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Tony Scott
Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Bronson Pinchot, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rapaport
Quentin Tarantino

Stealing, Cheating, Killing. Who said romance is dead?
Not Rated.

2-Disc set
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Surround
English, French, Spanish

Runtime: 121 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 9/24/2002

• Audio Commentary With Actors Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette
• Audio Commentary With Director Tony Scott
• Audio Commentary With Writer Quentin Tarantino
• Deleted and Extended Scenes With Optional Director Commentary
• Alternate Ending With Optional Director and Writer Commentaries
• Selective Commentaries With Actors Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt and Michael Rapaport
• Interactive Behind the Scenes Featurette
• Animated Photo Gallery
• Vintage 1993 Featurette
• Theatrical Trailer
• TV Spots
• Cast and Crew
• DVD-ROM Materials


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True Romance: Unrated Director's Cut (1993)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Usually Quentin Tarantino directs the films he writes, but a few exceptions exist. Robert Rodriguez helmed 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn and did a reasonably competent job with that cartoony vampire flick; though the flick seems flaws, I doubt Tarantino would have made the movie any better on his own.

On the other hand, 1993’s True Romance and 1994’s Natural Born Killers clearly suffered from Tarantino’s absence behind the camera. Click on the link above to see my feelings about the mess that was Killers, but as for Romance, it featured Tony Scott as director, and he seemed like a total mismatch for Tarantino’s style. Best known as the man behind action flicks like Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II, on the surface, the glossy and superficial Scott appeared to be the wrong man for the job.

Dig beneath the surface and you’ll still discover that the producers should have hired someone other than Scott to direct True Romance. He brought a sense of showy violence and visual sheen to the material that seemed badly wrong for the material, and he failed to exploit it for all it was worth.

Romance concentrates on the love affair between Clarence (Christian Slater) and Alabama (Patricia Arquette). Nerdy Clarence lives an isolated life, but that starts to change when he meets sexy Alabama at a martial arts triple feature on his birthday. The two quickly connect, and Clarence seems unfazed when Alabama admits she’s a “call girl” hired by his boss to enliven his birthday.

The two get married immediately, and after he sees encouraging visions of Elvis (Val Kilmer), Clarence decides to set things straight with her old pimp Drexl (Gary Oldman). Ultimately he kills Drexl and escapes with a case full of uncut cocaine; he thought it included Alabama’s things. Clarence figures this is his lucky day, and he decides the couple should head out west to hook up with his boyhood friend Dick Ritchie (Michael Rapaport). Aspiring actor Dick knows Elliott (Bronson Pinchot), the assistant to a big-shot producer named Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubinek), and Clarence plans to unload the drugs on him. After a quick visit with his estranged ex-policeman father (Dennis Hopper) to make sure the authorities aren’t on their trail, Clarence and Alabama go west.

Unfortunately, the cocaine brings a trail with it. It turns out that the drugs really belonged to crime kingpin Blue Lou Boyle, and his counsel Vincent Coccotti (Christopher Walken) comes after Clarence. He starts with Clarence’s father and then follows the trail to LA, where his goons try to track down the elusive couple.

In the meantime, Clarence tries to sell the drugs to Lee, but another complication arises. A traffic cop pulls over Elliott for speeding, and finds a bag of cocaine under comic circumstances. To avoid jail time, Elliott agrees to wear a wire and help the police nab Lee. This leads to a climactic confrontation between four different camps: Clarence and friends, Lee and associates, the Italian gangsters, and the cops.

Romance was the first full script Tarantino ever wrote, and it shows. Obviously autobiographical, Clarence seems to act as a fantasy stand-in for Quentin, and this causes some character problems. Frankly, it seems almost impossible to fathom that he went from this nerdy loser to a world-class action hero with a blonde babe on his arm, and also this happened literally overnight. Granted, I understand the movie takes on some fantasy elements, and it always seems possible the whole thing exists only in Clarence’s head - he does see visions of Elvis (Val Kilmer), who goads him into action - but taken on a semi-literal level, these leaps seem too large.

