Pulp Fiction (1994)
Collector’s Edition
2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 Surround Sound
Buena Vista Home Entertainment, $29.95

When Pulp Fiction hit movie screens in 1994, it marked one of those rare moments in film history when a motion picture be-comes a worldwide sensation. Director Quentin Tarantino had already caught some heat with his debut feature, 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, in which a group of fast-talking, color-coded hoodlums engaged in a black-comic bacchanal of gunplay and wordplay. But Pulp, with its vivid characters, nonlinear narrative structure, ultra-cool musical soundtrack and memorable, machine-gun dialogue, elevated Tarantino to a level of celebrity and notoriety that all filmmakers dream of, but few ever achieve.

Many critics hailed Tarantino as cinema’s Second Coming, breathlessly comparing him to titans like Coppola, Scorsese and even Welles. As Roger Ebert noted while analyzing Tarantino-mania, "He’s been called the first director who’s a rock ’n’ roll star." Others, however, were not so easy with their praise, and some even had the audacity to suggest that this particular emperor had left his clothes at the dry cleaner’s. The dissenters’ perspective was perhaps best articulated by L.A. Times critic Kenneth Turan, who deemed Pulp Fiction "not worthy of sustained veneration."

The recent release of a two-disc Collector’s Edition DVD gives us a chance to reassess Tarantino’s signature film. The picture is essentially a flashy blend of 1970s pop-culture references and classic film-noir plot contrivances (the boxer who’s bribed to throw the big fight, the gangster who’s tempted by his boss’s wife), but these familiar motifs have been reconfigured in a way that manages to both stimulate and flatter the hip, postmodern sensibility. Beneath the ironic veneer, however, is a story with moral/Biblical overtones that explores the consequences of sin and the possibility of redemption. While the film indisputably boasts strong performances and some very tasty dialogue (the screenplay earned an Oscar for Tarantino and co-writer Roger Avary), the pacing of the 2 1/2-hour tale can seem a tad leisurely now that the story’s inventive twists are so familiar. But Tarantino’s sheer love of movies – and his desire to push their creative potential – still shines through.

Fans will be pleased that the picture has finally received a true widescreen transfer that does justice to the film’s richly hued, pin-sharp images, which were crafted by underrated Polish cinematographer Andrzej Sekula. Sekula’s photography lends the film a crisp, grain-free look with colors that truly pop onscreen, and the effective use of Steadicam and low, wide angles (for both dramatic and comedic effect) contributes greatly to the picture’s cinematic impact.

This DVD doesn’t offer audio commentaries, but it does present an abundance of extras that vary in value. A "documentary" titled Pulp Fiction: The Facts presents fewer facts than flattery for Tarantino, who is, predictably, hailed as a genius by his collaborators. Somewhat more interesting is a Siskel & Ebert show devoted entirely to the Pulp phenomenon. Ebert opines that Tarantino, like Welles, "makes good movies and has a flair for self-promotion," while the late Gene Siskel observes that "like all great films, [Pulp Fiction] critiques other movies."

Also included is an episode of The Charlie Rose Show, during which the hyperkinetic Tarantino discusses his history and cinematic influences (who include Hawks, De Palma, Fuller, Scorsese, Leone, Godard and Melville). Quickly debunking the popular myth of his "overnight success," the filmmaker admits that "whatever success I’ve got has come from like eight years of nothing working out." When Rose points out, "You’ve taken novelistic techniques and translated them to cinema," Tarantino agrees, nothing that "novelists have always had just a complete freedom to pretty much tell their story any way they see fit. That’s kind of what I’m trying to do. Now, the thing is, for both novels and film, 75 percent of the stories you’re gonna tell will work better on a … dramatically engaging basis … [if they’re told in] a linear way. But there is that 25 percent out there that can be more resonant by telling [the story] this way."

Other bonus material includes deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage of the stylish Jack Rabbit Slim’s dance sequence and the tale’s jarring "T-bone" car crash, a featurette on the film’s production design, some giddy interviews conducted by Michael Moore as Pulp cleaned up at the Independent Spirit Awards, a clip of Tarantino’s Palme d’Or acceptance speech at Cannes (during which he gives the finger to a persistent female heckler), a collection of reviews and articles analyzing the film, and trailers.

– Stephen Pizzello

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© 2002 American Society of Cinematographers.