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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Reservoir Dogs: SE
Reservoir Dogs: SE
Artisan // R // August 27, 2002
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by D.K. Holm | posted October 6, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Reservoir Dogs is about interpretation.

The interpretive arts are employed at every single significant point in the narrative, and during most of the "insignificant" ones, too.

The movie begins with a guy explaining the meaning of a song (Madonna's "Like a Virgin"). It ends with a guy realizing that he had failed to interpret reality correctly.

But interpretation as the modus vivendi in the film is established in the opening scene. Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney), the organizer of the heist, is obsessed with an old telephone book he found in a coat pocket, going over the names again and again, trying to remember the people, to the irritation of Mr. White. Also there is the anti-tipper (Steve Buscemi's Mr. Pink) who needs to (futilely) explain that his refusal to tip is based on his analysis of a waiter's performance. Done with their meal, the black garbed crew exit to participate in a heist that they fail to "read" right.

Throughout the movie there are "interpretive" moments. Mr. Pink analyses why his name isn't as cool as the others. The surviving gang members re-group and try to read back through recent events in order to figure out who is the snitch.

But in the biggest component of the story, a man must make sure that he is not interpreted. Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) needs to pass under the radar of the crew's scrutiny. That's because he is an undercover cop (everyone knows this by now, right?) named Freddy Newendyke, whose success at burrowing into the gang is dependent on his presenting a "character" whom the other men can buy into without reflection. To do this, he must be trained by an experienced undercover man (the restless Randy Brooks), who gives the cop pointers in "reading" his auditors. As Mr. Orange delivers an "audition" monologue about a tense but imaginary incident involving pot and a train station bathroom full of cops, the movie interprets the "amusing anecdote" for us, casting and directing it, creating the "movie" that the gangsters might see in their minds.

And dare one add that "theft," too, is an interpretive act? Not just the theft of jewels, but also the theft of other movies to bulk out one's own? What Tarantino did with Reservoir Dogs, in a script credited solely to him, was to borrow or pay hommage to a number of films (City on Fire, A Clockwork Orange, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, The Killing) that augment or support his own project. I don't know how conscious Tarantino was, if at all, of the idea of interpretation when he was conceiving the movie (he probably didn't think about the film in those terms at all), but the theme is so consistently woven throughout the movie that it gives the film a sustaining, cohesive meta-text.

Part of the tragedy of the film is that the one guy who needs to understand reality the most, Keitel's Mr. White (real name: Lawrence Dimick), is the one who can't interpret the truth. He lets himself be swayed by personal feelings. But in the inimitable words of Joe Cabot, he "doesn't know jack shit."

Reservoir Dogs is a great film, itself open to interpretation, and Artisan's 10th Anniversary Special Edition double disc re-release gives the QT buff a chance to really dig into the film's meaning.


The DVD

VIDEO: The re-mastered widescreen image (2.35:1), enhanced for widescreen televisions, on a single-sided, dual-layered disc (SS-DL), is a vast improvement over the previous barebones Artisan disc. It is sharper, with much less grain (some have criticized it for being washed out, however). The second disc offers the film in a 4:3 full-screen transfer.

SOUND: Audio is excellent with both DTS (English) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), plus DD 2.0, and on the second disc's full-frame version a DD 2.0 track, and Spanish subtitles (this set drops the English subtitles, but close captioning is available).

MENUS: The menus on these two discs are a little hard to navigate, being somewhat counter-intuitive. The first disc offers 22 chapters for the 100 minute movie.

PACKAGING:Reservoir Dogs is a two-disc set that comes with four different covers, each featuring a selected gang member and including a "dossier" on him (there are white, pink, orange, and blond editions: this reviewer had the orange). [Reader Jerry Stille points out that there is also a Mr. Brown box with Tarantino on the cover; it's available from Amazon.con, # 012236-130680] The discs come in a folding digipak keep case inside a slim cardboard cover, and with a menu list and a booklet of Dogs merchandise inserted.

EXTRAS: Supplements are lavish, basically a whole disc and a half's worth.

Disc One: Audio Commentary Track First off is an audio track featuring Tarantino, producer Lawrence Bender, executive producer Monte Hellman, director of photography Andrzej Sekula, editor Sally Menke, and actors Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Michael Madsen and Kirk Balz (the cop with the ear). This is an edited track, however, and the chat often has nothing to do with what you are seeing as the track leaps from person to person without logic or consistency.

