Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-ray Review: TRUE ROMANCE

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Michael Reuben, May 16, 2009.

  1. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    [​IMG]
    True Romance (Blu-ray)

    Studio: Warner (Morgan Creek)
    Rated: Unrated (original release: R)
    Film Length: 121 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
    HD Encoding: 1080p
    HD Codec: VC-1
    Audio: English Dolby True HD 5.1; English DD 5.1; French DD 5.1
    Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish; French
    MSRP: $28.99
    Disc Format: 1 50GB
    Package: Keepcase
    Theatrical Release Date: Sept. 10, 1993
    Blu-ray Release Date: May 26, 2009


    Introduction:

    I thought all film fans already knew True Romance, but when my friend and colleague, Adam
    Gregorich, sent me the review disc, he mentioned that he'd never heard of it - and Adam is no
    amateur. Maybe the film is still only a "cult" classic. I know some of you know it well (at least
    one HTF member has an image from it in his signature), but for those who know little or nothing,
    here's the deal: This is a great film and a great Blu-ray, and I'm going to try to intrigue you
    without giving away too many plot details, which are way more fun if you discover them for
    yourself.

    True Romance was released in September 1993, and it was ahead of its time. The script came
    from that pop culture junkie Quentin Tarantino, but this was before he was famous. With just one
    film to his credit (Reservoir Dogs), he'd had enough success to instill confidence, but not so
    much that he'd become weighted down by the burden of being a cinema icon, as happened in the
    latter half of the nineties. The script for True Romance displays all the verbal dexterity, allusive
    exuberance and casual indifference to conventional plotting that would so thrill audiences a year
    later in Pulp Fiction, but would vanish for almost ten years until Kill Bill. (I like Jackie Browne,
    but it's a low-key affair.)

    And who should latch onto this high-voltage material but Tony Scott, one of the slickest and
    most commercial directors in Hollywood. It's easy to forget, after all these years, that before
    Scott made his name with studio blockbusters like Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop II, he debuted
    on the American scene with a high-concept art film about lesbian vampires called The Hunger. In
    True Romance you can almost hear Scott chuckling as he gleefully polishes every curlicue of
    eccentricity in Tarantino's pop-trash script. It didn't hurt that Tarantino's ornately profane
    dialogue attracted an acting ensemble of a calibre seldom rivaled before or since.


    The Feature:

    I had to come all the way from the highways and byways of Tallahassee, Florida to
    Motor City, Detroit to find my true love. If you gave me a million years to ponder, I
    would never have guessed that true romance and Detroit would ever go together. And to
    this day, the events that followed all seem like a distant dream. But the dream was real
    and was to change our lives forever.

    Alabama

    Clarence Worley (Christian Slater, still in his heartthrob phase) and Alabama Whitman (Patricia
    Arquette, never lovelier or more alluring) are a young couple who meet in wintry Detroit and
    instantly fall in love. They're not Bonnie and Clyde, nor are they Kit and Holly from Badlands.
    But they remind you of both, and of every other doomed outlaw couple that has ever wandered
    the American landscape.

    In Jailhouse Rock he was everything rockabilly's about. I mean, he IS rockabilly. Mean,
    surly, nasty, rude. In that movie he couldn't give a fuck about nothing except rockin' and
    rollin', living fast, dying young and leaving a good-looking corpse.

    Clarence


    Appropriately for a movie scripted by Tarantino, the young lovers first meet in a movie theater
    showing a triple feature starring martial arts legend Sonny Chiba. Their courtship continues at a
    comic book store. It would spoil the fun to reveal any more, but let's just say that the relationship
    is both complicated and magnificently simple in its intensity. And despite outward appearances,
    Clarence is not an ordinary man. For one thing, he has an unseen "Mentor", who looks and
    sounds just like Elvis (Val Kilmer, in a sly impersonation) and can be counted on for sage advice
    in the most difficult circumstances.

