Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review both John and Tim give their opinion of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
The Film According to John:
Here's a little Valentine for the romantic in all of us. Quentin Tarantino style.
Think of "True Romance" as a cousin to "Reservoir Dogs" and a prequel to "Pulp Fiction." Tarantino wrote all three movies in a brief spurt of creative energy hardly equalled in Hollywood history, "True Romance" preceding its more illustrious "Pulp Fiction" successor by a year or so but containing much the same mixture of black humor, violence, romance, and action. I've always liked this 1993 motion picture, so it's nice to see Warner Bros. release it in this unrated Director's Cut Blu-ray edition.
Directed by Tony Scott ("Top Gun," "Days of Thunder," "Crimson Tide," "Enemy of the State," "The Taking of Pelham 123") "True Romance" is a drug picture, a chase picture, a gangster picture, and a wacky, turbulent romantic-partners-in-crime picture all at the same time. It's sort of a "Bonnie and Clyde" on speed. For a more detailed account of the plot and for another slant on the film's merits, I direct your attention to the review by my colleague, Tim Raynor, who liked the movie even more than I did.
Meanwhile, we have in "True Romance" a study in all-out, over-the-top bloodshed, irony, tenderness, and laughs. It may disgust some viewers and delight others, but there is hardly any question it's an original of its kind. Indeed, there aren't even many of its kind. Whatever kind that is.
The plot involves a young couple who meet and fall in love in a movie theater showing a Sonny Chiba martial-arts flick, the first of many cinematic references that abound in the story. Remember, this is a Tarantino film. A movie theater is a perfect place to begin the make-believe, surreal, action-packed romantic adventure to follow. No sooner do they fall in love than they marry, come into possession of a suitcase full of cocaine, get chased by mobsters, run into murder and mayhem, and wind up in a climatic confrontation that is a wonderfully sustained sequence of riotous havoc, hyperbole, and hilarity. Just a little something for everybody. And like Tarantino's other films, the sum of the parts adds up to far less than the parts themselves. His films are a series of set pieces, each episode a world of its own, and we come away remembering special bits here and there.
The movie's strong suit is its cast. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette head an all-star unit as the lovers, Clarence Worley and Alabama Whitman, their tumultuous, whirlwind relationship sweet, amusing, and touching. These are the gentlest of people, yet they're tough as nails, too, their ardor poignant amid the most devastating carnage. Remember, this is a Tarantino film.
The supporting players include Dennis Hopper as Clarence's father, one of the most "normal" roles of Hopper's career; he's a former cop trying desperately to protect his son from the mob. His conversation with Christopher Walken (playing a typically reptilian Walken villain, Don Vincenzo Coccoti), presages Walken's own monologue in "Pulp Fiction," and Hopper's dialogue is almost as riveting and funny in its own twisted way. Then there's Val Kilmer as an imaginary Elvis mentor, who advises Clarence on matters of action and deportment. Gary Oldman plays Drexel Spivey, a patented Oldman heavy--slimy, vicious, violent, totally repellent, a white pimp who thinks he's black. Michael Rapaport is Dick Ritchie, a friend of Clarence and wannabe actor in Hollywood whom Clarence goes to for help. Brad Pitt is Dick's roommate, a dedicated druggie who's always in a daze. James Gandolfini is Virgil, a goon, a hit man for the mob, who makes the mistake of trying to intimidate poor, defenseless, little Alabama. Samuel L. Jackson turns up for a remarkable moment as a drug dealer with a foul mouth. Bronson Pinchot plays Elliot Blitzer, another would-be actor and a friend to a big-time producer. And Saul Rubinek plays the producer, Lee Donowitz, as a coke-snorting reprobate. What a great group.
Hans Zimmer did the original music, the man who has gone on to do just about every other movie we see these days. Still, his own tunes get upstaged by the abundance of familiar pop songs playing in the background, lighthearted affairs juxtaposed with the violence on screen. Remember, this is a Tarantino film.
John's film rating: 7/10
The Film According to Tim:
Why this film was never a huge box office hit I may never know. In my honest opinion, it should have been. Had it been released today, it most certainly would have the draw it deserves. Of course, at the time, director Tony Scott was coming off a roller-coaster ride of critical flops such as "Days of Thunder" and "The Last Boy Scout," which I'm sure was no help to the box-office draw. After viewing "True Romance," I find it safe to say it is one of Scott's crowning achievements.
The film's premise is directed toward the main characters played by Christian Slater (Clarence Worley) and Patricia Arquette (Alabama Whitman), not to mention a studio-load of cameos from such actors as Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken, Brad Pitt, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, and Samuel L. Jackson. Now, don't let all the cameos confuse you; many of them are brief, but most of them are the best cameos I've seen to date. The story, written by no other than Quentin Tarantino, begins as Clarence (Slater) is celebrating his birthday alone and meets up with a call girl, Alabama (Arquette). Clarence is an obvious redneck loner with a passion for cheap kung-fu films and has hallucinations of Elvis (Val Kilmer) as his mentor. Over a night of hot native sex, Clarence and Alabama fall head-over-heels in love, as one might expect after a night of sex. I know there are times this has happened to me, and at least once, it has lead to marriage. Of course, there were those times I've awakened the next day and wanted to saw my arm off!
