John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis
The lives of two mob hitmen, a boxer, a gangster and his wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.
$9,311,882 on 1338 screens.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 154 min.
Release Date: 10/4/2011
• “Not the Usual Mindless Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat” Documentary
• “Here Are Some Facts on the Fiction” Featurette
• “Pulp Fiction: The Facts” Documentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Behind-the-Scenes Montages
• Production Design Featurette
• Siskel and Ebert At the Movies Clip
• “Charlie Rose Show” from 1994
• Marketing Gallery
• Still Galleries
• Enhanced Trivia Track
• Independent Spirit Awards Clip
• Cannes Film Festival Palm D’Or Acceptance Speech
• Soundtrack Chapters
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Pulp Fiction [Blu-Ray] (1994)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 6, 2011)
Regular readers may have already observed my periodic rants against the voting tendencies of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I'll skip my usual tirade here other than to point out one particularly telling misstep made by Oscar: the near-total shutout experienced by Pulp Fiction at the 1995 awards.
While I frequently disagree with the Academy's picks, that year's ceremony seemed particularly political. The battle mainly raged between Pulp, a profane, violent and tremendously thrilling movie that actually managed to seem new and fresh - something we don't see frequently - and Forrest Gump, an entertaining but fairly conventional and sentimental film.
As they consistently cast their votes for Gump and left Pulp out in the cold, it seemed clear that the Academy made a statement with their votes. Down with young, hip and potentially offensive; up with clean, stale and acceptable for all audiences. Pulp won only one of its seven nominated categories, that of Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen; Gump came from an already-existing novel or it would have trumped Pulp there as well, I'm sure.
No offense to Gump, because it really is a decent little film once you separate it from all its hype, but it doesn't even remotely compare to Pulp as a movie. Gump was a pleasant picture that achieved its modest goals and made a lot of people happy. Pulp, on the other hand, set screens on fire and proved to be one of the most influential films of the Nineties.
I guess "slow and steady wins the race" with Oscar, though, since they chose to take the path of least resistance. It looked like a wimpy move 16 years ago and I don't think time will alter that opinion, since Pulp doesn't look to become any less scintillating any time soon.
Pulp provides a non-linear series of vignettes framed by a robbery staged at a coffee shop. In the first, hood Vincent Vega (John Travolta) must take Mia (Uma Thurman), the wife of his boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), out for a night on the town. After a fun time at a hipster restaurant, things take a dark turn when Mia overdoses on heroin she mistakes for cocaine, and Vincent must revive her.
Called “The Gold Watch”, the second segment concentrates on over-the-hill boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis). Ordered by Marsellus Wallace to throw a fight, instead Butch wins and kills the other boxer in the process. After word got out that the fix was in and odds greatly favored the other fighter, Butch put down his own bets on himself via an agent, so he stands to make a financial killing if he can escape the wrath of Marsellus.
However, Butch’s flighty French companion Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros) forgets to bring a family heirloom - the titular timepiece - with her, so Butch must take his chances with a visit to their apartment. There he manages to regain the watch and kill the thug waiting for him, but on the way back to his motel, he coincidentally encounters Marsellus on the street. After an altercation, the pair end up in a pawnshop where they get held as captives by some freaks who plan to rape them.
Lastly, “The Bonnie Situation” returns us to the characters from the first story, Vincent and partner Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson). After Vincent accidentally blasts off the head of a captive, they need to quickly deal with the bloody car, and they pull into the house of associate Jimmy (Quentin Tarantino). There they call Marsellus, who sends Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel), a man who takes care of problems. After he deals with this issue, Vincent and Jules discuss the latter’s feelings that they encountered a miracle back during their job. Although a punk fired at them at very close range with a very large gun, they escaped without a scratch, and Jules considers the theological ramifications of the event. They have this chat at the diner featured early in the movie, which brings Pulp back home.
By no means is Pulp a perfect film. Really, the movie's main fault is the somewhat weak second act, aka the Bruce Willis section. This is no slight on Willis, especially since he provides some of his best work in this film. "The Gold Watch" actually works pretty well, but "Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife” is so good that it's an incredibly hard act to follow. Logically, director Tarantino opts for a second act that goes at a different pace from the edgy, retro-hip attitude of "Vega", so “Watch” moves a bit more slowly. I like "Watch" but it's undeniably the weakest of the three segments.
