It’s hard to believe that Quentin Tarantino has been making films for 20 years. For many people in my generation, there was no “pre-Tarantino” period in our cinema education and maturation; Tarantino was always there, both worshipping his predecessors and inspiring his successors. The first Tarantino film I ever saw was Pulp Fiction and it made an immediate and permanent impact on me. Even though I was far too young to understand at that time much of the film (which I consider to be QT’s masterpiece), I knew I was watching something wholly different and superior to the movies I used as an escape (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Best of the Best) and as significant as the films my dad attempted to impress on me as “classics” (The Great Escape, The Searchers).
There is no arguing Tarantino’s significant effect on cinema, Hollywood, filmmaking and screenwriting. From his first feature Reservoir Dogs to his most recent Inglourious Basterds to his upcoming Django Unchained (Christmas), QT has changed film like few directors before him. As a result, Lionsgate and Miramax have released the Tarantino XX: 8-Film Collection Blu-ray box set. (Unfortunately, it won’t be available on DVD and, given QT’s love of vintage cinema, it’s surprising it won’t be released on 16 mm or laserdisc.) The box set features fantastic artwork by MONDO which by itself is reason to make the purchase.
While all of the films are available individually on Blu-ray and DVD, true cinephiles and Tarantino fans should absolutely include this in their home video library. Many of the special features were selected by QT himself and add a wonderful layer to the already vast amount of information available online about his approach to filmmaking and love of cinema. Other features include extremely in-depth discussions by film critics, Tarantino’s collaborators and frequent cast members.
The box set is comprised of the seven films Tarantino has written and directed so far (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds), plus Tony Scott’s True Romance which Tarantino wrote and which was released theatrically between Dogs and Fiction. Noticeably absent for true Tarantino devotees (myself included if you haven’t noticed already) are his first semi-complete film My Best Friend’s Birthday, his contribution to Four Rooms and From Dusk Till Dawn, which was directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Tarantino. Not surprisingly, Natural Born Killers, which was written by Tarantino and directed by Oliver Stone, is not a part of the box set since QT has essentially disowned himself from any involvement of that film.
Along with the eight films, Tarantino XX throws in two bonus discs which essentially give an overview of Tarantino’s career. “Critics Corner: The Films of Quentin Tarantino” features a very enlightening discussion between several film critics about their first encounters with each of Tarantino’s films and how they have grown to love (or at least appreciate) his body of work. Moderated by Elvis Mitchell, host of the radio show “The Treatment,” the conversation includes Scott Foundas, Stephanie Zacharek, Tim Lucas and Andy Klein. Even though Zacharek proves herself to be a moron with little to no beneficial commentary, the other critics do a terrific job of breaking down how QT has developed over the years.
If you have two hours to spare, you will want to watch every minute of “20 Years of Filmmaking” which charts Tarantino’s unlikely rise as an auteur of the MTV generation and the lasting importance of his work. We learn about QT’s style of directing and devotion to film from a multitude of collaborators, from producer Lawrence Bender to actor Samuel L. Jackson to his “brother” Robert Rodriguez. No other piece of this collection offers as much insight into Tarantino’s work as this feature. You’ll find out why Harvey Keitel really was the godfather of Reservoir Dogs, how Tarantino works tirelessly to preserve nearly-extinct genres of cinema and the mentorship he has offered to people like Eli Roth and RZA.
So, what about the films themselves? Reservoir Dogs may be the film which has benefited most from the Blu-ray transfer. Unlike previous versions, here we get the film better than it has been since it was originally released in theaters. The colors are brighter, the sound is sharper and the cinematography by Andrzej Sekula is more impressively catalogued. The bonus features for Dogs includes a “Pop-Up Video”-style trivia track called “Pulp Factoids.” It’s interesting and not too distracting. There are a couple of deleted scenes that show off Tarantino’s skills as a writer but which were correctly left out of the final film.
Though it was directed by Tony Scott, True Romance is without a doubt a Quentin Tarantino film. Re-watching the movie, it’s almost shocking how incredible the cast is, with Christian Slater, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken giving some of the best performances of their careers. There’s a terrific commentary by QT where he discusses how Tony Scott came to direct Romance and why he didn’t do it himself. He also details why, even though the script is barely altered (except for the ending), Romance is a wholly different final product than what he himself would have filmed. The best part of the extra features for Romance is the behind-the-scenes segments which include raw footage of rehearsal and filming. The infamous “Sicilian scene” between Walken and Hopper has never been so much fun to watch.
With Pulp Fiction, Tarantino demonstrated he was neither a flash in the pan wunderkind nor a one-trick pony. In addition to winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Fiction proved that QT was a true filmmaker and one who was going to be around for a long time. I had never noticed before how bright and colorful Fiction was really meant to be. Maybe I was always too distracted by QT’s amazing dialogue, but with the new Blu-ray transfer, it’s impossible to miss the brilliant lighting and shadows he uses throughout the film and the almost cartoonish colors that soak many of the scenes. While the Fiction extras are essentially the same as previous DVD releases, there are a couple of behind-the-scenes features including one with Tarantino wielding a handheld camera while they set up a scene. The sheer joy in his countenance is infectious not just to those on set, but to the viewer as well.
With his third film, Jackie Brown, Tarantino made a film for himself. It had a much more laid back, Southern California vibe to it and was more distinctly an homage to the Blaxploitation films he watched as a child. The most enjoyable part of the Brown portion of the collection is “Hot It Went Down,” a mini-documentary that outlines how QT came to adapt Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch and why he chose to do it in the way he did.
The most disappointing part of Tarantino XX is the lack of extras on Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 and Inglourious Basterds. They are as visually stunning as ever, but aside from a few “making-of” docs, there is really nothing new here. For years, QT has been teasing that he plans to put out Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair which will feature the entire film uncut with plenty of bonus elements. Maybe that’s why these two installments are so anemic. Death Proof, surprisingly, has some of the best bonus features, though, again, they are mostly carried over from the DVD release. There’s a great interview with Tarantino about why he chose Kurt Russell as his villain which is quite interesting. We also get an in-depth explanation about the casting of the “women of Death Proof.” Easily Tarantino’s most divisive film, it’s unfortunate that this is the film to have such extensive bonuses.
Regardless of any elements fans feel may be missing or are going overlooked, Tarantino XX is absolutely indispensable for true devotees. Though Tarantino has said he plans to retire from filmmaking after his tenth film, there will no doubt be enough material generated by him in the next twenty years to hopefully warrant another collection.