|Director: Quentin Tarantino
|Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino (stories by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary)
|Stars: John Travolta (Vincent Vega), Samuel L. Jackson (Jules Winnfield), Uma Thurman (Mia Wallace), Ving Rhames (Marsellus Wallace), Bruce Willis (Butch), Maria de Medeiros (Fabienne), Eric Stoltz (Lance), Tim Roth (Pumpkin), Amanda Plummer (Honeybunny)
|MPAA Rating: R
|Year of Release: 1994
Although it is has nearly three decades since Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction took the world by storm, winning the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and making the wunderkind video-store-clerk-turned-writer/director a cultural icon of cinematic obsessive-cool, it remains an audacious, confounding, and ultimately exciting American film. As wholly original as it is a copy of hundreds of films before it, it dares you to step out of the mundane and enter a colorful, exhilarating world that could only be Los Angeles seen through a camera lens.
As a modern tribute to the trashy excesses of a bygone era, it blazed a brave new trail through contemporary cinema, refusing to play by any rules and succeeding on every level against all the odds. On a purely formal level, Tarantino’s sophomore film is defiant in the way it manipulates conventional plot structure by twisting time to satisfy its own devices and make the impossible possible. It is an odd miracle how Tarantino could distort chronology so blatantly, yet finish with a product that is not only accessible to a mainstream audience (the film grossed well over $100 million at the domestic box office, an unheard-of feat for a non-studio production), but flows more smoothly than it would have had he told it in linear fashion.
The film tells a series of interlocking stories involving two hitmen, a boxer and his French girlfriend, a crime boss and his mischievous wife, a small-time drug dealer, a trio of wannabe criminals, two lovebird robbers, a high-strung suburban husband who makes great coffee, and a professional problem solver who attends formal cocktail parties at eight o’clock in the morning. Add to the mixture several heavy doses of comical violence, a lot of fascinatingly vulgar dialogue, and a mysterious suitcase, and all the elements—unlikely as they are—are in place.
The two hitmen, Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, are portrayed by John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, who play off each other with perfect timing and relaxed ease, carrying on intriguing conversations about the subtle differences between Europe and America (“In Paris, you can buy a beer in McDonald’s”), as well as philosophical debates about the nature of miracles and the relative significance of foot massages. One episode in the film involves Vincent taking his boss’s wife out while the boss is out of town. The boss is Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), an imposing crime lord, so you can quickly see why Vincent is so nervous about not offending his wife, Mia (Uma Thurman). Their date starts in a hip burger joint called Jack Rabbit Slim’s, an extravagantly brazen ’50s-style joint that includes more pop culture references than I could dream of listing. The night ends with an overdose and a frighteningly hilarious sequence where Vincent and his friendly drug connection buddy (Eric Stoltz) bicker incessantly about who is going to inject Mia’s heart with a six-inch adrenaline needle. The scene is alternately outrageous, hilarious, tense, gruesome, and touching—a neat summary of the film as a whole.
Another scene finds Vincent and Jules in the homely suburban kitchen of the high-strung Jimmy (Tarantino). Vincent has accidentally blown someone’s head off in the back seat of the car, and they have to get it cleaned up and out of Jimmy’s garage in an hour before Jimmy’s wife comes home. This requires the aid of Winston Wolf (Harvey Keitel), a.k.a. The Wolf. “I solve problems,” he announces on the doorstep. The whole sequence is completely ludicrous in its own bloody way, but it’s also hilarious in its playful inversion of power, with the two hitmen at the whim of a wormy suburbanite in his bathrobe.
Yet another sequence involves Butch (Bruce Willis), a boxer who double-crosses Marsellus. Through a series of contrivances, Butch and Marsellus wind up meeting on the street the next day (this involves the story of Butch’s infamous gold watch, something you have to hear from the mouth of Christopher Walken to believe). After an ensuing fight, they both wind up in the clutches of two hillbillies and their leatherfreak slave, lovingly referred to as the Gimp. The whole sequence verges on the surreal as the unexpected keeps popping up right before your eyes.