"The Bonnie Situation" helps recapture the magic of the initial segment, though it also isn't quite up to the highs of "Vega". To be frank, though, I'm nitpicking, because what's mediocre in Pulp would be outstanding in another film. This is moviemaking of the highest order, a thoroughly invigorating and exciting work that remains compelling even at its worst.
A lot of this is due to the fine acting we see. John Travolta resurrected his career through his part as Vega, and he couldn't have done so in finer style. He plays the part with style and aplomb. Samuel L. Jackson's his usual outstanding self; that neither he nor Travolta won the Oscars for which they were nominated remains a crime.
Some controversy accompanied the fact that Travolta got a Best Actor nod while Jackson only was considered for Best Supporting Actor. Really, the film contains no lead characters, so Travolta should have been in the supporting area as well, but he does seem to have the character with the most screen time. Vega's also the only one of the "main characters” who appears in all three vignettes; he plays a major part in “Wife” and “Bonnie” and makes a brief appearance in “Watch”.
I also really liked the work from Uma Thurman. I think she doesn't receive a lot of credit as an actress because she has something of a bimbo model look to her, but she actually can perform well, and she does a great job here as Mia Wallace. Thurman manages to convey a wide variety of attitudes and emotions in the role and has never been better.
Tarantino goes out on a limb with many unusual stylistic choices, including the chronological variances that confused some audience members; I know because I heard them muttering during screenings. However, Tarantino makes it all hold together impeccably. The film is confusing if you sit back and try to cruise through it; you will have to think at times to keep it together, but with a modicum of intellect, it'll all make perfect sense.
(One secondhand personal note: my friend Kevin's a flight attendant and he once had Amanda Plummer - who plays Honey Bunny - on a trip. He delights in telling how pushy and obnoxious she was and likes to call her "Demanda Plummer."
When pressed, however, Kevin will admit this is completely untrue; apparently Plummer seemed quite delightful and lovely and displayed no overbearing behavior. Kevin just wishes she acted untowardly because he's so fond of the name. However, it should be noted that apparently Plummer's "assistant" was a jerk, according to Kevin.)
I won't call Pulp Fiction the best movie of the Nineties - I'd still pick Se7en for that honor - but it's way up there. It's a film that belongs in everyone's collection.
The Disc Grades: Picture B- / Audio B / Bonus A
Pulp Fiction appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though usually attractive, some problems cropped up here.
For the most part, sharpness seemed solid. Some wide shots displayed minor softness, but those instances occurred with reasonable infrequency. For the most part, the movie looked fairly crisp and well defined. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but mild edge haloes showed up throughout the movie. These weren’t heavy, but they occurred on a fairly consistent basic.
No issues with source flaws appeared in this clean transfer, but I suspect a moderate amount of digital noise reduction was applied to the film. Either there was never any grain in the image – which seems unlikely – or the picture got scrubbed of grain. This became most noticeable during interiors; those were the mushiest scenes and the ones that showed the most surprising lack of grain.
Colors looked positive. Pulp showed natural and vivid hues that displayed no problems even in the toughest situations. For example, the initial shot of Butch in the bar bathed him in red light, but those elements stayed tight and distinct. Black levels also came across as deep and dark, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy without any excessive opacity. Most of Pulp Fiction looked strong, but the smattering of mild issues caused me to drop my grade to a still-solid “B-”.
The film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack showed a pretty restricted soundfield. Music demonstrated positive stereo imaging, and various environmental effects also blended together nicely. The track came to life reasonably well during some of the more active sequences, but general ambience dominated it. The mix didn’t do much with the surrounds, though, as the track usually boasted atmospheric material in the back channels. Nonetheless, I couldn't really quibble with the activity level of the mix; while it could have used a little more life, this is such a dialogue-intensive picture that I understand Tarantino's desire to keep the focus firmly up front.
In regard to audio quality, Pulp sounded quite good with one exception: dialogue. Largely due to not-so-hot recording on the set, lines occasionally seemed thin and brittle. They were always intelligible, though, and they usually seemed fine.
Music worked well, as the track displayed solid highs and deep bass. A bit of distortion could be heard during some songs, but those problems appeared inherent to the original recordings; the issue only occurred during the oldest songs. Gunfire also could seem slightly distorted, but not badly, and effects generally appeared relatively realistic and packed a good bass punch. This was a “B” soundtrack.
