Reservoir Dogs appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on these single-sided, dual-layered DVDs; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. In many ways, this new image improved upon the old non-anamorphic version of the film, but one glaring defect kept it from being a true success.
The culprit at hand was edge enhancement. Dogs suffered from some of the heaviest EE I’ve witnessed in a 21st century release. The darkness of the film helped hide some of the haloes, but when given an opportunity to show up, they did. For an example, check out the first scenes in which Mr. Blonde appeared; those demonstrated some rather prominent haloes. Not all of the film suffered from the problem, but it did become rather excessive at times.
That was too bad, for most of the rest of the image looked quite good. Sharpness generally seemed nicely crisp and detailed. Wide shots came across as a bit soft, but that likely resulted from all the edge enhancement. Otherwise, the movie stayed distinct and accurate. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, which was a major improvement over the original disc, and the new one also cleaned up many of that release’s print flaws. I saw a little grain at times, but otherwise the movie seemed free of defects.
As I write this, I’ve noticed complaints about the colors seen in this version of Dogs. Many folks seem to find them to look far too washed out and pale, especially when compared with the original DVD. Admittedly, Dogs did display a subdued palette, but comparisons between the two discs don’t seem very helpful since the old one offered colors that looked much too hot; everything appeared oversaturated in that presentation. As for the hues of the new DVD, I thought they seemed appropriate for this kind of film. The colors were desaturated but logically so, and I felt they looked reasonably accurate and clear. Black levels were a little inky, but they generally seemed acceptable, and shadow detail was similarly decent but unexceptional; a few low-light scenes came across as a bit dense, but those usually remained fine. The picture found in the new release of Reservoir Dogs represented something of a botched job due to the high levels of edge enhancement seen at times, but it nonetheless, offers the strongest visual presentation yet accorded the film.
Though not stellar, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Reservoir Dogs seemed fairly good given the movie’s age and low-budget origins. The soundfield generally provided a forward emphasis and that it accentuated with a lot of general ambience. The audio seemed alive with a fair amount of environmental factors, such as the clatter of other diners during the opening restaurant sequence. Music displayed some solid stereo imaging, and the track popped to life reasonably well during action sequences. Elements moved across the front channels smoothly and efficiently. Those also added better usage of the surrounds, which then complemented the material fairly well.
Audio quality seemed flawed but generally acceptable. Speech tended to sound somewhat thin and hollow. The lines always remained intelligible, but they displayed moderately brittle tones. Effects appeared clean and accurate, and they packed a good punch when appropriate. Music showed solid clarity and range. The songs sounded simply terrific, as they demonstrated clean highs and punchy bass response.
This soundtrack seemed a little stronger than the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio heard on the original DVD, though some may find problems with parts of the changes. On the side that would seem uniformly positive, the new mix presented much improved dynamics. The old one appeared fairly thin and limp, especially in regard to the music, which offered very little depth. The track also provided a more active environment, which made me wonder which better represented the original audio. I’d guess that the old DVD more closely mirrored the film’s theatrical audio and that those involved “goosed” the sound a bit for the new one. However, the changes in soundfield didn’t seem extreme, and I felt the new set provided a more engaging presentation.
While some will debate the merits of the picture and sound found on both DVDs, in the area of supplements, the 10th anniversary release of Reservoir Dogs clearly wins as it packs in tons of material. The two-disc set spills extras across both platters. Most significant on DVD One is an audio commentary with writer/director/actor Quentin Tarantino, producer Lawrence Bender, executive producer Monte Hellman, director of photography Andrzej Sekula, editor Sally Menke, and actors Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Kirk Baltz, and Michael Madsen. The track follows the old Criterion model in which all of the participants’ remarks come from separate sessions and are edited together. Clearly, none of them actually watched the movie as they spoke; the material emanates from interviews.
Some people hate that format and only like commentaries that are running and screen-specific, which this one most definitely is not. Occasionally the statements relate to the action we see in the film, but usually they don’t. If that format frustrates you, I doubt you’ll enjoy this track. Personally, I thought it offered a fairly solid discussion of the movie, though it didn’t provide an exemplary piece.
No particular participant dominated, though Tarantino probably received the most air time, even though he entered the track at a relatively late point. They participants discussed a variety of issues, but most concentrated on specific production challenges. They talked about how the project got off the ground, different technical elements, casting, dealing with specific sequences, distribution issues, the reactions to the film, and a mix of other topics. All participants seemed honest and upfront, and Tarantino came across as especially open and lively. Overall, I thought the track provided an informative and entertaining piece.
