There was a great deal of discussion on the internet and elsewhere about Quentin Tarantino's eventual decision to cut "Kill Bill" into two volumes - was it the filmmaker's decision or was it the studio's decision? After watching both volumes of the writer/director's epic, it becomes almost difficult to believe that these weren't two separate films in the first place. The first picture was entertaining enough - a pure, expertly choreographed action extravaganza that still managed to create great characters, backstory and atmosphere.
Yet, the second film is amazingly dissimilar to the first. Also, and this isn't taking away from the first picture - I find the second volume considerably more satisfying. It's not simply because the audience is offered a conclusion after the longish wait between volumes, it's just that the second film feels entirely more substancial, offering more drama, conflict and story. There's action here, but not nearly as much as the first film offered. Still, the tension here comes not action, but the feeling that something bad is just around any given corner.
Although the first film was certainly influenced by Tarantino's favorite martial arts films, Volume 2 feels more like a Western, not just because of the locations, but because of the film's more subdued tone, some of the score choices and Robert Richardson's epic-feeling 'scope cinematography, which offers beautiful, wide-open vistas in several scenes. The black & white opening sequence looks especially breathtaking.
Volume 2 starts up about where the first picture ended. The Bride (Thurman) has already killed two members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) in the first film and now is still after the remainder of her hit list: Budd (Michael Madsen), assassin Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah) and her mentor, Bill (David Carradine). Budd definitely doesn't go quietly (leading to a terrifying sequence), while the other two also present their own problems, especially The Bride's chatty final confrontation with Bill.
In-between, Tarantino adds in additional backstory, such as elements of The Bride (whose name we find out here)'s past with Bill, as well as her lengthy and cruel training with martial arts master Pei Mei (Gordon Liu, outstanding). Through these sequences, Tarantino allows the film to develop some compelling backstory for nearly all of the main characters, but especially for Bill and The Bride. Although there's less action here, The Bride's brutal fight with Elle is a terrific sequence.
The performances are even better this time around, as Thurman and Carradine have to bring more dynamic performances to the table in order to try and show the emotional side of the second volume. Carradine's complex performance is outstanding, and deserves recognition, despite the fact that there are fairly sizable chunks of the film he's not in. Hannah provides a memorable supporting performance, but Madsen's effort, dosed with a pinch of melancholy, is a real surprise.
While whether or not this is Tarantino's finest effort is certainly debatable, but I certainly think it's one of this year's best films so far. A passionate, mature effort from Tarantino and everyone involved, this second half remains a marvelous conclusion to "Kill Bill".
VIDEO: Miramax presents "Volume 2" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality of the second film is excellent, with only a few minor concerns. Sharpness and detail remained stellar, as the film remained crisp and clear in all but a few moments.
As for the issues, edge enhancement does appear in a few scenes, but I didn't feel it was that much of a distraction. Some minor pixelation also appeared once or twice, but these instances were also not very distracting. The print appeared to be in excellent condition - slight intentional grain did appear a little harsh at times, but the picture was otherwise smooth and clean.
Colors remained a bit more subdued this time around, but the transfer still presented them accurately.
SOUND: "Volume 2" is presented in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 by Miramax. The film's soundtrack is rather front-focused, but the surrounds do offer some nice instances of ambience and occasional strong sound effects work. Audio quality is excellent, as the film's dialogue came through with exceptional clarity, while the score sounded rich and dynamic.
EXTRAS: The main supplemental feature is a 26-minute "making of" documentary that does go a little heavy on the film clips and never really offers the level of insight that fans would want about this picture. We get interviews about the story from Tarantino, Thurman and others, along with the previously mentioned clips and some brief behind-the-scenes clips. We also get the CHINGON performance From the "Kill Bill Vol. 2" premiere - CHINGON is a band featuring fellow director Robert Rodriquez ("Desperado"), and some of the director's music appears in the film.
Lastly, we get a 3-1/2 minute deleted scene called "Damoe", where we see the Bride and Bill in earlier times, walking through a village together. However, it's not long before they're confronted by some fighters whose leader has unfinished business with Bill. Not sure why the director deleted this sequence - it's a great sequence and it does effectively develop Bill and, to a lesser degree, the Bride's characters more.
Oddly, we get no trailers.
Final Thoughts: Boasting outstanding performances, compelling drama and greater development to the story and characters, "Kill Bill Vol. 2" is outstanding work from Tarantino. Miramax's DVD edition provides very good audio/video quality, but little in the way of supplements. While supplements are obviously on their way in the eventual Special Edition DVD set, fans probably won't want to wait. Recommended.