Get Shorty: Collector's Edition Review
Chili Palmer (John Travolta) works as a loan shark out in Miami, tired of his becoming mundane duties yet ever keeping his calm cool. When a job comes to him, involving the retrieval of $300,000 which small-time idiot, Joe Devoe (David Paymer) had gained through a fraud act he finds himself heading off to L.A. - land of the stars, where his first stop is the production office of B-movie mogul, Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman) who owes quite a considerable debt. However during their first meeting Chili immediately becomes wrapped up in discussing a movie idea, which is of all things is based upon a certain real life experience. Zimm agrees to get the project off the ground with the help of his girlfriend, Karen (Rene Russo) and they suggest casting academy award nominee Martin Weir (Danny DeVito), while Chili also tries to get his immediate job finished. Things are never going to be that easy for Chili and when one of Zimm's investors, Bo (Delroy Lindo) shows up on the scene to disrupt matters, along with Chili's old rival Ray Barboni (Dennis Farina) you can be sure that being cool is one thing that Chili has got going to rely upon.
Author, Elmore Leonard acknowledges Get Shorty as being the greatest film adaptation from any of his novels. The reason for this is that his patented dialogue has been so carefully carried over to the big screen, capturing the required essence of what makes his stories so popular. Being no stranger to Hollywood, Leonard drew upon many experiences within the industry whilst penning his novel, citing the real life Chili Palmer who was a loan shark turned private investigator as his main source of inspiration. In the end we have a feature that is fine tuned in balancing both crime and celebrity life.
Get Shorty came one year after the success of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction which started a renaissance for John Travolta, who had seen his career incredibly turn around from doing some easily forgettable films including the dreadful Look Who's Talking sequels to starring in some of the highest profile films of the last ten years, including John Woo's Face Off and what will hopefully be the equally grand successor to this film - Be Cool. Travolta had been earmarked for the role before Tarantino's film had even hit the American shores and if that didn't show him at his best then this one did. This is Travolta's film from start to finish, no question about it and had director Barry Sonnenfeld actually got his way and cast Danny DeVito as planned in the lead role then who knows how it could have ended up. While Danny DeVito is an extremely accomplished actor it is evident onscreen that the right persona was there all along in Travolta, who deservedly picked up a Golden Globe in 1996 for his performance that plays out some wonderfully emotive scenes. If ever a definition for "cool" was needed then Travolta is simply it. With DeVito busy at the time he took on producer's duty, taking a small but memorable role as the man who would in fact play Chili in a film within the film. With Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Dennis Farina (in an often scene stealing performance), Delroy Lindo and James Gandolfini added to the mix the film reeks the kind of sophistication intended to bring us one of the freshest films of the 90's.
Barry Sonnenfeld gives us a film that is about as much into loving movies as it is in portraying gangster lifestyles of the rich and famous. Gone are conventional clichés used in many features portraying the criminal underworld and in comes a selection of new and interesting ideas that present some lesser standing characters in a different light. Chili Palmer is after all a criminal, let that not be said but he's a likeable criminal, he's the hero of the piece. What we have here are Hollywood producers often being construed as the real criminals, with the big time gangsters thrown in to play to tighten the reigns on the story. With its varied elements of comedy and crime capers the film keeps a level head, hitting the right notes and not overstepping its mark.
As if the film doesn't succeed enough in bringing us a sharp witted tale this is all accompanied by John Lurie's tremendous styling of light jazz and blues fusion that exemplifies the film's pacing and often exuberant direction which sees some great shots under the observation of cinematographer, Don Peterman. From the opening piece to the final credits the feel good factor is ever present and in accompanying the character of Chili Palmer it works as an extra part of his study.
It's hard not to like a film that is as fully aware and alert as what we have here, a film that displays characters in a 100% suitable manner, tailor made for a cast who carry their roles with aplomb and giving us entertainment value that exceeds expectations, while underneath the surface working the joints of Hollywood and tearing away at some of its seams. Collectively Get Shorty is John Travolta and Barry Sonnenfeld's finest hour and if there's any true indication of this then it's because this is a work of real passion that respects Elmore Leonard's voice and never patronizes its audience.
It comes as no surprise that with Be Cool due to hit cinemas very soon MGM have decided to finally put out a deserving special edition release of the film. Who am I to complain though? Better late than never I say. The packaging features a very slick digi-pack (I particularly love the black finish with bullet holes on the reverse of the disc holders) that comes housed in an attractive looking slip case. Also included is a small booklet detailing a few aspects of production and for those lucky Americans you get a free ticket to go and see Be Cool - valid through March 25th 2005.