Note that this audio commentary appears only on DVD One. Although the second disc includes a fullscreen version of the film, it omits this track.
Next we get a collection of Original Interviews, all with folks who also showed up in the commentary. In fact, I’d bet that all of the material on that track came from these sessions. In any case, here we get additional materials from Tarantino as well as producer Lawrence Bender and actors Chris Penn, Kirk Baltz, Michael Madsen, and Tim Roth. Each lasts between six minutes, five seconds and 14 minutes, 45 seconds for a total of 54 minutes and 48 seconds of material.
The quality of the different clips varies fairly heavily. On the negative side, Bender seems to have attended the Jerry Bruckheimer Producers School of Not Saying Much While Talking a Lot, and much of Madsen’s comments simply ramble about nonsense like his dog, his bird, and his kids. The producers of the segments also saddle them with some annoying attempts at cleverness, such as nonsensical touches like shots of a swim team cut into Roth’s material. We also find Penn interviewed in the back of a truck for no apparent reason, and many cutesy bits show up, like bracketing Tarantino’s session into a fairy tale framework. I understand the desire to avoid the drab “talking head” presentation, but I’d have preferred that simplicity to this forced goofiness.
However, if you muddle through the obnoxious presentation, you’ll find some good material here. The segments with Roth and Tarantino easily work best. The former actually takes the discussion seriously and talks about elements like his refusal to audition and his problems with the accent. Tarantino seems almost incapable of giving a bad interview, and he appears as wild and witty as usual here as he covers many entertaining aspects of the production. The other segments have some moments but appear expendable when compared to the Roth and Tarantino parts.
In addition to the movie’s theatrical trailer, DVD One also includes five deleted scenes. Actually, the disc includes only three true excised segments, as the fourth and fifth present alternate takes of the ear-cutting bit. The clips last between 61 seconds and four minutes, 40 seconds for a total of 12 and a half minutes of footage. The ear-cutting bits are interesting to see but don’t add much. The second of those presents a graphic view of the scene and comes with a warning before you view it. While the scene presents the potential to seem disgusting, in reality it comes across as goofy just because the prosthetic ear looks so fake; I’ve never seen some one slice off another guy’s ear, but I’d guess it’d look a lot scarier than this.
The other three scenes seem compelling. The first two concentrate on Mr. Orange’s background as a cop and his preparation for the undercover case, while the third shows Pink, White and Nice Guy Eddie as they drive to take Orange to a nurse. No remnants of that remain in the film; they never leave the meeting point. Interestingly, this scene foreshadows Pulp Fiction. It mentions “the Bonnie situation”, which was the third vignette in that film. Indeed, the Bonnie in question clearly is the same one featured in the Pulp scenario.
As we move to DVD Two, we find a wealth of additional materials. The Critics’ Commentaries come from Amy Taubin (22:57), Peter Travers (28:50), and Emanuel Levy (33:28). All three provide some good insights, though I like Travers’ statements best. I often disagree with his articles in Rolling Stone, but he offers nice material here, especially as he concentrates on Tarantino’s use of music.
Tributes and Dedications covers a lot of territory. “Dedicated to…” runs 10 minutes and 37 seconds as Tarantino discussed seven men to whom he wanted to dedicate the flick. He provides his usual frank and entertaining comments as he provides his current perspective on these influences as well as other notes about them.
“One Big Teddy Bear: A Tribute to Lawrence Tierney” runs 14 minutes and 46 seconds and offers a wild discussion of the actor. We hear from Film Threat’s Chris Gore, Tarantino, Madsen, Roth, Penn, and Eddie Bunker and also see some movie clips and outtakes. The program offers a refreshingly frank appraisal of Tierney, as we mostly hear stories about how difficult he could be. It’s all very entertaining and lively.
Only one person shows up for “Eddie Bunker in the Good, the Bad and the Bunker”: the actor himself. During the eight-minute program, Bunker rides around LA and discusses his criminal career. It’s a moderately interesting piece but sounds better on paper than it comes across in reality.
”The Reservoir Dogs Tributes” offers nods toward some of Tarantino’s favorites. We get short clips about filmmakers Monte Hellman (4:45), Jack Hill (5:50), and Roger Corman (5:00) as well as actress Pam Grier (2:20). Most of them reflect on their careers, while Grier relates her impression to her reference in Dogs. The programs seem moderately interesting but nothing special, though it’s good to get more information about Tarantino’s influences.