One audio note: on prior releases, at right about the 104 minute mark, the music dropped out of the front left speaker and stayed absent for about one minute. This is not a problem reserved for the old DVD; I checked the same spot on my Criterion laserdisc and the same thing happened there. The new DVD finally fixes this problem. The music still seems a little weak from the left, but the abrupt collapse heard in the old track didn’t occur.
How did this Blu-Ray compare with those of the Collector’s Edition DVD from 2002? The audio seemed a bit smoother and more robust, while the picture was crisper and better defined. The edge haloes and other concerns meant this wasn’t a slam-dunk Blu-ray, but it did provide obvious upgrades over the DVD.
The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. I’ll mark Blu-ray exclusives with special blue print.
The Enhanced Trivia Track provides a good text commentary to accompany the movie. It covers a wide variety of topics. We get notes about film techniques that appear during Pulp, changes made from the original script, Tarantino’s influences and the way he connects characters and situations among his flicks, information about the actors, and quite a lot of other details. Occasionally, somewhat long gaps appear in the track, but usually the comments fly at a fairly rapid pace. It definitely offers a lot of useful information about Pulp.
Soundtrack Chapters lists 13 of the different songs heard in the movie and allows you to jump directly to them. This does nothing for me, but it doesn’t hurt to have it.
Next we find a documentary called Pulp Fiction: The Facts. The 30-minute, 31-second program combines shots from the movie, photos and other media, and interviews. We hear from Tarantino, filmmaker/Tarantino friend Scott Spiegel, effects technician Greg Nicotero, producer Lawrence Bender, editor Sally Menke, and actors Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, John Travolta, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Amanda Plummer and Uma Thurman. Except for some of Thurman’s material, all of the actor interviews come from the set of Pulp, while the rest emanate from that source as well as other years.
The lack of a greater preponderance of modern interviews seems a little disappointing, but “Facts” offers a reasonably good look at the flick nonetheless. I can’t say it fully covers the production of the film, as it concentrates on Tarantino’s road to Pulp as well as comments about the way in which the story’s told, reactions to it, and other elements. The actors discuss how they came to work on the flick and their collaboration with Tarantino. Overall, the documentary gives us a decent discussion of the film but it doesn’t offer a great examination.
Two new programs follow. Not the Usual Mindless Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat runs 43 minutes, one second and offers notes from Travolta, Jackson, Roth, Plummer, Stoltz, and Arquette. We hear how the actors came onto the project and their work with Tarantino, thoughts about the script, rehearsals and aspects of the shoot, characters and performances, reactions to the movie and its legacy.
All the interviews come from modern sources, not like the other shows, and that’s a good point of view to experience. “Chat” digs into the actors’ perspectives in a full and involving way that makes this a strong program. It throws out a little fluff when the actors blow smoke toward Tarantino, but they deliver more than enough quality info to make this one worthwhile.
We get a critical appraisal in the 20-minute, 37-second Here Are Some Facts on the Fiction. It features Elvis Mitchell, Scott Foundas, Stephanie Zacharek, Tim Lucas, and Andy Klein. They discuss their initial screenings of Pulp and immediate reactions to it as well as interpretation of the film and its techniques. We get a decent array of insights here, though I find Zacherek’s most interesting just because she doesn’t much like the movie; it’s intriguing to get a dissenting opinion.
Next we get five deleted scenes. All except the final one come with introductions from Tarantino; the whole package lasts 24 minutes and 39 seconds. These segments are all essentially longer versions of existing scenes and are definitely interesting; Tarantino probably should have kept some of them. Don’t expect the snippets to look very good, though; they’re the same non-anamorphic widescreen pieces found on the DVD.
Within the Behind the Scenes Montages area, we find more footage. One focuses on the shoot at “Jack Rabbit Slim’s” and lasts four minutes 44 seconds, while the other examines “Butch Hits Marsellus” and runs six minutes and two seconds. Neither seems particularly special. But they still provide fun looks at the set, especially when Bruce Willis jokingly states that Pulp will kill his career. (In addition, Willis proves prophetic when he states that someone will make a hugely successful film shot on video within five years; The Blair Witch Project came out just in time to live up to Willis’ prediction.)
