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Region 4 DVD Reviews: Unlimited violence, unsurpassable dialogue

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, April/May 2003, v.34#2

Reservoir Dogs cover Reservoir Dogs
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi and Chris Penn
Pulp Fiction cover Pulp Fiction
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames and Uma Thurman
Movie: A, Picture: A, Sound: A, Extras: A+ Movie: A, Picture: C, Sound: A, Extras: A
Reservoir Dogs marked the introduction to the movie world of that hip, soaked-in-popular-culture character, Quentin Tarantino. He wrote, directed and (briefly) starred in this movie. The assurance with which all three roles were performed assured a reprise.

Despite a budget of just $US1.2 million, and a screenplay that could with just a few minor changes be turned into a stage play, this is an engrossing and bloody movie. A stage play? Nearly all the action occurs in two rooms in an abandoned warehouse. The rest is in flashbacks, explaining how this pretty mess came to pass. This is the story of the aftermath of a diamond robbery. Immediately after the credits, several of the robbers are dead, one is mortally wounded, and one is a police undercover agent.

Magna Pacific is not one of the major DVD/Video distributors, providing mostly legacy titles and independent productions. With Reservoir Dogs it has surpassed itself and matched the major distributors both with the quality of the movie transfer and the sheer number of extras. To fit these in without damaging the transfer quality, a second disc is provided. But even the first disc manages a commentary from the movie makers, plus three commentaries from film critics over each of their 20-ish minutes of selected scenes.

On the second disc, in addition to the deleted scenes pay particular attention to 'K-Billy Interactive Radio' in which a convict, who sounds suspiciously like Tarantino, complains about the movie's representation of the robbers.

The movie is presented in widescreen anamorphic aspect, and was clearly transferred from a very clean print. My calculations suggest an average video bit rate of 5.54 Mbps, It seems that Tarantino didn't skimp on the film, despite the tiny budget. The audio is delivered in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 (lowest available bit rates for both) and nicely picks up the large, reverberant spaces in which the movie takes place.

It seemed impossible for Tarantino to do better second time around, but here he managed to surpass himself. Taking yet another smart crime story, he turns it into a set of disordered, yet linked, short stories and character studies. The plot devices which drive the story are, like Reservoir Dogs, a mixture of actions motivated by the characters and pure, capricious luck--a lot like real life.

The only element of the movie that stands apart is Tarantino's character's soliloquy. This jars a little, seeming somewhat out-of-character. It has the feel of something, the content of which the director was so proud, he couldn't bring himself to cut it. That this jars is only because of the rounded perfection of the rest of the work.

This was an early release by Roadshow, and it shows. So much, that I confirmed with Roadshow prior to writing this review that my copy was the same as the current version. One of the giveaways is a silent MPEG audio track because the company was unable for several releases to disable MPEG entirely. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, though is excellent. It is the terrible picture quality that bothers.

DVDs made from film stock use interlaced fields to form each frame, but unlike video-sourced material, each of the two fields constituting a video frame is taken from one film frame. That's the theory, anyway. This transfer, like Mad Max (another Roadshow title) has the fields taken from adjacent film frames. So the interlacing becomes obvious. A good projector tends to mitigate the horrid result somewhat, so that obvious combing is avoided, but there is a lot of flickering on horizontal and near-horizontal edges, and loss of detail. Look particularly at the venetian blinds behind Tim Roth and Amanda Plumber's robbery planning scene in the diner during the opening of the movie.

[See here for more on this.]

Running time: 95 minutes
Aspect: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Sound track: English: Dolby Digital 5.1, 384kb/s and DTS 5.1, 768kb/s; Commentaries: Dolby Dolby Digital 2.0, 128kb/s
Subtitles: Nil
Features: Separate feature disc: Trailer, Deleted scenes, Interviews, Featurettes (including on the making of the dolls of the film), Interactive radio, Poster Gallery, Commentaries
Running time: 148 minutes
Aspect: 1.37:1 (original aspect ratio)
Sound track: English: Dolby Digital 5.1, 448kb/s and Dolby Digital 2.0 (Dolby Pro Logic), 384kb/s; Score and sound effects: Dolby Digital 2.0 (Dolby Pro Logic), 384kb/s
Subtitles: Nil
Features: Music only soundtrack, Biographies, Deleted scenes, Featurette, Interviews, Trailers for other movies, Trivia

© 2002-2008, Stephen Dawson