The Film Noir Web provides a lot of information about the genre. An eight-minute and 30-second featurette covers a few folks involved with the field. We hear from author Robert Polito, writer Donald Westlake, and directors John Boorman, Mike Hodges and Stephen Frears. The material remains superficial but it offers a decent look at the folks involved.
The “Noir Files” offers scads of text information. It includes “Dave’s Handy Guide to the Big 3”, “How to Handle a Gun”, “Characters and Actors”, “Books and Film”, and “Writers and Directors”, all of which interact with each other. This area provides a great deal of good details about movies that fall under the noir genre.
Class of ‘92 focuses on the filmmakers who attended that year’s Sundance festival along with Tarantino and Dogs. The 29-minute and 10-second program starts with a general eight-minute introduction before we get segments that spotlight various directors. In those, the clips focus on Alex Rockwell, Chris Munch, Katt Shae, Tom Kalin, and Tarantino. Those five also appear in the introduction, along with critics Emanuel Levy, Peter Travers, and Amy Taubin. The interviews with the filmmakers generally concentrate on their thoughts about Sundance, their careers, and movies in general. Though none approached the level of success enjoyed by Tarantino, this area offers a nice and entertaining look at the filmmakers and the medium. Most enjoyable is Tarantino’s skewering of the PC sensibilities employed at Sundance, where it appears many films win prizes due to political and social elements instead for their quality.
Another interesting piece comes from the Sundance Institute’s Filmmaker’s Lab. From 1991, this 11-minute and 40-second piece shows some “work in progress” shots of two scenes from Dogs. We get the part in which Joe and White initially discuss the job, and we also see Pink and White as they figure out what to do about Orange. Interestingly, Steve Buscemi plays White alongside an actor I don’t recognize in the first segment, where Buscemi does Pink alongside Tarantino’s White in the second clip. That one hews pretty closely to the final scene found in the film, but the former offers some additional dialogue that concerns Joe’s marriage to a much younger woman. I’d have liked more information about the purpose of this material - it just appears without any background notes - but the clips seem quite compelling.
K-BILLY Radio offers four different selections. One includes an interview with “Stuck In the Middle With You” composer/performer Gerry Rafferty as he discusses the song, its use in the film, and his career. Another “channel” provides outtakes from the station announcements by Steven Wright, while another offers a 135-second video program called “Reservoir Dogs”; it uses some action figures to act out the ear-slicing scene. The other one purports to provide an interview with criminal Sampson Beck from inside prison done for French radio as he gives us his impressions of the movie. Is this for real? It sounded fake to me - do actual crooks use the term “rooty-poops”? Whatever the factual nature of that segment may or may not be, the other segments are pretty cool, especially the Wright outtakes.
Next we get two short featurettes. Small Dogs lasts four minutes and five seconds as it focuses on the Dogs action figures. We hear from two unnamed toy creators who discuss the process and offer a few interesting notes about the specifics. Securing the Shot: Location Scouting With Billy Fox shows different sets while we hear remarks from Fox. He offers some nice comments about the shoot, and we also see some stills from the locations during this brief but interesting four minute and 20 second piece.
A very odd piece, Reservoir Dogs Style Guide only lasts 20 seconds. It runs clips from the movie and lists text like “Killing in style” over them. What’s the point? I have no idea. Lastly, the Poster Gallery shows three ads for the film.
The 10th anniversary DVD of Reservoir Dogs is available with five different slipcase covers. We get ones for Mr. White, Mr. Blonde, Mr. Pink, Mr. Orange and Mr. Brown. From what I understand, the first four will be most easily found, whereas the Mr. Brown cover is supposed to be more elusive. Within the slipcase, the package opens to reveal biographical information about the cover subject as well as some character quotes. A booklet includes additional photos and quotes. This concept feels somewhat like a gimmick - ala those multiple TV Guide covers that seem intended to get collectors to buy all of them - but marketing ideas to the side, it’s kind of cool, and it allows the set to stand apart from other DVDs.
Reservoir Dogs showed glimmers of Quentin Tarantino’s talent, but it suffered from a little too much ambition and a stretched-out storyline. The movie usually remained entertaining and lively, but it seemed excessively padded at times. The DVD provides a moderately flawed image that nonetheless improves upon the original release, as does sound quality. It packs a slew of fine supplements as well. Despite the picture problems, this 10th anniversary edition of Reservoir Dogs presents the film in the best way yet seen, and fans will definitely want to give it a look.