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True Romance -- Director's Cut

Warner Bros. // Unrated // May 26, 2009
List Price: $28.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted May 26, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

Oftentimes, when you've fired up a Tony Scott film, you know you're watching something of his. Likewise, the same could be said for writer/director Quentin Tarantino and his ultra-violent, musically-driven style. There's one slight exception to these rules: the story of Clarence and Alabama, True Romance. Those looking for emulation of either of the director's styles might find a bit of a surprise with this Scott-directed, Tarantino-penned piece of work. Interestingly, their cinematic eyes come together into something organic, a interweaving of unique insights -- the f-Bombs, their comparable ideals on violence, compelling characterizations -- that's stylish and sublime on a slightly different, blood-soaked, quirky-as-hell level.

Filmed after Scott took a slightly darker road with Revenge and The Last Boy Scout and after Tarantino wrapped his debut film Reservoir Dogs, True Romance goes down a much more "romantic" storybook path than what might be expected. Comic book store counter jockey Clarence, after flopping down in a theater chair to watch his yearly, solitary movie marathon on his birthday, finds a bowl of popcorn dumped onto his lap. The culprit is Alabama, a sumptuous and alluring girl with a saccharine voice and a warm disposition. Like magic, the two ignite sparks, resulting in a whirlwind night of passion and, in our eyes, instantaneous love. But there's more to Alabama than she'd led on, a world of pimps, drugs, guns, gangsters, and other unsightly elements that will quickly enter into Clarence's life -- and a world that he's ready to take on in order to snatch her away from it all.

True Romance has an eye for unabashed character risk-taking and whimsical passion. Though it starts out as a potentially fabricated trollop between Clarence and Alabama, it slowly morphs into a tangible, wholly involving interchange between two appealing caricatures. Clarence's quick change from lonesome, Elvis-loving counter jockey into a wild-eyed risk taker feels right in this script's hands, while his idyllic parlay with Alabama throughout their magical first date sells the prospect of first love in a way that's touching yet untamed. Their characters feel iconic in comic book fantasy fashion, pumping up their signature Tarantino whip-like dialogue into a slab of unbelievable verbose that's purely a hell of a lot of fun to behold -- a lot like the entirety of True Romance as a whole.

It's largely due to the chemistry between Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, something of a surprise considering the two actors. Arquette's always delivered dynamic performances, especially in her more recent works with David Lynch's compelling Lost Highway and her run on TV's "Medium", but she does something interesting by giving Alabama -- a seemingly spacey ex-callgirl -- something of a soulful attitude. Then, there's Christian Slater, whose performance in True Romance exists as only one of a handful of truly dynamic performances in is career. Along with Heathers and an interesting turn in He Was a Quiet Man, his twitchy, jump-the-gun flare actually meshes well with Clarence's growingly more bombastic mannerisms. Their interchange is enthralling, mingling their animated personas in a slick but adorable fashion.

While we're soaking in their whirlwind of a relationship, it's a bright blitzkrieg of a cinematic rollercoaster ride that we're taken on with True Romance -- one highlighted by an outstanding supporting cast. After we get to know Clarence and Alabama, part of the fun behind the flick comes in getting to know the crazy people surrounding their lives. Along the line, we get the opportunity to see Dennis Hopper, Clarence's father, in a verbal showdown with Christopher Walken, a "wop" crime lord. Sam Jackson inks into the picture, giving sex advice to a couple of soon-to-be-lit-up strangers, while glimpses of a pre-"Sopranos" James Gandolfini and transitory point Val Kilmer as Elvis add some spunk to the picture. But the best of the supportive cast comes in Gary Oldman as a torn-up pimp, a ghetto slag with a flare for the theatrical. Oldman's capacity to build his character undoubtedly tip-toes towards mockery, but it's absolutely a blast to witness once Clarence's testosterone-infused snarky persona positions against him.

As it approaches its plot developments, all more snippy yet gratifying diversions than actual plot essentials, True Romance repeatedly exposes its bleeding heart. It's all about love that blossoms over a night of movies, pie, and sex between two near-complete strangers, and it's somehow earns enough of our doe-eyed indulgence for us to buy into its rhythm as they barrel forth to sell a suitcase full of drugs. As Clarence and Alabama find themselves scrambling away in a Pink Cadillac with that wealth of narcotics in tow, we can't help but connect with 'em on that "woulda-coulda" plane of moviemaking enjoyment. Does everyone desire that kind of rambunctiousness out of their relationship? Of course not, but there's certainly that desire sitting in enough of us to sit back and slap a world of grins from ear to ear thinking about it with this dementedly romantic spin on Bonnie and Clyde.

Here's the catch: we're not really supposed to believe a lick of True Romance. It's not out to sell realism, instead to pass on slight real elements coasting underneath its ludicrous nature. That's, of course, part of Tarantino's writing modus operandi, one that leans towards Pulp Fiction's panache in more than one occasion. It has a similar flavor, but there's plenty of heart behind its rhythm that makes it sensationally enjoyable. Quick dialogue drenched with geekdom euphemisms and slick humor-laced blurbs outline Clarence and Alabama's pathway into the sunset, building True Romance into a trip -- a simple diversion, mind you, but still quite a trip -- with guns blazing and flirtations abound that won't leave fans of its filmmaker roster dissatisfied. It's not everyone's cup of tea due to Tony Scott's zeal and Tarantino's flippant tongue, but it's a major crowd-winner for those that do enjoy its flavor. For those that have known screwed-up yet "perfect" relationships, however, True Romance might even impact on an emotional level -- an enjoyably surface-level resonance that's simply great.

The Blu-ray:

In a shame of a decision, Warner Bros' have decided to steer towards the old snapper artwork for Tony Scott's Unrated Director's cut of True Romance instead of the slick tattoo artwork from the Two-Disc Special Edition. Still, the artwork's not bad, just faulty in comparison.

