While I've always greatly admired "Pulp Fiction" as a work of cinematic cool, I can't say I've ever been among it's more hardcore following. It's been a couple of years since I've watched the movie and watching again after all this time has given me a little more perspective and opinion about it. "Pulp Fiction" is Tarantino's 1994 follow-up to his "Reservoir Dogs", an exceedingly violent, but vibrantly written crime drama that had gained a cult following.
"Pulp" gained an enormous amount of buzz before its October release, winning the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival that year, where audiences were amazed at the kind of beautifully structured collage of stories and images that unspooled before them. US audiences were equally engrossed, as the film caused debate and controversy, with word-of-mouth rocketing the 8m film past the 100m mark. In addition, the film gave a huge kick to the careers of John Travolta and many others.
The film stars John Travolta as Vincent Vega, a hitman who we first see working with his partner Jules (Samuel L. Jackson). In the film's often-parodied sequence, the two chat about fast food in other countries as they drive through the streets of L.A. The matter-of-fact, small-talk dialogue could sound inane or silly coming out the mouths of characters in another film, but there's a certain rhythm to Tarantino's dialogue that the actors are in-tune to - as a result, the dialogue not only works, it crackles.
Vincent is asked by crime boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) to take out his wife Mia (Uma Thurman), leading to a pleasant dinner and a terrifying moment after they return home. Elsewhere, a boxer (Bruce Willis) is ordered by Marsellus to take the fall in the ring, but instead decides to win the fight and try and run with the money and his girlfriend. We're also along for a job that Vincent and Jules have to go on and there when the two run into another couple (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer) who decide to hold up the dinner where the two hitmen are trying to have breakfast. While the film's stories don't take place in order, Tarantino and editor Sally Menke manage to keep everything together perfectly.
Much was discussed in the following years about similarly twisty crime thrillers that were dubbed "Tarantino-esque". Where some of these films were largely dull attempts to capitalize on the new interest in the genre, there were a couple of films in the genre that managed to be original and similarly tense, such as Bryan Singer's "The Usual Suspects" and "Bound", from the Wachowski Brothers. "Bound", while not the film that "Pulp Fiction" is, is the one film since "Pulp" that came closest to in tone, energy and cinematic style, while managing to remain its own.
Other elements of "Pulp Fiction" can be discussed in trying to find what makes it such a successful effort. Tarantino knows that he's presenting aspects that have been seen in other noir films and crime dramas, but he's able to take these aspects, mix them up with his intelligent dialogue, sudden surprises and complex characters to create something special and memorable. Yes, the dialogue is not like many people (aside from Tarantino) talk, but there's something about the look (costumes, production design, sets) and feel/tone of the movie that makes this sort of speech feel perfectly at home coming from these characters.
I don't think "Pulp Fiction" is entirely without fault; some of the other sub-plots - as well-done as they are - can't manage to create the kind of energy that the Travolta/Jackson or the Travolta/Thurman scenes generate. As previously noted, Travolta's career was reenergized by "Pulp" and, while it's unfortunate that he hasn't offered a performance nearly as good since, it's still highly entertaining to watch him here. Jackson, who can be both sharply funny and remarkably powerful, also offers some of his best work here. I was a little more impressed with Thurman in "Gattaca", but this is certainly one of her most memorable roles, as well. Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Tim Roth, Christopher Walken, Willis and others also offer excellent support.
"Pulp" can also be appreciated and admired for creating such a remarkable world on a very minor budget. Reading through the list of credits, one can note that Tarantino attracted a talented crew. Cinematographer Andrzej Sekula, who worked with the director on "Reservoir Dogs" has a terrific eye for detail and capturing the film's exceptional production design. Sally Menke, who also worked on the director's "Reservoir Dogs", does a remarkable job keeping the different stories straight and managing to keep the narrative drive strong throughout the 154-minute running time. Those who worked with Tarantino before or after continue: there's the magnificent production design and set decoration by David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco (both of whom are working on Tarantino's next feature), not to mention the stylish costume design by Betsy Heimann. The result of the work by these individuals, as well as the remainder of the production team, is an 8 million dollar film that has the appearance of a film that costs 25 to 30 million.