Anyway, they fall madly in love and get hitched at the local courthouse, and in this case, it's Detroit. The marriage doesn't sit well with Alabama's pimp daddy, Drexl (Gary Oldman). Clarence takes it upon himself to play the hero and rescue Alabama's belongings from Drexl's whore house. (I should point out that Oldman plays his part so well you can hardly tell it's him.) After an intense fight, Clarence is able to escape with his wife's belongings, but not without slaying Drexl and leaving a bit of evidence of the crime. That's not all, folks--the plot thickens even more. Clarence gets home to Alabama and opens her suitcase only to find it full of cocaine! I could only wish this would happen to me. Just once I'd like to get the wrong piece of luggage at the airport only to find it full of cash or some valuable drugs!
Clarence realizes that there is no way of going back to Drexl's pad, so the only logical thing to do is sell the coke. That would be my plan, but in this case, the coke is really owned by the local mob, who are aware of who Clarence is due to the evidence left at the scene of the crime. Clarence pays a visit to his father, Clifford (Dennis Hopper), to see if anyone knows about the shoot-out at Drexl's. Clifford, an ex-cop, informs Clarence that the cops aren't looking for him, and they think Drexl's death is from something gang related. (Hmmm, note to self: cops don't care to investigate the killings of low-life drug dealers and pimp scums.) Clifford does warn his son that the mob is interested in finding their missing coke, which sends Clarence and Alabama running. Soon after their escape, a very chilling mob hit man, Vincenzo (Christopher Walken), pays a little clarification visit to Clifford about Clarence and Alabama's whereabouts. Walken's cameo, by far, is my very favorite bit in the entire movie!
Now, the intensity level begins to boil as our duo run to Hollywood in an attempt to sell their newly found coke to a big movie producer. Needless to say, the plot thickens a little more as the FBI gets involved, and as you can imagine, there is plenty of shooting, killing, chasing, and running around involved. The last half of the film becomes very relentless in its pace, but it never takes its focus away from our main characters. As the plot and sub plots thicken, they are all brought together for quite the slap-in-the-face ending! The characters and plot certainly drive this film to a level not seen in many films today. "True Romance" is a movie that takes itself seriously but at the same time doesn't forget to entertain. I remember the first time I saw "True Romance" was with my now ex-wife, and we both sat there after it was over and said, "Wow! What a cool movie that was!" Yes, folks, she was the one I married after one night of hot native sex! Maybe it goes to show you that true romance is only in the movies... Who knows?
Tim's film rating: 8/10
The Blu-ray high-resolution video quality is a step up from its standard-definition counterpart. It just isn't a very big step up, and it's probably through no fault of the transfer. The disc presents the movie in its 2.40:1 ratio, theatrical screen size, which is commendable, but the movie's photography is so dark, dull, soft, and smoky most of the time that it's hard to say how good the transfer is. Although clarity is fine in a couple of outdoor daylight shots, they are few and far between. Warner engineers use a dual-layer BD50 and VC-1 encode, so I assume any veiling of the image--and it is often extreme--is inherent to the original film print. In any case, while the image quality may look disappointing to high-def fans, it sets the mood for a gritty, rough-and-tumble, often darkly amusing story.
The audio comes in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1, the TrueHD being the default. There is good transient impact throughout the film and a wide front-channel stereo spread. There is, in fact, a big, outgoing sound from every speaker, although the actual audio quality in the music varies from piece to piece, since much of it is vintage material. One thing is sure: It's loud. You may have to turn down the volume from your normal setting, the gain is so high. The soundtrack utilizes the rear channels, too, but the sound isn't always very pinpoint accurate in its imaging, and it is often diffuse. The advantage of the TrueHD is in firming up and smoothing out the overall sound, and here it does an acceptable job.
The Blu-ray disc comes with most of the extras found on WB's previous two-disc edition, and they are in standard definition. Things start with three separate audio commentaries, the first with stars Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, the second with director Tony Scott, and the third with writer Quentin Tarantino. Although I listened to only a few minutes of each track, if I had to listen to an entire commentary it would be Tarantino's, whose remarks seemed the most intriguing and revealing.
Next up are eleven deleted and expanded scenes with optional director commentary, totaling around twenty-nine minutes. After those is an alternate ending with optional director and writer commentaries. Apparently, Scott and Tarantino differed on the ending, Scott preferring a more upbeat finish. They filmed both endings, and Tarantino admits he liked Scott's choice because it better fits the "fairy tale" interpretation the director gave to his script. Then, there are scene selective commentaries by Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, and Michael Rapaport explaining a few of their key moments, followed by a five-minute, 1992 promotional featurette. There are no full-length documentaries included, but there is a short, six-minute behind-the-scenes interactive feature that's fleshed out by a few more minutes' worth of material within the segment, accessed via icons at various points. Lastly, we get an animated photo gallery; a widescreen theatrical trailer; thirty-four scene selections; pop-up menus; English and French spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
The Director's Cut Blu-ray edition of "True Romance" contains the unrated version of the movie. Like Tim, I'm not sure exactly what that means except that it appears to have a few more minutes of bloodshed in it than the R-rated version. In any case, you can be sure that "True Romance" contains its fair share of profanity, sex, violence, obscenities, brutality, mass destruction, and harsh words. Have I mentioned this is a Tarantino film?