It doesn’t help that Slater appears miscast as Clarence. Too attractive and self-confident for the geeky side of the role, and too quirky and self-conscious for the action hero elements, Slater just comes across as lost throughout the film. Not a lot of actors can handle Tarantino’s dialogue and not sound silly; George Clooney ran into that problem during Dusk as well. Slater fails to take hold of Clarence, and his tentative nature actively harms the film as a whole.

Otherwise, however, I find it difficult to fault the cast in any way. Romance boasts an absolutely staggering group of actors. Just look at the credits: the film includes Oldman, Hopper, Walken, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Rapaport, Chris Penn, Tom Sizemore, Samuel L. Jackson, and more! How any flick with such a stellar cast could fall so flat seems unthinkable to me. Surprisingly, the most interesting the bunch has to be Pitt’s small but hilarious turn as Dick’s stoner roommate Floyd. I think Pitt’s a character actor in a leading man’s body, and his memorable work here helps confirm that thought.

How could a movie with that group flop? Because of the directing, and as I already mentioned, Scott seems totally inappropriate for Romance. When he helms slick action pieces, Scott does good work. He functions best within the expensive Bruckheimer world, and I enjoy flicks such as Crimson Tide.

Unfortunately, Scott tries to bring the same tone and vision to Romance, and it simply doesn’t work. The story needed someone loose and fast on his feet, not a guy who excels at slow-motion carnage and flashy action set pieces. Though it may come across otherwise, I don’t really mean this as a knock on Scott. When he remains within his realm, he provides fairly good films. Romance finds him out of his element, however, and he can’t adjust to meet the needs of the story.

In the end, Romance feels like an odd piece. The script seems unusually thin and sketchy for something from Quentin Tarantino, but since it was his first finished work, that makes sense; he clearly hadn’t quite found his voice just yet. Had Tarantino taken on the project himself and made it as a low-budget indie production, it could have worked, but unfortunately, it went the other way and became a glossy piece of Hollywood fluff. Romance enjoys a few decent moments, but overall it falls short of its goals.

Note that this DVD offers the “unrated director’s cut” of True Romance. I never saw the film before I received this package, so I can’t directly comment on the difference between this version and the “R”-rated theatrical edition. However, from what I understand, this one includes a few slightly elongated scenes that depict more graphic violence and sexuality.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio C+ / Bonus A

True Romance appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not free from problems, the picture largely looked quite good.

Sharpness generally appeared solid. A few wide shots demonstrated some mild softness, but those examples occurred infrequently. Instead, most of the movie came across as reasonably distinct and crisp. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and I noticed no problems related to edge enhancement. As for print flaws, light grain showed up at times, and I also saw a few specks. However, most of the film seemed clean and fresh.

Colors worked very well. The movie featured a wide palette, and the DVD replicated the tones nicely. The hues seemed bright and vivid throughout the film, and they appeared rich and full. Black levels came across as deep and dense, while shadow detail was clean and appropriately opaque. Ultimately, True Romance fell just a little short of “A”-level, as the image largely seemed solid.

I felt less impressed with the soundtracks of True Romance. The DVD provided both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. I found the two to sound virtually identical; except for some differences in volume levels, I didn’t notice and qualitative variations between to two tracks.

That was too bad, for neither of them impressed me. The soundtracks featured a general bias toward the front channels. Music showed fairly good stereo spread and imaging, and the tracks also demonstrated reasonably positive ambience. However, the audio didn’t seem to blend together especially well. Material sounded somewhat speaker-specific and transitioned a bit awkwardly between the channels. The rears added decent reinforcement of the front domain, but they didn’t contribute a great deal of activity to the piece.

Audio quality also appeared erratic. Speech remained intelligible throughout the film, but it sounded rather stiff and metallic at times. I also noticed some bleed-through in regard to the dialogue, as the lines occasionally shifted to the sides for no logical reason. Effects also showed some odd localization at times, as elements occasionally shifted oddly; for example, a bar scene moved the background music awkwardly to the side though this made no sense.

As for the quality of those pieces, music sounded reasonably clear. The songs and score came across as fairly crisp and distinct, and they demonstrated pretty good low-end, though those elements seemed fairly boomy and loose. Effects appeared fairly clean, but they lacked much punch. Gunfire packed little punch and the entire mix came across as somewhat thin and flat. Overall, the soundtracks of True Romance seemed acceptable for the most part, but they appeared more flawed than I’d expect of a modern film.

