Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: From Dusk Till Dawn: Collector's Series (1996)
Studio Line: Dimension Films

It's nonstop thrills when George Clooney (The Perfect Storm, Three Kings) and Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) star as the Gecko brothers -- two dangerous outlaws on a wild crime spree! After kidnapping a father (Harvey Keitel, U-571) and his two kids (including Juliette Lewis, Natural Born Killers), the Geckos head south to a seedy Mexican bar to hide out in safety. But when they face the bar's truly notorious clientele, they're forced to team up with their hostages in order to make it out alive!

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Ernest Lieu, Salma Hayek, Fred Williamson, Cheech Marin
DVD: 2-Disc set; widescreen 1.85:1; audio English DD 5.1, French Dolby Surround; subtitles Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 26 chapters; rated R; 108 min.; $32.99; street date 10/3/00.
Supplements: Feature Commentary with Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino; Outtakes; Hollywood Goes To Hell Featurette; Theatrical Trailer; TV Spots; Music Videos; Still Gallery; "The Art Of Making The Movie" With Commentary By Robert Rodriguez and Greg Nicotero; Deleted Scenes and Alternate Takes; On The Set; Cast & Crew Bios; Full-Tilt Boogie -- Full-Length Feature Film.
Purchase: DVD | From Dusk Till Dawn Collection | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/A-/A

On the surface, 1996’s From Dusk Til Dawn sounded like a “can’t-miss” proposition. It teamed director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Desperado) with writer Quentin Tarantino - still fresh off the enormous success of Pulp Fiction - and tossed in then-hot actor George Clooney plus other talents like Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis. All of them would create an exciting and memorable action/horror hybrid, right?

Ehh - maybe not. To be certain, FDTD is a fairly interesting and enjoyable movie, but I couldn’t help but feel that all that talent should have produced something more compelling. As it stands, FDTD is a decent and generally well-executed piece that never truly flies.

It’s also one of those movies I wish I’d known nothing about prior to viewing, so if you have literally no concept of the plot to FDTD - and I do mean absolutely zero - but you want to see it, stop now; I don’t plan to reveal anything that would really be considered a “spoiler”, but in the interest of caution, I thought I’d provide this warning.

Anyway, the story concerns two bad-ass criminals, Seth (Clooney) and Richie (Tarantino) Gecko. Due to some murders of the wrong folks - it’s not smart to kill Texas Rangers - they’re on the lam and headed for Mexico. Along the way, they kidnap the Fuller family: father Jacob (Keitel), daughter Kate (Lewis), and son Scott (Ernest Liu). The Geckos plan to use the Fullers as a cover to cross the Texas border into Mexico, and they hold onto them until they meet their contact Carlos (Cheech Marin, in one of three roles he plays here).

The rendezvous is a bar called the Titty Twister, which is a wild strip joint for bikers and truckers exclusively. It’s only open from dusk until dawn, and we soon find out why: vampires there be! The remainder of the movie becomes a balls-to-the-wall fight to stay alive and battle these blood-sucking freaks.

That change of pace doesn’t occur until roughly half-way through FDTD, and it’s why I wish I’d been totally ignorant of any part of the story. Up until the initial appearance of the vampires, the movie appeared to be a fairly-straightforward crime flick that seemed to fit within the natural oeuvre of Tarantino. That’s why the twist is so cool; it comes out of nowhere and creates a totally different flick for the remainder of the film.

Even with the foreknowledge of the vampires, the movie remains fairly entertaining. Actually, one of my issues with it may relate to my expectations; since I knew we’d get vampires eventually, I was impatient to crank through all of the preceding elements and move on with the meat of the story. I hadn’t been aware that it’d take so long to get to the horror side of the film, so I may like the movie more during a second viewing since I’ll better understand what to expect.

Nonetheless, I don’t see FDTD ever becoming one of my favorites. In general the film offers a fair amount of excitement and inventiveness, and it does so with flair, but somehow the entire product left me slightly flat. Many of the usual Tarantino elements are there, but they don’t rise to the levels seen in his better works; this is “B”-grade Quentin for the most part. Rodriguez can be a visually-inventive and nicely visceral filmmaker, but I think he lacks a great deal of storytelling talent; the movie occasionally seemed to plod along and not really go much of anywhere, mainly because Rodriguez appeared so focused on all of the blood and gore.

For the most part, the actors held up their end of the bargain, though I felt Clooney may have been miscast. I like Clooney, and I felt he definitely had the power and command to play this tough-guy crook; he actually makes the role more dimensional than it probably should have been. However, he doesn’t seem right for Tarantino’s dialogue. Those typically-Quentin lines that have worked so well in the mouths of other feel clunky and awkward when they come from Clooney. It’s not a terrible failing, especially since FDTD is much less dialogue-dependent than Tarantino’s other scripts, but I thought it made Clooney less effective than he could have been.