Yet, despite all this outrageousness, Tarantino keeps a remarkably firm grasp on the material, even as it threatens to spin completely out of control. Pulp Fiction is so remarkable because it walks to the very edge of chaos, but never falls over. It isn’t afraid to mix the past and the present, the vulgar and the religious, the logical and the supernatural, or the comic and the violent. Tarantino draws studiously from his personal well of cinematic obsessions, whether it be blaxploitation films, horror comedies, European art oddities, or film noir, and he even references his own nascent cinematic universe by casting actors familiar from his 1992 debut film Reservoir Dogs (Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, and Steve Buscemi) and giving Travolta’s character a name similar to Michael Madsen’s character in the earlier film. He leaves questions unanswered (For the love, what is in that glowing suitcase!?!?), but affirms in no small way that evil is punished and there is room for righteousness in our deeply flawed world. The film allows for maximum effect without every quite destroying itself, and Tarantino’s mastery of that daring kind of cinematic dangerousness alone makes it, hands down, the best film of that year and arguably one of the best films in recent memory, the kind that truly alters the course of cinema history. A whole generation of filmmakers has been chasing it ever since.
|Pulp Fiction 4K UHD + Blu-ray
|English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surroundGerman DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surroundItalian Dolby Digital 5.1 surroundFrench Dolby Digital 2.0 surroundJapanese Dolby Digital 2.0 surround
| English, English SDH, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Korean
|“Not the Usual Mindless Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat” cast interviews“Here Are Some Facts on the Fiction” critic’s retrospective “Pulp Fiction: The Facts” documentaryDeleted scenesBehind-the-scenes montagesProduction design featuretteSiskel & Ebert At the Movies “The Tarantino Generation” episodeIndependent Spirit Awards interviewsCannes Film Festival Palm d’Or acceptance speechThe Charlie Rose Show interview with Quentin TarantinoTheatrical trailersTV spotsEnhanced trivia trackStills gallery
|Paramount Home Entertainment
|December 6, 2022
|Pulp Fiction’s debut on 4K UHD features an image that was scanned from the original 35mm camera negative, remastered, and graded for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10). It looks very much the way I remember it looking in theaters back in 1994. The image is sharp and crisp, yet it retains just a slight edge of characteristic roughness in Andrzej Sekula’s garish cinematography, which tends to favor bold contrasts, bright colors, and blown-out whites. The black levels are impressive throughout, allowing us to see minute details in John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s suits, even though at times it purposefully fades into darkness. There is little evidence of any image boosting, which allows the image to retain its natural grain structure. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack is the same remastered track we got on the 2011 Blu-ray, which gives the film’s bold sound mix and sometimes startling use of music maximum effectiveness. It’s a great track and I can see why they didn’t feel the need to change it.
All of the supplements included here have been compiled from previous Blu-ray releases, going back to Miramax’s 2002 disc (in other words, nothing new, but there is still a ton here). “Not the Usual Mindless Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat” is 45 minutes of interviews a number of cast members, including John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Eric Stoltz, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, and Rosanna Arquette. Their reminiscences are consistently interesting and fun to listen to, even if you’ve heard many of them before; there is something about having additional years between now and the film’s initial release that gives their memories that much more impact and poignancy, especially when Travolta talks with obvious emotion about how the film effectively saved his career. There is a lengthy roundtable discussion about the film by five well-known film critics: New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell, Salon critic Stephanie Zacharek, Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas, Los Angeles critic Andy Klein, and Variety critic Scott Foundras. They generate a lively discussion, not all of which is unadorned praise for the film (Zacharek is quite open in expressing her issues with it). Also on the disc is the 30-minute documentary “Pulp Fiction: The Facts,” five deleted scenes with an introduction by Tarantino, behind-the-scenes montages of Jack Rabbit Slim’s (5 min.) and Butch Hits Marsellus (6 min.), a 6-minute production design featurette, an episode of Siskel & Ebert At the Movies dedicated to “The Tarantino Generation” (16 min.), 12 minutes of footage from the Independent Spirit Awards, Tarantino’s Palme D’Or acceptance speech at Cannes, an hourlong interview with Tarantino on The Charlie Rose Show, and a marketing gallery consisting of the U.S., U.K., French, German, and Japanese theatrical trailers, 13 TV spots, a poster gallery with about 50 designs, and a collection of Oscar campaign and trade ads.
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