After this we discover a Production Design Featurette that lasts six minutes and 22 seconds. We hear from production designer David Wasco and set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco and also see many stills and sketches that relate to the material. They discuss their influences and what they wanted to do with the locations in this short but informative program.
An excerpt from Siskel and Ebert At the Movies, The Tarantino Generation lasts 16 minutes as the critics talk about the aftermath caused by Pulp. They reflect upon their reactions to the flick and go over other attitudes toward it. We also see a segment in which Samuel L. Jackson responds to criticisms of the flick during an interview with Siskel. Overall, this piece offers an interesting glimpse of the then-current thoughts about the film.
A segment from the Independent Spirit Awards shows an 11-minute and 29-second chat mainly between Tarantino and smarmy filmmaker/TV personality Michael Moore. I can’t stand Moore, but this segment provides a nicely amusing and informal discussion of Pulp as the awards ceremony progresses. Samuel L. Jackson also stops by after he wins a prize, a piece that seems especially amusing since Jackson calls Moore “Roger”. The last few minutes feature an interview between Moore and producer Lawrence Bender, who remains a dull subject.
Next we see Tarantino’s acceptance speech when Pulp won the Cannes Film Festival Palm d’Or. The five-minute and 20-second clip shows the ceremony. Nothing he says seems terribly fascinating, but we do hear a heckler in the crowd and see Tarantino’s reaction to that person.
After this we get a complete episode of The Charlie Rose Show that ran in 1994. The 55-minute and 27-second program includes an interview between Rose and Tarantino. Although it accompanied the release of Pulp, it provides very little info about that film. Instead, we hear more about Tarantino’s path to the director’s chair, his career, his influences and thoughts about other directors, his filmmaking philosophies, and a number of other topics. Some may feel frustrated that the show so rarely focuses on Tarantino’s flicks, but I think it gives us a fairly compelling and insightful discussion.
With that we head to the “Marketing Gallery”. It includes five trailers for the film, each from a different country: US, Japan, UK, Germany and France. The Japanese clip is the only one that differs significantly from the others; it sticks with the same basic formula but offers some different scenes and shows some more graphic violence and language. (The narrator also refers to "Ving Ramos" and "Yuma Thurman", which is entertaining.)
The other four stick with the same framework but make some minor alterations. The US version edits out foul language; it cuts out "nigger" and excises the profane part of "Die you motherfuckers!" whereas the other clips keep it. The UK piece simply shortens the ad, while the German version dubs it into the native language, the only one of the three non-English countries that does so (Japan and France offer subtitles).
I have to say that in any version - but mainly the US one, which is the edition I saw when the film arrived - it's a hell of a trailer. It does an amazing job of selling the movie and makes it look tremendously sharp, clever and exciting. All of which is true, of course, but I just thought the trailer deserved special mention; I watched it right after I viewed the movie, and the ad made me want to watch it again!
After this we get a whopping 13 TV spots and a nice collection of Still Galleries. The latter splits into different domains: “Pulp Fiction Posters” (48 screens, many of which depict close-ups from the various ads), “Behind-the-Scenes Photos” (170 mostly black and white shots of Tarantino and the cast, plus some color images from Jack Rabbit Slim’s), “Special Photo Shoots” (42 publicity shots), “Academy Award Campaign and the Trade Ads” (48), “Location Scouting and Set Construction” (27), “Production Design and Logos” (14), and “Props and Memorabilia” (71). It’s a solid set of stills that includes a great deal of worthwhile material.
More stillframe stuff shows up in the Reviews and Articles section. This features eight reviews of the flick and 12 articles. There’s a lot of good reading here, though I would have liked some dissenting viewpoints; the participants all seem very pro-Pulp, so the attitudes don’t differ enormously.
Under Also from Lionsgate, we find some ads for Jackie Brown and Reservoir Dogs.
I've seen Pulp Fiction about ten times now, and it has yet to lose any of its luster or appeal; the movie seems destined to stand as one of the best films of the Nineties, and probably of all-time. The Blu-ray delivers erratic but usually positive picture and audio along with a strong roster of supplements. I wish the transfer was a little stronger, but this is still a good release that provides the best home video Pulp Fiction to date.
To rate this film visit the original review of PULP FICTION