Pulp Fiction has all the time in the world. Why shouldn’t it? It’s a personal beast, Quentin Tarantino’s mob opus that is as much about violence as it is dialogue, or maybe a combination of the two. Is there another film that can turn a fast food burger into a stand-off? Rape into an act that solves personal vendettas?
Watching Pulp Fiction for the first time is celebrated in a way that’s aligned with the magic of Star Wars, only on different planes of maturity. Pulp Fiction requires more attention, demands it really, to piece together what feels like a random cluster of stories jumbled amongst themselves.
It’s special because it’s brilliant, seen through the eyes of a then up-and-comer who created their vision. Let’s face it: Pulp Fiction will be dissected and discussed for generations. Whereas other films of its era slip into obscurity, Tarantino’s lives on.
What is the draw? It’s easy to pinpoint dialogue, discussions revolving around tomato jokes, storing dead bodies, or how to use a shot of adrenaline material only coming from the mind of one person. That’s the initial pull though, the years kind to Pulp for its depth and morality play. Piecing together the film sequentially, of course taking much of the energy in the process, reveals a stable narrative that never wastes time. It just seems like it does until everything falls into place.
Pulp doesn’t adhere to any standard, wavering from the darkly comedic to the local arthouse special. This might be the artsiest film to ever break $200 million, Tarantino’s infectious use of master shots almost rebellious to the conventional standards already developing back in 1994. Finding a studio willing to spend $8 million on a concept like this seems so impossible. Marketing would be a nightmare.
This must be what happens though when you push out a masterful opening salvo in your career, Reservoir Dogs laying the groundwork for an upcoming series of iconic movie images. Travolta and Thurman dancing, Walken’s face shoved into the camera as he details a watch, sweaty close-ups of Jackson blurting bible verses, poor Marvin’s pieces, and the elongated shot of Bruce Willis staring intently as a boxing sham is laid out before him. There’s a vision here that few directors can say they have with such certainty. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Movie]
Here’s the deal with Pulp Fiction’s domestic Blu-ray: there’s edge enhancement. It’s not blatant, relegated to those light/dark contrasty areas of the image. The fault will cause some mild aliasing and some flicker on finer objects, enough to realize the whole image has undergone some manipulation that wasn’t necessary. There are certain titles that you spend the money to present correctly, and this is one of them.
However (and this is a big “however”), it’s easy to overcome. Seeing those halos tainting this transfer is inexcusable in all regards, more so for something like Pulp. Focusing on those halos, situated in a generally filtered-looking medium view, makes it easy to skip the superlative examples elsewhere. Tarantino lets the actors work, the camera regularly shoved in close. With source material that’s pristine, facial definition shines.
With a manageable bitrate, the grain structure which has almost certainly been rubbed out to a point, the AVC encode is tasked with preserving extensive, rich, high-fidelity close-ups. It does, and the end result is a sterling presentation for most of the run time. Throughout the life of this one, Marvin’s brains have never been so visible or so crisp, an aspect that is crucial to one of the film’s most memorable sequences.
With another “however,” Pulp Fiction simply doesn’t provide elsewhere. It’s desperately searching for that same capable detail when the camera pans back, yet it’s never able to find it. There’s clear signs this one was cleaned up with a little too much zest, those floor levels shots during the adrenaline sequence clearly muddy. Each scene is given a 50/50 shot as to its clarity or natural film-like state. It shouldn’t be like that… ever.
Colors are definitely boosted compared to prior home video releases, the days of that faded, bland Laserdisc so far removed it’s almost comical. Pulp Fiction has had its life force restored in a sense, active black levels also serving to push some dense dimensionality into the piece. Contrast hasn’t changed much through the years, the opening diner scene awash with weighty whites that sap a chunk of the detail with a clear purpose. Pulp Fiction could (and should) look better, but what’s here is above satisfactory, and certainly not an uncontrolled disaster like other catalog affairs. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
Music becomes a secondary character in Pulp Fiction, dominating its sonic landscape and turning silence into something that demands attention. Filled with tunes ranging from multiple styles and eras, the smooth, fidelity-rich choices blare from the stereos and mingle with the surrounds for total immersion. Jack Rabbit Slims is accompanied not only by ’50s area rock ‘n roll, but the chatter of patrons dining on their meals. The surround effect is complete and in no way exaggerated, just a comforting style that mimics such a lively restaurant.
Mixing are those moments that extend the soundstage, from a women yelling from another room at 55:50, positioned squarely in the left surround, to street level sounds that bring the winding narrative to life. Gunshots stand poised to pop from the fronts and they do, fearsome jolts that reverberate with a clarity never heard before.
Dialogue has been preserved without any fluctuation. It becomes representative of the environment, a bit spacey inside barren apartments, tightly controlled inside vehicles. Variations are subtle enough to be detected, but not enough to distract. This is a DTS-HD mix that presents the material as it should be. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]
Not the Usual, Boring, Getting to Know You Chat brings in key stars to discuss how they came into the roles and why they chose to in the first place. Travolta’s anecdotes are priceless, a fine start to this lengthy extras section. Here are Some Quick Facts on the Fiction is a critics roundtable, including one who is ho-hum on the feature, leading to lively debate on what works.
Pulp Fiction: The Facts is an older half-hour featurette on the making-of, filled with interviews and clips from various years. Six deleted scenes are hauled over from the Laserdisc and run 24:39 including the intro from Tarantino. Two behind-the-scenes montages are self explanatory, followed by a fun production design featurette. An episode of At the Movies was recorded not long after Pulp Fiction debuted, Siskel & Ebert debating Tarantino and his career up to that point.
Two bits come from the Independent Spirit Awards and another a speech recorded from the rewards ceremony at Cannes. The entire Charlie Rose show interview with Tarantino is here, an hour long, followed with marketing and still galleries. Finally, the feature can be played with a trivia track. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Extras]
2 thoughts on "Pulp Fiction Review"
I think 3/5 for the Transfer would be the perfect match. I think the same master for the DVD is used on this Blu-Ray. Pulp Fiction doesn’t look remarkable BUT it isn’t horrible and shows surprising amounts of detail.
However the new extras are the selling point for me to be interested in the Blu-Ray. As it has 2 new HD extras, [Not the Usual Mindless Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat] and [Here are Some Facts on the Fiction].
I went back and forth for a while between 3 and 4, but in the end, there’s just too much detail that the sharpening doesn’t interfere with to dock it. Usually, most sharpened discs have that really edgy appearance in close. This one doesn’t.
It does need a better master though, one with a bit more respect for the material.