    Have a seat, boy. Grab yourself a eggroll. They got everything here from a diddled-eyed
    joe to damned if I know
    .
    Drexl

    But before their love can fully take flight, Clarence and Alabama have to deal with Drexl, a
    vicious small-time hoodlum played by Gary Oldman in perhaps the most eccentric performance
    of a career studded with eccentric performances. (Blink and you'll miss Samuel L. Jackson as
    one of Drexl's associates; the voice gives him away.) Without their intending it, the encounter
    with Drexl leaves Clarence and Alabama in possession of a suitcase full of cocaine, and they
    hightail it out of town. Before leaving, though, they stop to say goodbye to Clarence's father
    (Dennis Hopper), a former cop now working as a security guard. Mr. Worley checks with his old
    police contacts and says that the young couple appears to be in the clear. Naturally, they don't
    mention the suitcase.

    I'm the Anti-Christ. You got me in a vendetta kind of mood. You tell the angels in heaven
    you never seen evil so singularly personified as you did in the face of the man who killed
    you
    .
    Vincent Coccotti

    Entire suitcases of cocaine can't go missing without someone noticing. Drexl's superiors are hard
    upon Clarence's and Alabama's trail, and they arrive at Mr. Worley's door in the person of
    Vincent Coccotti (Christopher Walken) and a team of thugs, including Virgil (a pre-Sopranos
    James Gandolfini). The face-off between Walken and Hopper as Coccotti and Worley is a
    legendary scene: nerve-wracking, cringe-inducing, funny and ultimately horrifying. It's like one
    of those great Hitchcock scenes that retains its punch even after multiple viewings. It's worth the
    price of admission all by itself.

    We now return to Bullitt already in progress.
    Clarence

    Unaware that they're being pursued, Clarence and Alabama arrive in Los Angeles, where
    Clarence meets up with his childhood friend, Dick Ritchie (Michael Rapaport), who is trying to
    make it as an actor and is currently up for a bit part on the series T.J. Hooker (his tryout is
    hilarious). Dick lives with a stoner roommate named Floyd (Brad Pitt, showing how the right
    actor can make a small role a memorable scene-stealer). Clarence presses Dick to put him in
    touch with someone in Hollywood to whom he can sell the entire suitcase of coke for one big
    score, after which he and Alabama can leave for Mexico. With great reluctance, Dick introduces
    Clarence to Elliot Blitzer (Bronson Pinchot), a member of Dick's acting class. Elliot's day job is
    as an assistant to a big-time producer, Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubinek), who is the kind of player
    that can afford and might want a suitcase full of premium coke at a discount price. (The character
    of Donowitz is said to have been based on producer Joel Silver.)

    Now the first time you kill somebody, that's the hardest. I don't give a shit if you're
    fuckin' Wyatt Earp or Jack the Ripper. Remember that guy in Texas? The guy up in that
    fuckin' tower that killed all them people? I'll bet you green money that first little black
    dot he took a bead on, that was the bitch of the bunch.

    Virgil

    Just as Clarence seems to have everything lined up, trouble comes calling. One of Coccotti's
    thugs, Virgil (Gandolfini), catches up with Alabama at the motel where she and Clarence are
    staying.The scene that follows is one of the most brutal in the film (and one of the principal
    scenes that had to be trimmed to get the film an R rating). Upping the ante, two local cops (Tom
    Sizemore and the late Chris Penn) learn of the impending drug deal and pressure Elliot into
    becoming their informant. They send him wired into the hotel suite where the buy is to take place
    and wait in a nearby room with a squad of cops. The producer, Lee Donowitz, has his own
    heavily armed security team, and as if that weren't enough artillery, the rest of Coccotti's thugs
    arrive on the scene after a memorable conversation with Floyd the stoner and burst into the suite
    just after the cops do. The result is the most dramatic Mexican standoff since The Good, the Bad
    and The Ugly.


    If there's one thing this last week has taught me, it's better to have a gun and not need it
    than to need a gun and not have it.