On this two-DVD reissue of True Romance, we find a slew of supplements. Starting with disc one, we get a whopping three different audio commentaries. The first comes from actors Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, both of whom were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. As I’ve noted in the past, actor commentaries always sound like fun, but unless Ben Affleck participates in them, they rarely live up to their billing. I can’t say I expected much from Slater and Arquette, but this dull and inane commentary didn’t even live up to my modest hopes for it.

For one, great heaping slabs of space passed with no material. The pair remained silent much of the time, and when they bothered to speak, they rarely offered any useful details. Periodically - apparently simply through the law of averages - they gave us something insightful or informative, but those occasions occurred frightfully infrequently. More often, they just told us how great everyone was or made “that was cool” remarks about the onscreen action. Actually, to be fair, Arquette periodically tried to delve into some filmmaking elements; this didn’t occur frequently, but I’ll give her credit because she occasionally made the attempt. Slater, on the other hand, had virtually nothing of substance to say; I don’t even think he understood the purpose of the sessions. Not even diehard Romance fans will find much to enjoy in this lamentable dud of a commentary.

Next we moved to a track from director Tony Scott, who provided a running, screen-specific look at the film. After the misery that was the actors’ commentary, Scott’s piece offered a welcome relief. The director proved chatty and informative during this track. He covered a lot of relevant topics and did so with reasonable charm and efficiency. I also found Scott to appear surprisingly frank, as he discussed elements such as James Gandolfini’s intense method acting and Michael Rapaport’s attempts to calm himself prior to a rollercoaster ride; this wasn’t the standard fluff. Scott jumped neatly from production elements such as sets and locations to story and character insight. The track suffered from a few more empty spots than I’d like, and Scott occasionally just narrated the film, but overall, this piece seemed useful.

Saving the best for last, after this we find a third commentary from writer Quentin Tarantino, who also offers a running track. I don’t want to call it “screen-specific”, however, for while Tarantino obviously watched the film as he spoke, he didn’t frequently remark upon the action, at least not during the movie’s first half. Instead, the ever-chatty Quentin offered a fascinating look into his early career that told us the genesis of Romance and how he got going in the industry. Frank as always, Tarantino also openly discussed the story’s many autobiographical elements, and he told us the ways his original concept and script differed from the final product. For example, he conceived that the flick would be non-linear ala his own movies.

Tarantino went off-task somewhat about a third of the way through the movie; once we hit the scene between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken, Quentin clammed up for a short period and seems to lose his momentum. He picked it up again fairly quickly, though, and he maintained this energy until the movie’s climax. At that time, he declared that he’s essentially covered everything he wanted to discuss and warned us that he won’t say much the rest of the way. Indeed, although he spoke more than I expected, Tarantino did remain silent for some extended gaps. Despite those concerns, I thoroughly enjoyed this commentary, though it made me feel even more frustrated that Tarantino won’t provide similar tracks for the films he directs himself; he’s one of the most lively, engaging and insightful speakers in the business.

Even after three audio commentaries, we haven’t finished with DVD One. Lastly we get something called the Director’s Storyboard Track. This uses the subtitle area to display Scott’s crude storyboards throughout the movie. A short introduction discusses the material, and then we watch them in the lower left corner of the screen as the film progresses. I don’t care much for storyboards, but I thought this offered a cool way to examine the material.

Lastly, Disc One includes some DVD-ROM materials. “Screenplay Viewer With Storyboards” runs the movie in the upper half of the movie and displays Tarantino’s script below it. The storyboards appear in the lower left corner of the movie screen; the presentation duplicates what we saw during the “Director’s Storyboard Track” discussed above.

Also in the DVD-ROM area, “Production Notes” provides very brief comments that originally went out as a press release in 1993; they add nothing of value. Finally, we get a link to the Morgan Creek website. (Did anyone else know they’re filming an Exorcist prequel?)

Finally we move to DVD Two, where many additional supplements reside. Behind the Scenes offers a five-minute and 30-second featurette about the film that also includes some bonus materials. The main piece combines shots from the set and quick interview snippets with director Tony Scott as well as actors Gary Oldman, Christian Slater, Dennis Hopper, and Patricia Arquette. The various remarks don’t add too much, but the on-set footage seems interesting.