Video and Audio:

True Romance isn't particularly stellar in Warner Bros' 2.35:1 standard definition DVD, though it carries the film's tone well enough to pass amid all the smoky fogs and sun-drenched contrast -- and this Blu-ray essentially gives off the same impression. Sure, its 1080p VC-1 transfer takes a few positive steps forward in regards to rendering more appropriately saturated colors (especially the red in Slater's hoodie and all of the gorgeous neon signage across the first half of the film) and nicely defined details through its inherent haze, but it's not much of a full-blooded HD stunner. Some heavier grain and slight print damage crop up, while there's a bit of blurriness about the entirety of the image -- even when it's pushing the bitrate upwards of 35+mbps.

Some instances of detail tip-toe above mediocrity -- like the details in Oldman's scarred-up face and a few textures inside interior shots -- but it's mostly a refinement instead of a notable experience. Thankfully, there's improvement to be seen instead of a smoothed-over, digitally spit-shined image taking place of the film-like standard-definition visuals, as it appears relatively free of edge enhancement and noise reduction. Make no mistake that True Romance hasn't looked better, and fans of the film will be pleased with the improved image shaping. There's just not a lot to brag about here, aside from the appreciated concentration towards color tone and detail structure.

The Dolby TrueHD track closely resembles the visual's slightly underwhelming but supportive nature. It's an audio treatment which really doesn't impress much beyond the DTS track available on the previous edition. To be fair, True Romance isn't mixed horribly well -- the dialogue and music are handled fine enough, but the sound effects really suffer. That's about what can be said for this audio track, as verbal clarity receives a healthy -- if strained -- boost while the music travels to the rears in fine fashion. It's in the gunshots and more bombastic effects that the track shows its weaknesses, pinching the highs to a discouraging level and rarely traveling to the lower-frequency enough to impress. The entirety of Clarence's semi-iconic and character-defining firefight is the biggest victim, along with the film's explosive conclusion. Once again, clarity receives a nudge in the right direction and verbal crispness really can be impressive, but it's more of an earmark tacked onto the original track than an impressive reshaping. Audio tracks are available in English TrueHD, English 5.1, and French, while subtitles are made available in English SDH, French, and Spanish.

Special Features:

Warner Bros have graciously ported over MOST of the supplements from their solid two-disc edition, without much in the way of add-ons. This includes a wealth of semi-interactive content that's a lot of fun, especially for Tarantino fans. However, all of the PC DVD-Rom materials have NOT been carried over (i.e. the Screenplay/Storyboard Viewer and Web Links), while the TV Spots and the Animated Photo Gallery have been schlepped from the "Publicity" slate from Disc Two.

Several full-length commentary tracks are included, one from "The Stars" (Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette), one from "The Director" (Tony Scott), and one from "The Writer" (Quentin Tarantino) as they're labeled on the standard-definition set. You're likely to not hear a more scattered assortment of material as you'll hear in these bits, ranging from the laid back keel from the stars to Tarantino's cathartic feel about the entire flick. Tarantino gets into how True Romance is his most "autobiographical" and interconnects it with his experiences when he was 25, while director Scott dives into some of the other difficulties over making the film -- nailing down an Elvis tune for the film, positioning lighting during the trailer sequence with Clarence's dad, and making a drug deal via phone feel "fresh".

We've also got a few scene-specific commentaries from several of the actors -- Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, and Michael Rapaport -- that, as can be expected, focus on their supportive performances in the flick and the time spent with Scott / Tarantino's script. All of them are fine and insightful in their own right, but Hopper's track is soberly interesting and Kilmer, as in most of his interviews, offers up a great listen.

Alternate Ending
Quentin Tarantino's ending for True Romance has also been carried over, which is an interesting addendum simply because it addresses tone in a compelling way. Both endings are fitting and justified in their own right, but Tarantino's close -- one that takes a more melancholy spin with Clarence and Alabama -- feels too anchored and tries a little hard to be potent. When strung together with the film's rhythm, it still would've worked great; however, as Tarantino states in his commentary on the Alternate Ending (Scott also has one as well), he acknowledges that the more "fairy tale" style of close is the proper decision.

Also available are the Original (EPK 1993) Featurette (5:35, 4x3 SD VC-1 ), a small blurb-like piece of marketing material, the Behind the Scenes (5:34 w/o expanded footage, 4x3 SD VC-1) "interactive" featurette from the two-disc edition with a heart icon that makes supplemental footage available, and a slew of Deleted and Extended Scenes (29:19, SD VC-1) with optional commentary from Tony Scott. Finally, Warner has capped off the features with a Theatrical Trailer (2:02, VC-1).

Final Thoughts:

Imagine a full-blooded, Bonnie and Clyde style tale of love at first sight in the eyes of Pulp Fiction level Tarantino, and you've got True Romance. Which, under the direction of Tony Scott, collides with his style into an explosion of indulgent aesthetics and swoon-worthy romantic theatrics between two "damaged goods" character who step well beyond being cherish-worthy. It literally feels like a marriage between two aesthetics, both taming and bolstering their strong qualities to create something grand with Clarence and Alabama's story. It's a character picture, a rich music-and-movies homage, and bloody in spurts within its sweet yet dire tale, making it into something special.

Warner Bros' Blu-ray, though it's mostly a mild boost in visual and aural clarity above its standard-definition counterpart, still provides its audience with a natural cinematic disposition that feels decidedly film-like, along with copying over the lion's share of the special features -- including the Tarantino/Scott commentaries and the alternate ending. In that, it's a strongly Recommended purchase sight unseen, while fans of the film will find a pleasant surprise in the condensing of the special features into this slightly improved presentation.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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