    Clarence

    The ensuing mayhem is by turns comical, horrific and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful. It also leads
    to the film's conclusion, over which Tarantino and Scott fought, in a friendly way that is more
    fully explored in the special features. And, like the rest of True Romance, the ending is utterly
    over the top and unbelievable, because the film never pretends to be realistic. It exists in an
    alternate fairy tale universe that feels familiar because it is constructed out of the great collective
    unconscious of pop culture junk food: of kung fu movies and comic books, western movies and
    gangster films, rebels without causes and whores with hearts of gold, Elvis the King and rockers
    striking a pose. We all know this world, and at one time or another, we've all felt its seductive
    pull. True Romance invites us to live there for two hours with a pair of the hottest young lovers
    around.

    I like you, Clarence. Always have. Always will.
    The Mentor

    And what tour guides we have. Only a screenwriter of Tarantino's originality and brashness
    would stop the action during a deadly encounter between a lead character and a hitman to let the
    hitman (the hitman!) deliver a long speech about what it's like to accustom oneself to murdering
    people (an excerpt is quoted above). Only a director of Scott's confidence and skill would not
    only keep the speech, but also use it to build even more tension into the scene. And only an actor
    of Gandolfini's quality (and remember: he was virtually unknown then) would seize the
    opportunity to wrap his tongue with such delight around every syllable of this choice dialogue,
    giving it that special mixture of brutality and raw charm that he would perfect, some years later,
    in the character of Tony Soprano.

    That's only one scene. There are many others.

    . . . you're so cool, you're so cool, you're so cool . . .
    Alabama

    Video:

    Like the laserdisc and the previous DVDs, the Blu-ray contains the unrated director's cut. Is it
    demo material? That depends on your definition. Unlike such recent Tony Scott extravaganzas as
    Man on Fire, True Romance wasn't filmed with saturated colors that pop off the screen and
    make people drool over HT equipment. The visual scheme is subtler and more clever. For the
    first hour of the film set in Detroit, the color scheme is grayish and muted; the air is often hazy,
    whether with cigarettes indoors or with steam or smoke belching from chimneys and grates
    outdoors. As soon as Clarence and Alabama head west, the image brightens considerably, but
    even then it always retains a degree of filtered softness and haze. How could it be otherwise
    when the road that these two lovers are traveling is as much a dreamscape as a landscape? Right
    until the end, Clarence is getting advice from his imaginary mentor, Elvis, whose face we never
    see except deeply out of focus.

    For True Romance, Scott and cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball created the visual equivalent of
    the private inner world that Clarence and Alabama share and that briefly envelops everyone they
    encounter, for good or ill (mostly the latter, since true romance is a powerful, destructive force).
    Nothing ever looks quite real, but if you pay attention to almost any frame in which Alabama
    appears, she will usually be the most vivid thing in it.

    So what does this mean for the video image? When the film starts, you may be tempted to say,
    "Meh!", because the image doesn't leap off the screen and shout, "Look at me!" But as the film
    progresses, you should start noticing the wealth of tiny details: Alabama's jewelry, the individual
    links in the chain around Clarence's neck, the elaborate make-up that transformed Gary Oldman
    into Drexl. Then there's the rock-solid steadiness of the image during the rapidly edited eruptions
    of violence - scenes that hold up better on this Blu-ray than any other video version to date,
    because it conveys enough visual information for the cuts to make as much narrative sense as
    they did when I saw the film projected theatrically.

    I've seen every video version of this film since laserdisc, and, to paraphrase Walken's Don
    Vincenzo, if you know them like you know your own face, you can't be fooled: This is a great
    transfer.


    Audio:

    True Romance was released in Dolby Stereo, and thankfully the 5.1 presentation created for
    DVD didn't mess with the original mix. It remains front-centered, and the surrounds are used
    primarily to open up the sound, particularly the music score with its eclectic selection of pop
    songs and Hans Zimmer's Latin-inflected score. The Dolby TrueHD on this Blu-ray does well by
    the score, which sounds richer and fuller than any version I've heard so far. This is particularly
    important during the climactic shootout, when the mournful tones of Zimmer's score need equal
    weight with the thunder of gunfire. It's a carefully balanced mix, and the TrueHD maintains the
    balance beautifully.