The remainder of the cast proved solid, and Lewis actually surprised me with the quality of her work. I’ve never much liked her, but she was simply terrific as Kate. She covered the gamut of emotions wonderfully as she took Kate from scared teenager to assertive young woman. Lewis seemed supremely believable in all aspects of the role, and she presented a dimensionality that I didn’t expect.

Otherwise, From Dusk Til Dawn pretty much proceeded as anticipated. It’s a moderately entertaining and exciting action/horror film that I generally enjoyed, but it does little to enhance the genre. The combination of smart Tarantino dialogue with visceral vampire-fighting sounds great on paper, but the result is something less than fantastic.

The DVD:

From Dusk Til Dawn appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Before I discuss the quality of the disc, I want to mention one odd aspect of the package. One would think that the film would be found on DVD 1. Nope - it’s on DVD 2, while “Full Tilt Boogie” (addressed later in this review) takes up all of DVD 1. It’s a strange way to do it, since it goes against logic, but once you know that this is the case, it shouldn’t cause any future inconveniences.

For the most part, the movie looked pretty good, but a few minor flaws dropped my rating to a “B+”. Sharpness appeared consistently crisp and accurate, with virtually no examples of softness. However, this came with a price, since the detail seems to be attached to some edge enhancement. Moiré effects presented a few problems during FDTD, but my main concern related to the many examples of “jaggies” I witnessed; the picture presented an awful lot of jagged edges throughout the movie, and curves didn’t seem as clean and smooth as they should.

Print flaws were only a minor issue, though they became more prominent as the movie continued. I saw a little grain and some speckles during the first half of the film, and these remained fairly modest through the end. However, the speckles grew in intensity as the movie progressed, and I felt the image seemed dirtier than it should. No more significant defects such as scratches, hairs, blotches or tears appear.

Colors were nicely accurate and true at all times. The movie used a somewhat flat palette in that it didn’t feature a lot of really colorful segments, but the hues we saw were represented clearly. The neon found at the bar came across especially well, and I saw no flaws related to the colors. Black levels appeared quite deep and rich - the tones seen in the dark clothes looked terrifically solid - and contrast generally seemed fine. Shadow detail usually was appropriately thick without any excessive heaviness, although some scenes came across as mildly dense; the film featured a lot of low-light scenes, and I occasionally had some trouble discerning the action. Nonetheless, I found FDTD to generally present a positive image.

Even better is the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of the film. The soundfield appeared wonderfully active and involving. Throughout the majority of the movie, all five speakers provided a fine environment that enveloped me with lots of effective audio. Each channel offered plenty of unique and localized sound, and the mix blended together neatly and smoothly; sounds transition between speakers cleanly and realistically. The atmosphere created is really quite effective, as sounds moved across the field neatly. When the track kicked in overdrive, it became even more impressive; the scene in which the bats attempt to gain entry into the bar will probably give many viewers the creeps.

Audio quality also seemed strong. Dialogue appeared consistently natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music generally was bright and lively, though I felt the songs spread to the rear in an artificial manner; at times I detected a boomy reverb to the music from the surrounds that made their presentation less compelling. Effects worked terrifically well as they appeared clean and realistic without any evidence of distortion. They also presented fine dynamic range; the effects seemed wonderfully deep and rich, and they often packed a serious punch. All in all, the soundtrack to FDTD made for a very involving and effective listen.

This new 2-disc set of From Dusk Til Dawn represents the movie’s second release on DVD. The first was a basic package that only included a few ads, but the new one packs in a slew of supplements. On the first disc, we find most of these, starting with an audio commentary from director Robert Rodriguez and writer/actor Quentin Tarantino. Overall, I thought this was an interesting and informative track, though Tarantino seriously got on my nerves after a while. He can be an engaging presence, but the dude’s so hyper and obnoxious at times that his babbling can wear thin.

That happened on more than a few occasions as I screened this commentary, but for the most part I enjoyed it. Both Tarantino and Rodriguez were recorded together, and they display a nicely amiable chemistry that makes the track more intriguing. They give us lots of solid details about the production and the project in general and usually do so in a compelling manner. You may want to listen to this piece a little at a time to prevent Quentin-overload, but the track definitely warrants your attention.

In addition to the commentary, the first disc tosses in a ton of other features. “Outtakes” lasts for six minutes and shows a variety of cut clips from the film. Few of these fall into the “blooper” category; there’s little of the usual flubbed lines followed by goofing. Instead, we find a mix of minor accidents and mistakes made by Clooney. As with the snippet of Roy Scheider’s gun problems during Jaws, Clooney gets more and more exasperated as he continues to run into trouble. It’s perversely funny to see, and these are some good clips.

“Hollywood Goes to Hell” is a featurette about the film, but it’s not just the same old promotional junk. The 13-minute and 25-second piece is surprisingly solid as it mixes some good shots from the set with glib but amusing interviews. We also find lots of good older footage as well, like some bits from Rodriguez’s childhood film works. Overall, it’s an entertaining little piece.

