Reservoir Dogs Review

As film debuts go, Tarantino's 1992 bloodbath – Reservoir Dogs – is one hell of a way to get onto the filmmaking scene. One million dollars and the backing of Harvey Keitel ensured that over a decade later the name Quentin Tarantino would evoke mass hysteria and endless quotations. Yes, this little, very much under the radar film would shoot a self-confessed film geek to the heights of stardom…

Set in an abandoned warehouse in the aftermath of a heist that cataclysmically backfired on an ensemble of petty criminals, they soon begin to suspect foul play. Who set them up? Why did they police turn up on the scene, as if on cue, as they tried to flee? The four remaining men – Mr White, Mr Orange, Mr Blonde and Mr Pink – have aliases to protect their real identities, yet in this ever-increasing climate, all boundaries will be crossed. Is one of the survivors the betrayer?

Such a simple setup (and also, one may comment, a setup designed to keep the budget down) is a haven for character development to flourish. Instead of opting for a bombastic and visceral heist sequence, we never actually see in full what happened – only the odd flashback of characters running from the police are fed to the viewer, and it actually strengthens the film. Sure, Michael Mann's Heat may prove that action-packed set-pieces can be undertaken, but here Tarantino shows maturity: by focusing on the people, and not the event, it slowly draws the viewer in.

Soon 'Nice Guy Eddie' will be proving he doesn't live up to his moniker, as since he was in charge of setting up the heist, he wants answers. His father, ruthless Joe Cabot, is on his way down to the warehouse, and one way or the other the truth will come out. Is there really an undercover policeman in the group? Or is it just paranoia created by a traumatising event?

As a screenwriter, Tarantino is unrivalled in the modern-day world of pop culture and the ability to place a finger firmly on the pulse of civilisation. He knows what can be deemed 'cool', how characters in such a situation may think or act, and perhaps it is a realism that exists in Reservoir Dogs that makes it what it is. Pointless banter, vanity, brutality and wit all run underneath and through the film – and equate to immense satisfaction. He was also incredibly lucky to be offered the chance to direct his first screenplay, but now it seems that the film studio were lucky to find the babbling, video store clerk in their offices – for his direction is just as astute and accomplished as his writing ability. Managing to create a sense of atmosphere in the aforementioned warehouse, Tarantino weaves together a series of flashbacks strung together in his usual 'chapter' style (think title card), along with scenes containing action. Gunshots, pain and finesse are all pleasingly recreated on screen.

The performances are solid across the board, with Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth and Steve Buscemi all shining in particularly. Keitel takes on the role of the father figure – which at least allows for the audience to feel some sympathy towards his otherwise bitter and corrupt character. Considering he was the one to get the project off the ground, with Tarantino's script being flaunted around studios with his high-profile name attached, it is good to see he can also justify his support by turning in a good performance as Mr White. Roth flies the flag for us Brits by grimacing and contorting through the duration, thanks to a rather unpleasant bullet-shaped hole in his stomach. And for more comical proceedings, Buscemi turns in another prized weasel performance as that little, irritating irk that you just want to punch in the face…thankfully, one of the antagonists complies with our wishes.

Backed up by a funky '70s retro soundtrack, Reservoir Dogs was the '90s definition of cinema cool. A hot new talent, engaging script and superb execution resulted in not only the birth of a filmmaking legend but also the recollection of infamous scenes and endless quotations. Who can forget the immortal line "OK ramblers, let's get rambling", followed by that scene of a group of black suited men cruising across the camera, complete with groovy background music? And that is just one example of the irrefutable charm of Reservoir Dogs…

The Disc
Over here in the UK, the film made its name mostly by late night screenings at more obscure cinemas. Brilliant word of mouth slowly grew into a snowball of epic proportions: and nowadays Reservoir Dogs is very well-known…so hopefully Momentum will honour the film's legacy by providing us R2 consumers with a solid DVD. Read on to find out if that is the case.

The menus are animated well with various clips from the film displayed on-screen, along with Harry Nilsson's toe-tapping and very infectious Coconut being played in the background. They are easy to navigate.

It is very evident that Momentum has put a lot of work into this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, as it is very sharp and free from artefacts throughout. Colours are defined well, with blood looking very red on-screen, and there is visible distinction throughout between the various hues. All in all, the print is free from dust and grain, which has been reproduced very well on DVD: who would have thought this had a budget of just $1 million?

Unfortunately, the video strengths cannot be replicated in the audio department. Although the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundtrack may be good enough to present the dialogue in crisp and clear form, but the ambience that this film could possess through playing the music through the rear channels and having an active soundstage full of gunshots and other assorted effects, is wasted. An enveloping 5.1 mix is definitely needed here, hence the score…but, one must add that the stereo soundtrack is the film's original and authentic mix – purists would no doubt therefore want a remastered 5.1 soundtrack and the original 2.0 soundtrack.

The main treat present is a 9-minute introduction to the film by writer/director/actor Quentin Tarantino, who explains some of the points about Reservoir Dogs – coming across as a good guy, very knowledgeable and in control. Although to the casual observer the extra may come to an end after 9 minutes, there is actually a 25-minute version in existence…on the disc! The extra footage is hidden as an easter egg, and can be accessed by going to the Special Features screen, then hitting left on the arrows: an ear will be highlighted, and upon pressing Enter, the secret will be revealed. The extended version is even better, of course, with more covered.

The only other extra on the disc is the theatrical trailer, which is good to see, purely for nostalgic reasons!

Reservoir Dogs is a superb, genre-defining film that, over a decade later, still carries the same impact and ingenuity that it possessed on its original release. Endlessly rewatchable, quotable and enjoyable, this is a perfect choice to buy on DVD…although the disc itself isn't too great. The video is solid, but the audio is slightly lacking, and the amount of extras included leave a lot to be desired. Sure, the QT interview is pleasing, but there is nothing else to inform the many fans that the film possesses.

Recently, a R1 2-disc collector's edition was released with a plethora of features and a 5.1 soundtrack (plus very stylish artwork!) – and that might seem like the obvious choice, if it weren't for some missing dialogue that has been inexplicably cut from the release. The original Artisan R1 release didn’t suffer this fate, so why this has happened escapes me.

The addition of a slightly worse transfer than this R2 version leaves us consumers with a quandary: more extras, a 5.1 soundtrack and better artwork vs. this release of a better transfer, authentic stereo audio and no missing dialogue…for those who want their films intact and presented in the best possible manner, go for this release. For those who demand insight into the production and a more bombastic soundstage (which I would have liked for this release), then shop over the Pond.

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