The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Julie & Julia
Short Takes
DVD Playback
Fatal Attraction
Lookin to Get Out
True Romance
Exterminating Angel
ASC Close-Up
True Romance (1993)

Unrated Director’s Cut
Blu-ray Edition
2.35:1 (High Definition 1080p)
Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Warner Home Video, $26.98

Comic-book-shop clerk Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) is spending his birthday alone in a Detroit grindhouse that is showing a Sonny Chiba triple feature. Entering the theater late, a young lady in a leopard coat slinks into a seat just behind him, and things heat up when she flirtatiously asks what she has missed of the picture so far. After the movies, she introduces herself as Alabama (Patricia Arquette) and asks Clarence to join her for some pie and coffee.

As sparks fly between Clarence and Alabama, the two spend a wild night together. Later, Alabama tearfully confesses she is a prostitute hired by Clarence’s boss. She says she has been a prostitute for just three days and is now emotionally confused because she really likes Clarence. He says her being a “professional” is all right with him because he has never hit it off so well with a lady friend. The two quickly profess love for each other and, after the sun comes up, go two places, one the courthouse to tie the knot and the other the tattoo parlor to engrave their names on each other.    

After the newlyweds make plans for a honeymoon, Clarence calls on Alabama’s pimp, Drexel (Gary Oldman), who has her suitcase full of clothes. Dangerous Drexel does not like hearing Alabama will not be back to work, so Clarence has to kill him in order to escape with the suitcase. Later, Alabama is shocked to find a staggering stash of cocaine when she opens the suitcase Clarence accidentally grabbed instead of hers. 

The stunned newlyweds quickly realize their good fortune and plan to sell Drexel’s stash so they can start a new life. In a pink Cadillac, Clarence and Alabama hit the road to Hollywood, the only place where Clarence can imagine he would get away with a drug sale of such magnitude. With their starry eyes on a big score, the couple misses the frightening reality a vengeful gangster (Christopher Walken) has sent his thugs to follow them, retrieve the cocaine and kill them for stealing it.

True Romance (1993) is director Tony Scott’s giddy, violent thrill ride based on Quentin Tarantino’s brash, tongue-in-cheek screenplay about a love-struck couple and its accidental adventures in crime. The director’s unrated cut, presented here as well as on the previous DVD version, includes one additional minute of previously excised footage. 

To help bring this romantic, action-packed piece to life, Scott enlisted his long standing collaborator, Jeffrey L. Kimball, ASC (Wild Things, Mission Impossible II), as cinematographer. The two artists worked together on four features, beginning in 1985 with Top Gun and culminating with True Romance. Kimball filled the film’s anamorphic canvas with remarkable vitality, capturing heavily saturated colors and beautifully composed, often smoky, lighting schemes to give the film the wild energy it demanded. From the grim, wintery corners of Detroit to the day-glow zeal of Los Angeles, True Romance has the distinct and appealing look of a living comic book. 

Unfortunately for True Romance’s much anticipated release on Blu-ray, Warner Home Video‘s image transfer, while generally faithful in color tonality, is disappointingly soft, with dull, flat contrasts. A lot of unnecessary digital noise reduction apparently was applied here, deliberately taking away from the images the sharpness and grain which made the colors and shadings contrast and pop so crisply on film. Although the transfer is passable, the heavily diffused lighting seems softened so much the film’s meticulous design often appears diminished and largely undistinguished. Much more attention could have been paid in rendering Kimball’s beautiful work in high definition. The audio is acceptable in a 5.1mix that is most busy during loud action and shoot-out sequences.

The Blu-ray supplements are solid, but, unfortunately, all of them hail from the 2002 DVD edition and are in standard definition. There are three separate audio commentaries — Scott’s in-depth explanations, Tarantino’s revealing discussion and Arquette and Slater’s dull, sporadic statements. Also included are the original ending segment, deleted/extended scenes, selected scenes with supporting cast commentaries, a behind-the-scenes segment, promotional docs and the theatrical trailer. Oddly, some of the original DVD supplements, including an animated photo gallery (one the Blu-ray jacket claims is included), do not appear.

In spite of the edition’s shortcomings, True Romance remains a delirious cocktail of vibrant, commercial entertainment that has, like many of Tarantino’s subsequent efforts, attained a sort of mythic, cult status. Perhaps the film will one day get the high-definition treatment it deserves.

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