Pumpkin Puss

When Tarantino burned Nazis in Inglorious Basterds, that was vengeful catharsis, an idealist “what if.” Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tries the same, but turns into something mournful. In Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), Tarantino sees more than a tragic loss of life; the fantasy bemoans a loss of idyllic Hollywood.

By 1969, the western died. Its stars faded. Watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is equivalent to taking a final glimpse at pure Los Angeles before the sordid Manson murders broke the veil. Entire segments turn into montages. The neon, the colors, the cars, the products. That’s all bleeding late ‘60s, the camera leering at the vintage.

While longing for a specific time and a specific place, there is honesty to this work. There’s fading cowboy Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) who lives lavishly. Then, his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), coated in surgical scars and living in a trailer on a drive-in’s backlot. The sets they used to work on became a hippie commune, their old boss exploited for the land. Hollywood’s contrast between A and B players, but in transition. The fantasy, but torn down.

Watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is equivalent to taking a final glimpse at pure Los Angeles

Dalton shows up on a western set partway through. He’s now playing villains. Sitting next to him is a young actress, that next generation poised to take over and change cinema. Reading a cheap western novel, Dalton realizes it’s indirectly about him, that lawman whose time passed, still trying to make it in an industry that rejects rather than celebrates. The girl comforts him; being on these sets aged her beyond her years, even if she doesn’t fully comprehend the emotions. She’ll realize sooner when Hollywood no longer wants her around through her interactions with the old guard.

That’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s core, railing against the crude turnover that tore cinema abruptly from the post-WWII illusion and into a vicious, bloody frenzy spread from war abroad and social change at home. In that greater context, following two actors through their struggles seems pithy, but interspersed between comical encounters and depressing desperation is a forlorn tone.

There’s earnestness in treating the decade for its faults, not only the nostalgia. There’s also a parallel to the silent era, where screen stars found themselves lost when sound became the norm. Here the catalyst was vicious though, breaking through glossy fiction established by TV and screen shoot-outs with real world violence, disintegrating the glamour. Tarantino wanted one last try to preserve that artificial perfection.

Video

Appropriately, vintage lenses lend Once Upon a Time in Hollywood a classic aesthetic. While that likely bothers those looking for images matching modern sensibilities, what results is a gorgeous image stream, beautifully softened and consistent. Strong definition does show, bringing costumes, period fashion, and locations to stellar life. DiCaprio plays one role with a fake mustache, the clear imagery enough to make it visibly artificial.

This isn’t a hearty HDR showpiece either, producing purposefully flimsy black levels at times, mimicking classic film stocks. California sun does play well though, glossy and pure with striking brightness as needed. A sequence where the city’s neon comes alive while daylight fades is reference given the sizzle in those signs.

Layered with comfortable, warmer hues, saturation gives flesh tones zest. Primaries sing, exquisite and decorative in the best ways. Old Los Angeles drapes oranges and purples in droves, with greenery peeking out from trees. Beautiful stuff.

Audio

Presented in DTS-HD 7.1, this is an unexpectedly active, boomy mix. City streets feels alive, high on maintaining ambiance. Crowds keep surround channels full, as do passing cars. A marvelous sequence in a theater sends sound bouncing off walls, convincingly real.

Classic cars catch the low-end, creating heavy rumble and force as they start up. DiCaprio dons a flamethrower at multiple points with the fire intense. Plus, the soundtrack gives new life to classics, offering them full range and stretching their dynamics.

Extras

On the UHD, 25-minutes of deleted scenes come will a full HDR pass. These also appear on the Blu-ray (along with the following bonuses too). Five EPK-featurettes cover production design, costumes, cinematography, the cars, and Tarantino. They total around a half hour.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

Tarantino mourns the loss of cinema’s glossiness in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, bridging nostalgia and honesty through fiction.

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The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional 38 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 100,000+ already in our library), 100 exclusive 4K UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.