Plot: What’s it about?
Quentin Tarantino burst onto the movie scene some eight years ago with this little movie. Although he had tried many screenwriting attempts before this, and has acted after, this was the first jewel in his crown. Reservoir Dogs is basically like Pulp Fiction, toned down. Toned down, is a weird way of saying it, I mean how many movies out there have a scene in which a man’s ear gets cut off, all to the tune of “Stuck in the Middle of You”? Not many, I’m guessing…Though not nearly as long as Tarantino’s masterpiece (Pulp Fiction), Reservoir Dogs is the before, during and after vision of a bank robbery gone bad.
In what has become Tarantino’s signature style, we meet the characters, and are then greeted by a “Frasier” like black screen with only their alternate names (i.e. Mr. Blonde). And the story goes like this…We meet Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) and Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) as Mr. Orange has just been shot. Flailing about in the blood-soaked back seat, they meet at the designated spot. No one being there, they are even more convinced that there was a rat in their ill-fated jewel robbery. There was, and it was none other than the victim, Mr. Orange. There’s really no secret being told here, as a major part of the movie is devoted to how and why Mr. Orange gets in good with the group, all while being undercover. We then meet Mr. Pink (Steve Buschemi), who is convinced that there has been a setup and accuses almost everybody of being involved. His high energy and natural edginess make him a natural for the part. One of his better roles…
We meet perhaps the most popular character of the movie, Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen). Blonde is an ex-con (several times over) who has just been released from jail after doing 4 years. Right out of the shoot, he agrees to join this little caper and it seems, in one way or another, that it’s his fault that it all goes wrong. All of the men have one thing in common, they all know or have known the men responsible for setting up the heist for quite some time. Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) and Joe (Lawrence Tierney) are a father and son organized crime outfit, located in Southern California. They are very successful, and it’s evident that organized crime does pretty well if you manage not to get caught. We learn that Mr. Blonde and Eddie go way back and that Blonde’s real name is Vic Vega (there has been debate if he was a brother to Vincent Vega played by John Travolta in Pulp Fiction).
After meeting all of the central characters, we learn how they were recruited, what the job was and how it was supposed to go off (obviously without a hitch). What was supposed to happen, was that they steal the diamonds, during business hours and dealing with a large crowd. Evidently what happened, we are never shown the actual robbery itself, is that all hell broke loose. Mr. Blonde went crazy and started shooting everyone, a few of the men were killed and it was a free for all, which brings us back to where we started. Perhaps the most controversial scene in the film occurs when Nice Guy Eddie, Joe and Mr. White are all at a standoff with each other (see Figure 1). Nevertheless, Reservoir Dogs is a very great piece of filmmaking and I personally like it better than it’s successor, Pulp Fiction.
Video: How does it look?
A little controversy exists here in the sense that the film has (finally) been enhanced for 16:9 TV’s. But…there is some argument as to which is the "true" form of the film. While the old DVD had both pan and scan and a widescreen version, it’s clear that the two were different. Not only could you see more on the sides with the widescreen version (which was to be expected), but you could see more vertically on the pan and scan edition (which is also to be expected). It was thought, however, that he (Tarantino) just matted the image and then, bam, you have the widescreen version. This, of course, is all a moot point as this review is for the new Special Edition.
On this disc we have the widescreen version of the film and it is anamorphic as well as the full-frame version. I’ve read where the transfer is too bright and such, but I really didn’t think it was all that bad. I compared it side by side to the older DVD and the improvement in quality is amazing. This shows how much better a film can look when it’s been given a new digital transfer. If it’s too bright, turn down the brightness setting a few notches (this isn’t rocket science, people)! Detail and the overall level of clarity is vastly superior to the older version and along with Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, now all three of Tarantino’s "mainstream" movies look their best (short of a true HD version, but that’s a few years off)!
Audio: How does it sound?
A vast improvement over the Dolby Surround laserdisc, the fledgling DVD format showed us that movies that sounded average on VHS and LD could sound a LOT better on DVD. The re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 track has a lot of dialogue, as do most of Tarantino’s movies, but the surround effects and soundtrack make full use of the digital sound. A particular point I want to make is that the "Stuck in the Middle of You" song, which is the movie’s benchmark tune, sounds especially good in the 5.1 remix. The inclusion of a DTS track only adds to this discs’ value. As in most cases, I give the edge to the DTS track here, but no matter which is selected; it’ll sound great.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Labeled most everywhere on the box, underneath the now familiar Reservoir Dogs logo is "Ten Years". Yes, that’s how long we’ve had to wait for this version of one of the most talked about movies of the last decade. Kind of fitting, isn’t it? Housed on two discs, the first features the film in it’s anamorphic glory along with dual DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. A "selected scene" audio commentary is also present. The track is just as it says, it has selected scenes with the cast (all recorded individually), so it’s not the definitive version of what we wanted to hear; luckily the rest of the supplements take care of that, so no harm no foul there. Six interviews are done with selected members of the cast, Tarantino, Chris Penn, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Lawrence Bender (Producer) and Kirk Baltz (the "ear" man). The highlight has got to be Madsen, he’s at home with his little ones running around! Classic. Five deleted scenes are also included, "Background Check", "No Protection", "Doing my Job" and two cuts (no pun intended) of the famous "ear" scene. The second is a close up and there is a little disclaimer at the beginning of the scene, so all of you with weak stomachs (shouldn’t be watching this movie to begin with), cover your eyes!
What I found interesting is the section devoted to the Critics commenting on the film. I’ve always been fascinated with others points of view on the same film (or book, CD, etc.) and this is just that. I personally have never put that much thought into this film, but it’s clear that this movie struck a chord that radiated throughout the entire community. Probably my favorite supplement. A filmmakers lab has a scene from the movie, but playing the character of Mr. White is Steve Buscemi (who played Mr. Pink in the film) and someone else who I didn’t recognize playing the role of Joe. It’s entertaining, but gets a bit slow. Also featured is the "Class of ’92" which focuses on a series of independent movies from ten years ago that supposedly changed the way films were made. While they’re not Citizen Kane, I can see the significance of these films and the segment provides a very deep level of information. "Small Dogs", "Reservoir Dogs Style Guide" and "K-Billy Radio" are rather empty featurettes that focus on action figures, title cards and music from the fictitious radio station heard in the film.
Rounding out the features are some tributes to the late Lawrence Tierney (Joe) and Eddie Bunker (Mr. Blue) as well as some additional interviews with Roger Corman and Pam Grier to name a few. Also, "Securing the Location: Location Scouting with Billy Fox" tells how Fox was able to use (and re-use) the locations during the movie for the small fee of only $20,000. A poster gallery and original theatrical trailer are also included. We’ve waited some ten years to get all of this supplemental material for this fine film on DVD. The wait is over. It’s hard to imagine that we’ve waited nearly half as long since the initial DVD release, back in the wee early days of the format. But again, the wait is over and it’s really hard not to recommend this as one to add to your collection. Highly recommended.