Get Shorty has been given a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation taken from a newly created High Definition master that unfortunately fails to impress as much as I’d hoped. The film always struck me as looking a little soft and here it doesn't really seem much different, which makes me wonder just how much is inherent to the original source. The transfer is very clean and flesh tones appear natural enough but one thing that bothers me is the contrast level, which appears to be unnaturally low. Both interior and exterior shots at times lack that certain vibrancy needed to highlight L.A. and Miami life, despite such a variation in colour the entire look is a little too dark. With that said detail is generally good although wide shots appear slightly soft while grain is practically non existent but Edge Enhancement once again victimises the transfer.
Four options are present for this release. On offer is English 5.1 DTS Surround, English 5.1 Surround, French 5.1 Surround and a Spanish Stereo Surround track. Sorry but it looks like the Spaniards drew the short straw.
For my viewing pleasure I decided to go with the new DTS track. While I did sample the English 5.1 Surround also I couldn't make out enough in the end to highly recommend one over the other. With the exception of one or two scenes, such as planes flying overhead both tracks remain strikingly similar, although the score does resonate that little bit better throughout the DTS option. Still, dialogue sounds the same, with both tracks struggling to give extra clarity during specific moments, with one example being when Chili is given his new ride - "The Cadillac of mini vans" with which the track concentrates more on delivering the sounds of pouring rain and failing to get a better performance out of the front speakers.
Audio Commentary with Barry Sonnenfeld
The director gives an in depth commentary that covers all bases, from purchasing the rights, making casting decisions, editing and directing and struggling to get the project off the ground for three years. Although he pauses from time to time to reflect he never runs out of worthwhile things to say. There's one very interesting (and not very surprising, all things considered) moment when he mentions how the scene in which we see a plane crash behind Leo was replaced for on-flight screening with that of a train wreck.
"Get Shorty": Look at Me
This feature takes a look at the conception of Elmore Leonard's story and has interviews with the man himself, before moving on to the character of Chili Palmer and discovering the real face behind the inspiration. From there we get interviews with John Travolta and Danny DeVito who discuss their character's parts, with Danny providing some great humour in his comments.
"Get Shorty": Wiseguys and Dolls
This is actually an extension piece to the feature mentioned above (it would have been better to keep them as one whole), which brings us interviews with Rene Russo, Gene Hackman and Barry Sonnenfeld. Like before various aspects of the characters are discussed and more interestingly Sonnenfeld explains how slow and boring he thought his film was after the editing process. Surprisingly to him, when audiences finally saw it they instantly loved the film.
The Graveyard Scene
Barry Sonnenfeld talks briefly about the scene which he had to remove from the picture. He explains that although it is a funny scene, perhaps the funniest from the whole film he had to cut it because it just didn't flow well enough, slowing down the story for which audiences can become very impatient over.
Deleted Graveyard Scene
And here is the scene itself, which shows Chili arrive on the set of a major shoot. Here he meets the camera man, amusingly played by Ben Stiller and immediately finds himself out of place as he's yet to adjust to the lifestyle, accidentally stepping on people's toes.
Barry Sonnenfeld and Danny DeVito talk about moments during the shoot where they tried a new way of bringing out a performance. Here they used up many rolls of film (which are 11-minutes in length each) and allowed them to roll on and on until the performances were perfect. We get to see some great method acting from DeVito as he gets through one of his main scenes, which is very entertaining and often downright hilarious.
"Get Shorty" Party Reel
This piece is of low grade video quality but offers some great behind the scenes activity that include some very funny outtakes.
Sneak Peek at "Be Cool"
This little featurette gives us a nice taster of things to come. Cast and Crew interviews have been made available, along with some excusive behind the scenes footage, featuring The Rock as you've never seen him before.
Page to Screen of "Get Shorty"
Hosted by actor Peter Gallagher this 2000 production takes a look at the work of Elmore Leonard, with contributions from author/critic. Martin Amis, Gregg Sutter (Leonard's researcher), Ernest "Chili" Palmer and Elmore Leonard. This is a very interesting feature, offering a good insight into the writer and the way he brings his characters to life.
This is a rather short section which has promotional shots and on-set stills.
The original theatrical trailer, complete with graveyard scene footage, yet to be excised.
Get Shorty is a thoroughly entertaining and energetic film, despite its relatively slow pace from which it actually benefits. Its characters, both good and bad are well rounded and likeable and the dialogue is sharp thanks to screenwriter, Scott Frank, who had the hard task of adapting it. At least now the film has been given the treatment it deserves, even if I may be slightly disappointed in the new transfer.