It's not like Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction needs any kind of introduction, but I'm a firm believer in giving studios their screener's worth. This gripping tale of gangsters, goons, gold watches, guns and glowing briefcases appeared on just about every critic's "Best Of" lists for 1994, the entire decade and even the 20th century as a whole. The film's unusual narrative bobs and weaves through its 154-minute running time with energy to spare, thanks to punchy dialogue, a fantastic soundtrack and career-revitalizing performances by an ensemble cast. Pulp Fiction's success didn't end with critics, either: the film's rousing commercial success helped to cement the status of Tarantino and producer Lawrence Bender's production company, A Band Apart. Unfortunately, it also led to countless imitators during the next decade, each attempting to capture the film's lightning-in-a-bottle appeal. Many tried, but most failed miserably.
I was 16 months too young to be granted legal admittance to Pulp Fiction in theaters, so my first viewing of the film was on a worn-out VHS tape about a year later...and strangely enough, that wasn't a bad introduction. The film's timeframe is never clearly identified, though the hairstyles of Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) look at least 10 years out of date. The production design is appropriately down-to-earth: homes are often modest, hotel rooms are dirty around the edges...and with one exception, characters aren't exactly dressed to kill. Pulp Fiction presents a twisted slice-of-life for its cast of misfit characters; most bump into each other along the way, but it never feels gratuitous or unbelievable. This is simply a pitch-perfect portrait of troublemakers stirring the pot.
Even so, Pulp Fiction's dialogue has often been regarded as its most striking asset...and that's because it is. The film's near-endless supply of one-liners, pop culture references and profanity-laced tirades have all the qualities of a good pop song: they're immediately catchy and stick in your brain for days. Vincent and Jules get the lion's share, but mainly because their playful back-and-forth banter fills time between unusual daily routines. Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), on the other hand, seems to be a man of considerably fewer words...but when characters don't talk very often, that only makes their occasional outbursts all the more compelling. These factors only add to Pulp Fiction's lasting appeal: it's so eminently watchable that random scenes play perfectly well on their own. Together, they're virtually unstoppable.
Originally released on DVD back in 1998 (and again in 2002 as a fully-loaded Collector's Edition, may it rest in peace), Pulp Fiction makes its long-awaited Blu-Ray debut in grand fashion. Featuring a flawless, director-approved technical presentation and a host of comprehensive bonus features, this release's rock-bottom ticket price is just icing on the cake. Any way you slice it, Pulp Fiction is perhaps the most essential budget-priced catalog release since Sony's Taxi Driver. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Video & Audio Quality
Supervised by Quentin Tarantino (so who are we to argue?), Pulp Fiction looks about as flawless as fans should be hoping for. The 1080p transfer of this 2.35:1 film is excellent from start to finish...and as expected, it provides a substantial upgrade from the 2002 Collector's Edition DVD. A number of digital problems are no longer an issue, thanks to more efficient compression and the format's beefy storage capacity. The film's natural color palette is rendered beautifully, from the cartoonish interior of Jackrabbit Slim's to the warm tones of Christopher Walken's "Gold Watch" scene. Pulp Fiction was shot on low-speed film stock that doesn't produce a lot of grain...but rest assured, it doesn't look like any DNR has been applied here. Simply put, this is a fantastic presentation of a good-looking film.
Even more impressive is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which brings the soundtrack and dialogue to new heights. Channel separation is strong, directionality is impressive and LFE is substantial on many occasions. This is still a dialogue-driven film at heart, but Pulp Fiction's sporadic bursts of action and music envelop the listener. In short, this is a reference-quality presentation and your neighbors will probably hate you for it. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are offered during the main feature.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below, the animated menu screens are simply designed and easy to navigate. This 154-minute film has been divided into a modest 16 chapters, no obvious layer change was detected and the disc is apparently locked for Region "A" players only. The one-disc set is housed in a stupid "eco-friendly" keepcase, but at least we get a nice (and appropriately worn-looking) slipcover. No inserts are included, and the DVD's "Jackrabbit Slim's" replica menu doesn't fit inside. Believe me, I tried. :(
No, we still don't get an audio commentary...but we do
get over an hour's worth of brand-new HD extras, in addition to everything from the 2002 Collector's Edition DVD. First up is "Not the Usual Mindless, Boring, Getting to Know You Chit-Chat"
(43 minutes), a newly-recorded collection of interviews with cast members John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Eric Stoltz and Patricia Arquette. It's a lively and engaging series of interviews...and frequently dips into "back-patting" territory, but most fans shouldn't mind at all. It's obvious that Pulp Fiction
was a unique and exciting experience for all involved, and these folks seem grateful for the future opportunities it paved for them.
On a related note is "Here Are Some Facts on the Fiction" (21 minutes), a sit-down discussion with five prominent film critics including Tim Lucas (Video Watchdog), Stephanie Zacharek (Salon) and Elvis Mitchell (The Treatment). This is an interesting roundtable, as the participants are on both sides of the fence (OK, one isn't completely enamored with it) and they do a great job of articulating their thoughts. Since Pulp Fiction's success was largely fueled by critical acclaim, this feature doesn't seem gratuitous.
Everything else returns from the previous release, which includes an Enhanced Trivia Track during the film; the documentary "Pulp Fiction: The Facts" below left); 25 minutes' worth of Deleted Scenes with a director introduction; two short Behind-the-Scenes Montages (below right); a rather interesting Production Design Featurette; a Tarantino-focused episode of "Siskel & Ebert at the Movies"; a curious Interview from the 1994 Independent Spirit Awards; the infamous Palm D'or Acceptance Speech at Cannes from the same year; a lengthy "Charlie Rose" interview with the director; an extensive collection of Marketing & Promotional Materials and a Still Gallery of behind-the-scenes photos.
True, an audio commentary would've been icing on the cake, but it's almost superfluous at this point: Pulp Fiction has almost been discussed to death by now, and Tarantino even refused to record one for Criterion's laserdisc back in 1996. Either way, this is a catalog release done right: all previous DVD extras have been accounted for and we get a pair of great new ones for good measure.
Considered a classic almost immediately after its 1994 release, Pulp Fiction hasn't aged a day in almost 20 years. The film's razor-sharp wit, sporadic bursts of violence and flawless soundtrack are a perfect match for its cast of misfits, while the complex narrative remains as fresh and energetic as ever. Overall, it's easy to see why Tarantino's film spawned a legion of imitators: Pulp Fiction is accessible, dynamic and thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. Lionsgate's long-awaited Blu-Ray release gets just about everything right, from its top-notch technical presentation to a generous assortment of old and new bonus features. Combine this with a rock-bottom retail price, and Pulp Fiction earns a title that I haven't handed out in almost three years: DVD Talk Collector's Series. Enjoy this one!
NOTE: The above screen captures were obtained from the Collector's Edition DVD and do not represent Blu-Ray image quality.
Randy Miller III is an office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA who does freelance graphic design, teaches art classes at a local gallery and runs a website or two in his spare time. He also enjoys slacking off, telling lame jokes and writing stuff in third person.