Reservoir Dogs SE Review
Bleeding in the back seat of a car, Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) is not doing too well. In a heist that redefines the concept of going pear-shaped, a bullet got lodged in his stomach and blood is spilling profusely onto the car's upholstery. Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) - his brother-in-crime - rapidly gets them to the safe house but with the arrival of Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and the discussion that ensues, it seems like the police are onto them and the safe house is anything but. With Mr. Orange bleeding to death, the criminals are left with few viable options and no easy solutions.
Exploding with a flurry of controversy, Quentin Tarantino's debut feature set itself to give the somnolent American Independent scene a run for its money. Ten years later, schlock violence has become the plat du jour with even the French cinema finding a taste for it with the likes of IRREVERSIBLE or Doberman. In comparison, Reservoir Dogs seems very tame and relatively prudish in its portrayal of violence - if you ignore that scene, there's little to mark Reservoir Dogs out from your usual heist movie albeit one with very good dialogue. The script is well served by the cast - Keitel, Buscemi and Roth all provide solid and convincing performances, though Roth's painful screaming will get on your nerves within the first minutes of the film. The secondary characters are also fleshed out within the first few minutes with the diner sequence; inconspicuously, Tarantino manages to avoid clumsy expositions, by making the characters talk about anything and everything (Madonna, tipping, minimum wages...) as you would imagine them doing in real life - it's economical, funny and takes you right to the heart of this testosterone-fuelled universe.
Some critics have argued that Reservoir Dogs is little more than a rip-off of Ringo Lam's City On Fire (in fact, one person has made a career out of it - here). Even the more casual observer cannot fail to notice some ungainly similarities but, despite this, Tarantino has enough imagination to reclaim a rather threadbare plotline and transform it into an intimate huis-clos with only flashbacks taking us outside of the main stage, a derelict warehouse somewhere in the valley. This technique partially mimics Sartre's play No Exit where the lead characters find themselves in Hell but can still see the world they left behind in their minds. I'm not sure if Reservoir Dogs is Tarantino's vision of Hell but, like in No Exit, the characters are grabbing for each other's jugular in a remonstrative fury - they have no other option but to co-operate but no real yearning to get over their personal grievances. The eternal question of honour amongst thieves and their ethics is also subtly posed - does your involvement in crime make you less able to feel compassion? Is this "honour" imposed by the threat of violence? Is trust something that is necessary in any friendship? - questions that the nouvelle vague director's would not have shunned and makes Reservoir Dogs a more interesting film for it. Maybe not as good as some make it out to be, but a very good film all the same.
The UK SE release is similar to the US release but has some rather notable omissions (stereo and DTS track missing along with some of the extras). The film is contained on a DVD5 with the extras contained on the second disc - a DVD9.
I managed to get my hands on the R1 SE and from the screengrabs I made, it seems that the transfer on the R2 SE is a different one. The reds are much more prominent and the washed out feel of the R1 is not present here. It's a minor difference but as far as I recall the theatrical release, this transfer seems to be closer. Though they have crammed the entire film onto a DVD5, there are no noticeable problems of artifacting or digitalisation. Though some dark tones lack stability, the colours are solid and the image is clean and sharp enough for the casual viewer. A good enough transfer.
I made screengrabs of the R1 compared with the R2 with the same program (xine under linux) and this is what it looks like:
It does seem like the R1 is better from the definition point of view and, judging by these screengrabs the R2 seems to be too high in colours but the R1 does look a little too drab. I suspect each indiviual reader will make their own decision which is the best.
UPDATE: As you may have noticed thanks to Ice-Angel, there does seem to be major difference between the image of the SE and the single-disk. The image on this disc seems by far inferior to the single-disk version but undeniably less washed out than the R1 SE. I'm changing the video grade to reflect this so be warned that this is not as good as the original Momentum release.
