First of all, if you've seen Natural Born Killers you already know if you're going to buy this DVD. Stone's film so polarized the viewing public that nothing I say here will sway your opinion (if you already have one.) Now that I've gotten that out of the way, on to the review!
Natural Born Killers is the story of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde who venture across the country on a killing spree, becoming worldwide celebrities in the process. The lead rolls are played with great aplomb by Woody Harrelson (in his first major roll after the Cheers) and Juliette Lewis who bring these most loathsome characters to life. Unfortunately, their performances don't seem to be able to save this muddled film.
Stone's basic thesis is that the American obsession with crime, fed by an over exuberant media, has fostered an atmosphere in which violence itself is a valid form of expression. That's a message that should ring true for many people but Stone's ham-handed delivery gets in the way. His stance is so clear that unless you fall asleep in the first five minutes you won't fail to miss it. Natural Born Killers is intended to be a satire but the subject matter is used as a bludgeon leaving little room for levity. In my estimation Stone fails to give his audience credit for being intelligent enough to draw their own conclusion and instead opts to force his message down their throats.
Compounding the problem is Stone's schizophrenic use of the film medium itself. From the get go he switches relentlessly back and forth between black and white, 16mm, 8mm and video leaving little chance for the viewer to settle into the flow. He presents us with rear screen projections, blue screen mats, full-fledged CGI and even imagery projected on buildings. I couldn't help getting the feeling that Stone was trying broadcast on whatever frequency David Lynch seems to be tuned into and failing miserably.
Nevertheless I was able to enjoy some aspects of the film. Quentin Tarantino originally scripted Natural Born Killers (though it went through many other hands before shooting began) and there are moments when his clever dialogue shines through. In addition I found the performances by Robert Downey Jr. and Tommy Lee Jones to be very funny and well crafted.
Because of the frenetic cutting between various media it's a little hard to get a handle on the overall video quality. Some of the scenes are intentionally grainy and others look washed out. Still others make use of fog filters and postproduction effects. After accounting for this intentional mish mash it seems to me that the picture quality is very good. The color levels are pleasant and not over saturated, the skin tones are right on and the black and white footage seems crisp and clean. I was unable to detect any appreciable artifacts from the DVD compression process.
Natural Born Killers sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound track but it was a bit of a disappointment. I found the soundfield to be somewhat flat and not very broad. The surrounds came into play on only the most rare of occasions which is a shame considering all the action on screen. The LFE channel gets a workout with gunfire and explosions but it's left hanging out to dry without the support of a better overall mix.
There are several extras on this disc. First of all there's a short documentary on the making of Natural Born Killers and the controversy it caused. This production is a softball effort that only scratches the surface of the story behind the film. Next there's a screen specific audio commentary track by Stone. This too is a little disappointing. Stone spends way too much time explaining his message and not enough discussing the production and the differences between this director's cut and the MPAA approved R rated version. Several cut scenes are included, each with an optional introduction by the director. This is the most insightful extra as it shows how the film evolved in postproduction. There's also an interesting alternate ending. Finally you'll find the original theatrical trailer and several bonus trailers from other Trimark releases.
Natural Born Killers probably sparked more controversy than was justified by the content of the film. It's far from the bloodiest or the most offensive movie you'll ever see but it certainly isn't for everyone. If you're a Stone fan you'll want this one in your collection and if you saw it in the theater and liked it you'll probably get a kick out of the feature packed DVD. If you've never seen the film before I recommend that you rent it first and see if it's to your liking.