Next is the film’s theatrical trailer, which is then followed by six TV spots. Four of those last 30 seconds each, while the other two run for 15 seconds apiece. In the “Music Videos” area we discover two different clips. Tito and Tarantula’s “After Dark” is nothing more than a snippet from the movie. This song played during Salma Hayek’s dance scene, and all this offers is a differently-edited version of that segment plus a few other bits from the movie. While this sounds lame, since it provides more shots of Hayek in a bikini, I shan’t complain.

The other video also features Hayek and is more creative. ZZ Top’s “She’s Just Killing Me” combines a lip-synch bar performance by the band with a few movie clips and new footage of Clooney and Hayek. It’s not a great video, but it’s fairly interesting.

The “Still Gallery” shows a slew of photos in a running video format. The program lasts for three minutes and 45 seconds as it runs through about 80 or so different shots from the set. It’s a decent presentation but nothing terribly special.

When I first saw “The Art of Making the Movie”, I assumed it’d be another still gallery that focused on drawings and storyboards made for the movie. It turns out I was completely incorrect about that. Instead, we get four different segments that show a lot of outtakes from the film and candid shots from the set. Each includes commentary from Rodriguez and make-up supervisor Greg Nicotero. The snippets last from two minutes and 15 seconds to 27 minutes and five seconds for a total of 46 minutes and 10 seconds of material. It’s all a lot of fun, and the commentary helps make it even more interesting - this is great stuff and it fills in a lot of cool technical details left out in the more general features.

“Deleted Scenes and Alternate Takes” gives us five minutes and 25 minutes of removed footage. Some of the material was cut for ratings reasons, as we find a fair amount of pretty nasty stuff here. Much of it was dropped for timing and pacing reasons, although the material is generally pretty interesting. We get a lot more shots of the big vampire battle in the bar, and it’s a nice look at the concepts that didn’t make the final cut. The clips can be viewed with or without commentary from Rodriguez and Nicotero, who provide good details on the reasons for the deletions and other facts.

“On The Set” provides two minutes and three seconds of additional “behind the scenes” shots from the set. There’s nothing particularly great here, but I enjoyed watching a vampire extra eat a banana, and Clooney adds a couple of funny bits.

“Cast Bios” includes listings for 10 actors: Clooney, Salma Hayek, Keitel, Lewis, Marin, Michael Parks, Tom Savini, Tarantino, Danny Trejo, and Fred Williamson. These vary in depth but are generally fairly interesting and strong.

“Crew Bios” tosses in entries for 13 workers: director Rodriguez, executive producer Lawrence Bender, producers Gianni Nunnari and Meir Teper, co-producer Elizabeth Avellan, production designer Cecilia Montiel, make-up supervisors Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger (all included as KNB EFX Group), stunt coordinator Steve M. Davison, mechanical effects coordinators Tom L. Bellissimo and Charlie Bellardinelli, and special weapons designer/property master Steve Joyner. These are also pretty decent listings. Finally, the first DVD ends with six screens of “DVD Credits and Thanks”.

On the second disc, we find a very cool documentary about FDTD called “Full Tilt Boogie”. This 100-minute film gives us a very quirky and frank look at the creation of FDTD. You know something’s up when you watch the introduction to the piece: we see an extended (staged) sequence in which Clooney and Tarantino act like big-time Hollywood pricks. It’s quite funny and sets the stage for the irreverent program to come.

Parts of “FTB” focus on standard aspects of filmmaking, and we find some interesting looks behind the scenes; quite a lot of footage from the set appears and we get some sound bites from the various actors. However, much of the program is devoted to folks who don’t normally make appearances in these sorts of documentaries. We spend time with the assistants to the stars, the caterer, and the grips, among others. There’s also an entertaining subplot about union problems on the set; the movie could have been subtitled “Searching for Lyle Trachtenberg”. All in all, it’s a fresh, candid and compelling look at the film that was quite entertaining on its own.

In addition to “FTB” itself, the second DVD also includes biographies of its creators. We find good listings for director Sarah Kelly, producer Rana Joy Glickman, and Tarantino’s assistant Victoria Lucai.

Ultimately, although my feelings remain mixed about From Dusk Til Dawn as a film, I have to endorse this DVD. The movie is a decent but unspectacular little monster flick that I liked but thought never lived up to its pedigree. The DVD provides very solid picture and sound, however, and this new 2-disc release packs in a fantastic package of supplements that were almost uniformly excellent. All in all, it’s a terrific DVD that warrants your attention.

Note: From Dusk Til Dawn is available on its own or as part of a package that contains all three of the FDTD films. Are there any advantages to the purchase of this box? Not many. You save only a little money; the box lists for $89.99, and the titles separately would cost $92.97 (the first movie is $32.99, while the two sequels run $29.99 each). With that package, the DVDs also come in a nice slipcase and we get a very good booklet. Otherwise the boxed set possesses no advantages over the individual DVDs; the content on each is identical.

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