Gone is the DTS and stereo tracks so all we are left with is a 5.1 mix. The infamous problem found on the R1/R4 SE releases where a few small snippets of dialogue are either missing or very low in the mix is once again present here. This problem should have been fixed considering the amount of online complaining about it but this won't be the release where that happens. The mix itself makes the voices slightly muffled at times but that was maybe due to the original track. The subwoofer occasionally gets used as do the surrounds but this really is a dialogue-driven movie and the original stereo mix would have probably done the job just as well - it's a shame it is absent here since the original R2 mix did have the correct dialogue in it. Frankly, there's only one cut that actually mildly impedes on the understanding of the film and I expect most viewers will not notice it unless it is pointed out to them. A good enough track but a bit of a missed opportunity to make this the perfect release.
Simply superb. Completely different from the US release, they have composited together various snippets of the safehouse and made a pseudo-3D environment that moves with every choice. It's not as high-tech as some of the DVD menus I've seen but is by far one of the most effective. Great work from the authoring department there...
We lose the critics commentary from the R1 as well as the original stereo mix and the DTS track. We do however get a substantial amount of extras mostly lodged on the second disc.
Cast and crew commentary: featuring QT, Lawrence Bender, director of photography Andrej Sekula, the editor Sally Menke, as well as some members of the cast (Tim Roth, Kirk Baltz, Chris Penn and Michael Madsen), the commentary suffers somewhat by the sheer number of the participants. There's a lot of interesting input here that may have been improved if they had recorded two commentary tracks. The commentaries are not screen-specific and seem to have been edited together out of the included interviews. Still it works quite well and is never uninteresting with each contributor giving some good input here and there. Surely QT could sit down in a booth and do a brilliant solo commentary some time or is he just playing hard to get?
Original interviews: Penn, Baltz, Madsen, Bender, Roth and QT talk for between 7 to 15 minutes about the film - all the interviews are given a slightly surreal introduction (Penn being allegedly filmed in the back of a moving truck, Roth alongside synchronised swimmers) but are not contemporary to the movie but made specially for the SE.
Film Noir Files: a rather bizarre feature looking at the genre and talking to some of the writers and directors (Frears, Hodge, Westlake...) that made it famous. It is a very interesting piece but the link to Reservoir Dogs is quite tenuous making it stick out amongst the extras.
Deleted scenes: We get three extra scenes that don't add much to the movie bar some extra background as well as two alternate takes of the scene that made the headlines. The quality of the image is naturally not as sharp as the main feature with abundant specks and grain along with the colours being rather too heavy but globally it looks fine and is a good extra.
Sundance class of '92: This feature catches up with the directors that were in competition at Sundance that year and their recollections of it. Of course, Reservoir Dogs somehow managed to be nominated for virtually nothing and Quentin Tarantino has a go at the internal PC politics ruling the festival. The icing on the cake is 13 minutes of a rough version of Reservoir Dogs with Tarantino playing Mr. White (not very well) and Buscemi already playing Mr. Pink (fullscreen).
Securing the shot: The location scout talks about the locations used in Reservoir Dogs - short but to the point. (5 mins).
Tributes: The late Lawrence Tierney is given a lengthy tribute (actually more of a major slagging off for his terrible behaviour) from the same interviewees as well as Eddie Bunker along with some outtakes from the film with him unable to say Quentin's text (15 mins). Eddie Bunker also takes us for a ride around LA where he recollects various events in his life (8 mins). Some more tenors from the independent scene - Monte Hellman, Roger Corman, Pam Grier and Jack Hill - also give some short interviews (between 3 to 10 minutes each), telling us about their experiences of independent film-making. Again, these extras are very interesting and worthwhile watching but will probably only appeal to fans of the US independent scene.
You can evenly weigh the pros and cons of this release - on the plus side, you have decent amount of extras (though slightly less than on the R1 release), excellent menus and what I think is the best transfer about. On the minus side, you don't get the original mix and there's still minor issues with some missing dialogue. It's still a good presentation of the film which offers much more than the barebone effort currently available and if you don't yet own it, it's worth investing in.