Disc One: Cast and Crew Interviews This portion of the disc comprises a suite of chats with significant members of the cast. First off is "An Interview in the Back of a Truck With Chris Penn" (6:54), which for some reason pretends that Penn is in the back of a truck driving through Los Angeles. "The Kirk Balz Interrogation" (6:49) is set in a warehouse not unlike the one where he gets his ear cut off, followed by "An Afternoon with Michael Madsen " (11:15), which finds the actor at home surrounded by kids. The energetic "Lawrence Bender" (6:08) summarizes, among other things, the producer's screen cameos. Finally there are "Poolside with Tim Roth" (9:07), and the hagiographic "A Tale of Tarantino"(14:44).

Disc One: Deleted Scenes As usual, my position is that these scenes should have remained in the movie. They really flesh out the Tim Roth character and also create an internal symmetry with the film's concluding scene. The deleted scenes are: "Background Check" (4:39), in which we learn a lot about Mr. White, and in which a woman—a blonde female cop in a red leather jacket—has a substantial role, totally cut out of the finished film; "No Protection" (2:57) which shows a nervous Mr. Orange; and "Doing My Job" (2:31), set in a car with Pink, White, and Eddie, which fills in a gap in the narrative, and which anticipates, and even alludes to, the "Bonnie Situation" scene in Pulp Fiction. Finally, there are two very short alternative takes of the ear slicing scene.

Disc One: Theatrical trailer This is interesting to see again after all these years.

Disc Two: Critic commentaries Three critics address different issues relating to the film as montages of selected scenes play in the background. Amy Taubin, described as a Film Comment's critic (there isn't really any such thing), but who is also the author of a book on Taxi Driver concentrates on Tim Roth in a 23 minute segment. Then Peter travers of Rolling Stone, much less insipid than he has appeared in print, enthuses about the film and its Sundance history, and its song selection for 29 minutes. Finally, Emanuel Levy, a former Variety reviewer, now a teacher and the author of the book about indie filmmakers, Cinema of Outsiders, dwells on Tarantino's narrative structure and fixation on violence for 34 minutes.


Disc Two: K-Billy Radio This feature offers three audio selections and a short cartoon: one with an interview with a guy named Samson Beck, a second with musician and songwriter Gerry Rafferty about the song "Stuck in the Middle With You," and the third outtakes from Stephen Wright's performance as the voice of K-Billy's Sounds of the '70s. Finally, there is a quasi hidden last bit that reenacts the ear-cutting scene with Reservoir Dogs action figures.

Disc Two: Sundance Class of '92 A 30 minute glace back by and about the Sundance directors who emerged the same year as Tarantino: Swoon director Tom Kalin, Poison Ivy director Katt Shae, grand prizewinner In the Soup director Alex Rockwell, and The Hours and Times director Chris Munch. Also included is a very interesting 12-minute selection of clips from Reservoir Dogs's 1991 Sundance Film Lab workshops, with performances by Buscemi and Tarantino, and an early version of the Mr. White - Joe Cabot conversation which includes citations of Sylvia Plath.

Disc Two: Tribute and Dedications Just under an hour, this is an annotation of the list of dedicatees in the film's credits: Timothy Carey, Roger Corman, Andre DeToth, Chow Yun Fat, John Woo, Jean Luc Godard, Jean Pierre Melville, Lawrence Tierney, Lionel White, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, and Pam Grier. There are also extended and affectionate tributes to or interviews with the late Lawrence Tierney, the late Eddie Bunker (Mr. Blue), Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, Pam Grier and Roger Corman.

Disc Two: The Film Noir Web An eight minute anthology of interviews with some neo-noir writers and directors (John Boorman, Mike Hodges, Donald Westlake among them).

Disc Two: The Noir Files A text-based list of authors and books on noir.

Disc Two: Securing the Shot A four minute look at the locations of the film conducted by scout Billy Fox.

Disc Two: Small Dogs A four minute commercial for Reservoir Dogs merchandise.

Disc Two: Style Guide They wear sunglasses and black suits. This is 22 seconds long.

Disc Two: Poster gallery Um, three posters.


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