, but on disc one there is a full length commentary track from director Barry Sonnenfeld. This proves to be a pretty interesting listen without any dead air or blank spaces between scenes. Sonnenfeld keeps the information coming pretty quickly but doesn't sound rushed when he talks about such technical issues as lighting, camera placements, blocking and effects. He also gives equal time to a lot of pre-production issues that he and his crew had to deal with before cameras even started rolling on the film, as well as some alternate ideas and scenes that were tossed around as ideas while the movie was being made.
On disc two we start things off with a brand new featurette entitled Get Shorty – Look At Me which is an examination of the Chili Palmer character through those who know him best – namely his creator, Elmore Leonard, and his on screen doppelganger, John Travolta. Danny DeVito and John Travolta also provide some interesting and amusing interviews in which they discuss quite candidly their characters in the film as well as some of the idiosyncrasies behind them.
Following that is a second featurette entitled Get Shorty: Wiseguys And Dolls that provides interviews with director Barry Sonnenfeld and actors Gene Hackman and Renne Russo. Sonnenfeld discusses some of what he likes and doesn't like about the final version of the film (he feels it's very slow and at times almost dull) and Russo and Hackman, like in their costars in the first featurette, talk about the characters and performances in the film.
A third featurette entitled The Graveyard Scene is a look at how and why Barry Sonnenfeld decided to cut out what is arguably the best of the humorous moments that the film has to offer. This segment is rightfully followed by The Graveyard Scene itself in which Travolta and Ben Stiller meet on a set, in its entirety, and getting to see it you'll note its obvious humor, but I couldn't help but agree with Sonnenfeld in that yes, it probably would have slowed down the film even more and it might even have felt a little bit out of place.
Going Again is an outtake reel that consists of footage that Danny DeVito and Barry Sonnenfeld shot while messing around with different ways to portray certain characters on screen during the shoot. The bulk of this is DeVito getting into character, and it is actually quite fascinating to see him work himself up and develop his character in front of the camera, especially when you compare some of the earlier attempts to how he ultimately turned out in the finished version of the film.
Bravo's Page To Screen: Get Shorty is a truly interesting look at the way that the movie evolved from Leonard's novel to Sonnenfeld's film. It does a great job of covering the history of the character, where Leonard got the inspiration from through interviewing the man, in addition to some of the people who helped Leonard out while writing the novel.
Following that is a Get Shorty Party Reel that contains some behind the scenes footage that was shot on what was probably a home video camera. The content doesn't look so good technically, but there are some pretty humorous outtakes and goof offs contained in this quick little segment.
Rounding out the extra features are the films original theatrical trailer, a decent sized stills gallery, and a short featurette that provides an advance look at the upcoming theatrical release of Be Cool which features some quick interviews with the crew members as well as some behind the scenes footage shot on set during production.
This two disc set also comes bundled with a pass to see Be Cool in theaters for free that is good until the 25th of March, 2005, and a fancy little booklet that gives a nice overview of the production and a brief history of the film and its origins. The whole kit and kaboodle is packed in a nice digipak complete with bullet holes on the inside, and it looks quite slick.
Well, the transfer isn't perfect but everything else on this set has been very well handled. The audio sounds good, the extras are plentiful and more importantly interesting, and the movie holds up very well. Travolta may have chosen some bad roles in his time, but this is certainly not one of them. The Get Shorty Collector's Edition comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.