"Pulp Fiction" is a film from someone who is clearly in love with films and filmmaking. The film manages to take from and be inspired by prior pictures, while all the while feeling fresh, electric and exciting. Although I didn't like "Jackie Brown", the director's follow-up, as much, "Pulp Fiction" still stands out as a remarkable, classic work.
VIDEO: "Pulp Fiction" is presented by Miramax in a new 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen edition on this Collector's Series release. The original edition, which came out early on in the DVD format, was a non-anamorphic release that, while certainly not unwatchable, was definitely flawed in several regards. This new edition is a considerably more enjoyable viewing experience, but it still does show a few faults of its own. Sharpness and detail are very good, if not exceptional, as the picture often had a somewhat flat appearance and never really showed fine details crisply.
If there is one noticable problem with the image quality, it's edge enhancement. While not terrible or noticable very often, there are a few scenes where a mild amount is visible. No pixelation or other artifacts were spotted, though, and the print used seemed to be in excellent condition, aside from a little speck or two.
Colors were very well-reproduced throughout the picture. Although "Pulp" often has a rather low-key color palette, the scenes with brighter colors looked terrific. This isn't a presentation without some concerns, but it's an improvement over the prior release and probably the best "Pulp" has looked outside the theater.
SOUND: "Pulp Fiction" is presented on this release with the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that was included on the prior edition as well as a DTS 5.1 presentation. The film's fantastic soundtrack is the one element that benefits from the surrounds. Aside from the score though, the surrounds remained largely silent. Audio quality was pretty good; dialogue was very clear and natural, while the score sounded full and lively. With the dialogue-driven soundtrack for the 8-year-old picture, I wasn't expecting a difference between the DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks. However, I actually thought the DTS soundtrack gave the music a little more kick while reproducing the dialogue with a little more clarity.
MENUS: Miramax has provided slick, well-designed, animated main and sub-menus for both discs.
Pulp Fiction: The Facts: This is a 30-minute documentary that offers interviews from director Tarantino, Roger Avary, Travolta, Stoltz, Jackson, Thurman and others. The opening discusses the director's early days of trying to get his work produced while working in a video store. From there, we quickly go through the production and some elements of the reaction to the picture. Unfortunately, all these interviews seemed to be taken from around the time of production or shortly before. Still, there are some interesting tidbits offered and the documentary is worthwhile viewing.
Siskel & Ebert: Tarantino Generation: This is a 16-minute program from the reviewing duo from around the time of the film's release that discusses the director's sudden popularity.
Production Design Featurette: This is a short featurette that offers interview footage with David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, who discuss the film's production design and how they worked with the director to achieve the film's look.
Independent Spirit Awards: This is an 10-minute featurette offers an interview with both Tarantino and producer Bender, with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore playing interviewer (best Moore line: " 'Pulp Fiction' is my favorite Disney movie of the year!") and Tarantino chatting informally and often amusingly about the film's success.
Deleted Scenes: 5 deleted scenes are presented with a Tarantino intro. This set of scenes were also apparently included on the SE laserdisc. The scenes are interesting to view, but certainly weren't something needed to put back in.
Charlie Rose Interview: This is a 56-minute interview with Charlie Rose that appears to have been done shortly after the film's release. Easily the best supplement included on the DVD release, Tarantino has plenty of time here to cover many topics, spending a fair amount of time talking about how he loved movies even when he was a kid and how that grew over time, as he was first interested in becoming an actor, then learned more about writing and filmmaking. Tarantino is as animated as ever here and discusses both his work and cinema in general in an intelligent, amusing manner.
Also: Tarantino's "Palm D'Or" acceptance speech from Cannes; a total of 5 trailers from different countries; 13 TV ads; 2 short behind-the-scenes featurettes ("Butch Hits Marsellus" and "Jack Rabbit Slims"); stills gallery; a collection of reviews; a subtitle fact-track and DVD-ROM material, including a trivia game, screenplay viewer and more.
Note: Aside from the two included booklets, the DVD case also includes a $5 rebate form for those who bought the original and are buying this re-release.
Final Thoughts: I've pretty much said what I've got to say about "Pulp Fiction" in the film review above; it's a great film and intensely watchable, well-crafted one, too. Miramax has offered a very nice new DVD release that offers stronger video quality, superb audio and great - although not outstanding (a new Tarantino commentary would be outstanding) supplements. Still, certainly a must for fans of the film.