Natural Born Killers - Director's Cut Review
It is often the case that frenzied hype, sparked by a controversial film release, can often render a film an anticlimax once the viewer has actually let the dust settle and viewed the film for his/her own opinion. Natural Born Killers is certainly one of those films, having infamously been the subject of self-censoring by Warner Brothers who declined to release the film on video in 1995, obviously fearing public accusations of insensitivity over recent events such as the Dunblane massacre. Indeed, Natural Born Killers has also been accused of causing copycat murders in France, and is certainly acclaimed director Oliver Stone's most volatile project.
After Stone was forced to make one hundred and fifty cuts to the original release version, the man behind Platoon, Scarface, Salvador, Wall Street, Born On The Fourth of July and Any Given Sunday decided to release his director's cut version of the film, restoring the cuts towards his original cinematic intentions.
The Director's cut has been available for a few years on Region 1 (Released By Trimark as Warner refuses to release NC-17 material) and matches this Region 4 in all cases with the exception that this Region 4 version is anamorphic. There is a Region 1 (an R-rated Warner release) version that is anamorphic, but this is not the director's cut, and neither is the new Region 2 version (essentially the R1 Warner R-rated version), which was released a few weeks ago. Therefore, if you are looking to purchase Natural Born Killers, the Region 4 release is the version to go for.
But what about the actual film and the plot dynamics? Well, Natural Born Killers doesn't actually attempt to say anything for its two hour running time, but in fact attempts to convey a message rather than state it. To be more precise, the film is essentially an attack on the horrific status the media has evolved towards in the twentieth century. Stone attacks the media using two figures - the somewhat inadvertent icons Mickey and Mallory (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) who escape the lives they hate by embarking on a hallucinogenic odyssey of random mass-murderer, sparked by the abuse they suffered during their young familial upbringings. The film is as chaotic as the wild and insecure lives of the murdering twosome, mixing hyper-fast editing with a tremendous amount of jumping visuals (the film switches back and forth in a random way between black-and-white, colour, green, red, 8mm, 16mm, film, video and many other formats and for no particular plot reason). What starts off as a road movie following the couple's killing spree mutates into a crazed expose of how the media deals with/reports on/glorifies the duo and how certain media and police figures (such as egocentric Australian presenter Wayne Gale, played by Robert Downey Jr. and inferiority-complex stricken cop Jack Skegnetti - played by Tom Sizemore) capitalise on their crimes for their own personal gain.
Stone and his all-star cast clearly had a riot filming Natural Born Killers, but the film never transcends the fascinating yet ultimately flawed mould. Stone has never before been as visually indulgent, and on a scale of one to ten he is a ten with this film. Yes, cinematographer Robert Richardson's photography is stunning, and rivals Vittorio Storaro's work on Apocalypse Now (in particular the pharmacy scene which is shot entirely in fluorescent green, as if giving a sick and murky tone to the sequence), but the film is such a visual overload that by the end of the first quarter the novelty has worn off and the audience grows to ignore it and concentrate on the plot. This is the main problem, in that Natural Born Killers relies on a clichéd, formula driven plot that is pure bare-bones. No wonder original screenwriter Quentin Tarantino removed his name from the screenplay credits. The tired morality tale of the media distorting the facts and telling so many lies had been flogged to death by 1995, and the film unloads all of its belongings on the table half an hour in, leaving the audience to sit in bafflement at the possible coding behind all of the visual symbols delivered by Stone in the remainder of the film. If Stone had kept the visual indulgence to a level of five, the film might have worked. Also, it seems highly unbelievable that Mickey and Mallory would be allowed to write letters to each other in jail, let alone be housed in the same prison.
Production wise, the film is first-rate, which suggests why the film has garnered a strong fan-base. Despite the violent content and the controversy, however, you have to argue that the film has been severely criticised because ultimately it fails to show any point to its purpose, and a lesser film watcher could easily argue it to being gratuitous rubbish (and there is a strong case for this).
Considering the Region 1 version isn't anamorphic and the abundant use of different colour schemes and film processes for Natural Born Killers, the anamorphic PAL transfer is fantastic, and the vivid colour tones and stark imagery are superbly complemented by a tremendous video presentation.
Presented solely in a 5.1 mix, the surround mix is very acceptable, considering that at times Stone employs multi-soundtracks and a chaotic approach to the sound mix, but it never becomes annoying due to the spatial separation presented by the mix.
Menu: A chaotic, moving menu with a rocking soundtrack that ties in nicely with the film.
Packaging: Transparent amaray casing, keeping the same front artwork as the Region 1 director's cut version, with chapter listings displayed on the reverse of the inlay card. Ignore the fact that the casing states the film's running time at one hundred and twenty one minutes, as the film is actually one hundred and sixteen minutes.
Oliver Stone Commentary: Considering the somewhat absurd plotting and convention-breaking that is employed in Natural Born Killers, Oliver Stone's commentary is fascinating listening, as he explains the thinking behind some of his more bizarre moments in the film. Stone is becoming one of the best directors with regards to commentaries, and has recorded them for most of his films. The commentary has relatively few pauses, and Stone is one of those people where he is better without the company of someone else.
Chaos Rising - Documentary: A twenty six minute documentary, that lightly touches the surfaces of the film's controversy and features all of the cast and crew defending the film and showing their appreciation of it. It would have been more interesting had the documentary had gone further and showed some of the copycat murder cases and given Oliver Stone a harder time defending his film. In short, this documentary does nothing but feel like a promotional featurette.
Alternate Ending: An interesting alternate ending, with introduction by Oliver Stone, which shows Mickey and Mallory being lead away from the prison by Owen, the guardian angel, and shows an alternate fate for the duo. This ending adds more closure to the film's proceedings, and there is a strong case that it may in fact be better than chosen ending.
Deleted Scenes: Six deleted scenes are featured, each with introductions from Oliver Stone explaining why they were trimmed from the film. The most memorable scenes feature the whole of Ashley Judd's performance in the film, in which Mickey horrifically murders her inside the courtroom! There is also some scenes featuring Denis Leary and an extension of the scene with the Indian. The six scenes total just less than half an hour of extra footage.
Trailer: Not the theatrical trailer, but a minute long trailer advertising the video version of the director's cut.
Unfortunately for Natural Born Killers, the film doesn't live up to the generated publicity. It's popular amongst the Tarantino-loved teenagers, and many critics such as Roger Ebert incorrectly cite the film as a masterpiece, whereas it is in fact a gratuitous visual mess that exhausts its own message. The extras on the DVD are generally quite good, and the transfer and sound quality ensure that the Region 4 version is the essential purchase for this film.
Recommended R4 retailers: EzyDVD, DVDCrave