Love him or hate him, Quentin Tarantino was the most important figure in film in the 1990's. His 1994 masterpiece Pulp Fiction introduced American audiences to a cinematic language and sense of style that simply could not be contained. In the wake of Pulp Fiction's massive success, Tarantino's first picture, Reservoir Dogs, also shot into the limelight. And as Pulp became an immediate cultural touchstone, Reservoir Dogs found itself being raised to the same level, whether it deserved it or not. And watching it again, I'd say it's stolen its fair share of undeserved acclaim.
Reservoir Dogs tells the story of a botched robbery from the viewpoint of four criminals. There's Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), the senior member of the group, Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), a loose cannon, Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) an amateur who considers himself a consummate professional, and Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), an undercover cop who's shot during the job. Tensions rise as they try to piece together what went wrong, aided by flashbacks (or, if you prefer, a non-linear editing style). As the film progresses, more information about the heist and the people involved come to light.
I have to give credit where credit is due. Reservoir Dogs was a punch in the face to cinema at the time. Tarantino was clearly a new voice, off-kilter but accessible. He imbued the film with his own personal passion, making his own persona inseparable from the movies he makes. And some of the dialogue is absolutely classic. Many of the elements Tarantino would employ in the rest of his filmography make an appearance here, and most of the main actors he would use later are here, too.
Looking at it now, however, its clear that a lot of the praise handed to it was leftovers from the feast held in Pulp Fiction's honor. While Dogs has moments that are unmistakably Tarantino, it also feels embryonic in relation to his later works. The dialogue that Tarantino is so famous for is not fully formed here. Sure, there are bits such as the "Like A Virgin" speech, which is imminently quotable, but a lot of the lines when the characters are arguing feel like a very verbose way of saying "Yes you did/No I didn't" over and over. However, Tarantino's sense of rhythm is already fully in place, making some sequences seem better than they actually are.
In ways, it's hard to critically evaluate Reservoir Dogs, because it's almost considered sacred ground. I guess what I'm really trying to say is that it's a good movie, but not quite as good as most people claim it is, and certainly not as good as Tarantino's subsequent films. It's got some good performances, some great music, and some sick ear-slicing. But if Tarantino had died before he got to make any of his other films, I seriously doubt that Reservoir Dogs would be considered as influential as it is today.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Considering how this MPEG-2 2.35:1 transfer was only recently made (it's the same as the one used for their new standard DVD release), it's sad to note that the image presented here is decidedly substandard. The contrast seems to be completely out of whack, and at times images in shadow looked like they had been artificially brightened. The opening scene in the diner actually looks pretty good, but a good portion of the Mr. White/Mr. Pink scenes in the warehouse look very shoddy.
Lionsgate continues to offer lossy DTS surround mixes and calling them "DTS HD" on the cases. Considering that 90% of the movie is nothing but dialogue, a DTS track almost seems like a waste, but this track has some good separation and all dialogue is crystal clear. And for the few action scenes, the soundstage opens up nicely. Take a look at the scene were Mr. Pink escapes from the cops. There are a lot of different sound effects bouncing around. There's also a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix that is slightly more muddy than the DTS track.
Considering how important everyone considers Reservoir Dogs to be, the extras offered here are surprisingly slim on participation from the people who actually made the movie. By "surprisingly slim" I mean at no time in any of the supplements is there an appearance by anyone who was in any way involved with the making of the film.
Pulp Factoids Viewer: Lionsgate likes these little pop-up factoids, featuring them on several of their recent Blu-ray discs. Usually they're a mix of production anecdotes with lesser known trivia about the movie in question. In this case, they're actually the best special feature on the disc. How depressing is that?
Playing It Fast And Loose: Ladies and gentlemen, I humbly submit "Playing It Fast And Loose" as one of the worst home video supplements ever. An overblown love fest for Reservoir Dogs by various film critics and Harry Knowles, this "documentary" has so many people gushing over Tarantino and his film that you'd think it's a porn. Now, you know something is wrong when a featurette starts and Harry Knowles pops up. The man is a joke in the film world, and it doesn't help that he makes Jabba The Hutt look like Cary Grant. And he's not even the worst part! Over the course of fifteen minutes, we get people claiming that Tarantino made a masterpiece right out of the gate, and we even get to watch as a man compares Tarantino to William Shakespeare. Yes, somebody places Quentin Tarantino on the same level as the man who wrote Hamlet. Now, I loves me some Tarantino, but that's ridiculous. If I get into a car accident and hit the part of my head where the memory of watching this featurette is housed, I would have to start thinking that maybe somebody up there likes me.
Profiling The Reservoir Dogs: This was a good idea for an extra that suffers from poor execution. The idea was to take the pages from Tarantino's script that described the personality traits of the various characters in the film, and use those to give the audience insight into the people we were watching on the screen. The problem comes when Lionsgate hired a narrator that makes Stephen Wright's DJ from the film sound lively. And to make matters worse, all we see is a single photo of the character in question. Worth a single viewing.
All of the special features are in high definition, including the previews for other Lionsgate Blu-ray releases.
Reservoir Dogs isn't as much an important movie as it is the older sibling of an important movie. However, even a minor Tarantino film is still better than a lot of other movies out there. Unfortunately, the picture on this Blu-ray disc is uneven, going from pretty good to downright awful. And considering this disc also has what has to be one of the worse supplements in the history of all home video mediums, the most I can say for this disc is that you might want to Rent It.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.