”Behind the Scenes” extends via some optional material. Five times during the program, a little “heart” icon appears on screen; hit “enter” on your remote, and you’ll get to see additional shots from the set. These last between 127 seconds and 214 seconds for a total of 15 minutes and eight seconds of material. Each clip expands upon the scene viewed during the main featurette, and these actually seem more compelling since they’re less edited. The bits from the rollercoaster scene seemed especially cool to see, but all were entertaining.

Within the Selective Commentaries section, we get short tracks from four performers, each of whom remarks upon some of their material from Romance. We get information from Dennis Hopper (11 minutes, 13 seconds), Val Kilmer (four minutes, seven seconds), Brad Pitt (five minutes, 52 seconds), and Michael Rapaport (34 minutes, 47 seconds). Hopper’s chat seems the least interesting. He speaks sporadically and doesn’t offer anything very informative. Kilmer’s comes across a little esoteric, as he provides random musings about Elvis and Tony Scott, but he gives us a reasonably compelling little piece.

The veteran of many audio commentaries, Pitt packs a lot of punch into his short track. He seems lively and informative as he discusses how he came onto the film and also what he tried to do with the role. Easily the longest of the pieces, Rapaport also comes across as loose and witty. Some gaps appear, and he occasionally just mentions the onscreen action, but Rapaport tosses in lots of irreverent details. For example, he tells us which rollercoaster shots came on the first day - when he felt scared to death - and which occurred on the second day; to get him to do the latter, the crew needed to dope him up with tranquilizers. Overall, with the exception of Hopper’s dull chat, these “selective” commentaries seem fun and useful.

Next we find 11 Deleted and Extended Scenes. Viewable with or without commentary from director Tony Scott, these run a total of 29 minutes. Most of these consist of extended versions of existing scenes, though a few completely new bits appear, such as a short bathroom sojourn between Clarence and Alabama. None of them seem terribly compelling. Scott’s commentary tells us why he cut the clips and he tosses in some additional notes about the shoot as well; his remarks come sporadically, but they illuminate the subject reasonably well.

The DVD also includes an Alternate Ending. A mix of film footage and a couple of storyboards, this piece shows the finale as originally envisioned by Tarantino, and it runs six minutes, 21 seconds. The climactic fight in the hotel plays out pretty much the same as in the movie, but the ultimate ending differs. I don’t know if it’s better or worse than the finale seen in the film, but it’s interesting to see.

You can watch the “Alternate Ending” with or without two different commentaries; the scene includes separate pieces from Tony Scott and Quentin Tarantino. However, if you already listened to the tracks from Scott and Tarantino, you’ve heard everything they have to say here. It’s nice to have the information about the alternate ending included along with the clip itself, but the men add nothing new.

Cast and Crew includes the standard collection of filmographies. We find listings for actors Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Bronson Pinchot, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rapaport, Saul Rubinek and Tom Sizemore as well as writer Quentin Tarantino and director Tony Scott.

Finally, the “Publicity Gallery” tosses in a slew of promotional materials. We get the film’s theatrical trailer plus two TV spots. The EPK Original 1993 Featurette provides exactly what it implies: a five-minute and 35-second promotional program. It mixes movie clips, some footage from the set, and soundbites from Tony Scott, Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, and Christopher Walken. Not surprisingly, the EPK offers a superficial look at the film.

The Animated Photo Gallery also offers what one would expect. It shows a filmed series of pictures; we find a collection of publicity stills, production photos, and a few posters concepts in this five-minute, 50-second piece. Morgan Creek DVDs gives us trailers for Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, American Outlaws, Chill Factor, The In Crowd, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Young Guns II.

While I like the films Quentin Tarantino directs, when another person takes on his material, the results seem less interesting. I thought True Romance came across as too flashy and stiff to succeed. The DVD offers very good picture with adequate but surprisingly flat sound and a terrific collection of extras. Because I didn’t much care for the film, I can’t recommend it to folks who aren’t already fans. If you know you like Romance, you should definitely give this new DVD a look, and that goes for anyone who already owns the original release; the new one adds so much that it merits a repurchase.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4 Stars Number of Votes: 95
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