    Special Features:

    All of the special features come from the 2002 two-disc special edition DVD, which was apparently
    not reviewed at HTF. Some features from that special edition have been omitted; the omissions
    are listed below. There are no new features, and none of the features have been given any special
    Blu-ray treatment. The disc has not been encoded for BD Java.

    To expedite the posting of this review, I have not spent the additional time to go back and listen
    anew to the three feature-length commentaries. But each of them is worth a listen.

    Commentary by Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette.

    Commentary by director Tony Scott.

    Commentary by screenwriter Quentin Tarantino.

    Selective scene commentary by Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt and Michael
    Rapaport:
    These are short commentaries, from app. five to thirty minutes each, set against
    individual scenes featuring each of these actors. It's a format that I wish other DVD producers
    would try. Because each commentator has a relatively short time, he brings out his best stories
    immediately and doesn't save anything for later. Kilmer is quite funny talking about how he
    ended up as such a spectral presence in the film (in full Elvis make-up, he says, he looked like a
    transvestite), and Pitt talks about being considered for the lead but saying he just didn't "get" the
    story. He was intrigued enough by working with Tony Scott to talk the small role of Floyd (for
    reasons that can't be explained without spoilers), which, thanks to Pitt's interpretation, has
    become iconic. (Floyd's honey bear bong is now sold in head shops.)

    Alternate ending with optional commentary by Tony Scott and Quentin Tarantino. Let's
    proceed here with caution. Tarantino wrote one ending, but Scott decided that it didn't fit with
    the film as he was making it and asked for a different one. He assured Tarantino the change
    wasn't for crass commercial reasons but because the story demanded it, and the two agreed that
    Scott would shoot both endings. Today, even Tarantino agrees that Scott's ending is the right one
    for the film that Scott made. Though Tarantino would have made the whole film differently, he
    likes Scott's version.

    Above all, do not watch this until you've seen the film. You have been warned.

    Deleted/extended scenes with optional director commentary (29:02). There are eleven in all,
    many of which are extensions of existing scenes. Video quality varies, and although the scenes
    have been formatted to fill the width of the HDTV screen, the resolution appears to be no better
    than standard definition. By and large, a comparison of these scenes to the finished film
    demonstrates the virtues of crisp editing.

    Original 1993 featurette (5:35) (SD). Standard promotional stuff, but worth it just to note who's
    featured and who isn't. Today, Tarantino would be front and center talking a blue streak. In 1993
    no one thought to put him on camera. But Scott does say that it was the quality of the script that
    allowed him to assemble such an amazing cast, and Walken comments that the scene he's just
    finished is "Elizabethan in its complexity" (which it is).

    Behind-the-scenes interactive featurette (5:33, main feature; app. 18:00, supps.) (SD) (spoilers
    galore!). This is a making-of, with some of the footage marked for branching when a heart
    symbol appears on screen. It had the same arrangement on the DVD. It contains much on-set
    footage, some of it quite interesting, but only if you know the scenes being filmed.

    Theatrical trailer. Like the deleted scenes, it's presented across the entire screen, but the
    resolution is standard definition. It's a great trailer. It's the one that made me want to see the film
    when it was first released, but apparently not many others felt the same way.

    What's missing: Although the disc jacket lists an "animated photo gallery", I couldn't find it
    anywhere on the Blu-ray. That feature does appear on disc 2 of the 2002 DVD special edition;
    it's a series of publicity and on-set stills that play as a slide show. Also included on the 2002
    DVD but omitted from the Blu-ray: two TV spots; cast and crew bios; trailers for other Morgan
    Creek titles; and (via DVD-ROM) screenplay with storyboards and production notes.

    To me, the truly significant omission is the director's storyboard track that displayed Scott's
    hand-drawn storyboards accompanying the film; this was set up as a subtitle track and should not
    have required substantial additional space on the Blu-ray. Its omission is puzzling.


    Final Thoughts:

    The vibrant landscape of pop detritus that Clarence and Alabama inhabit was one that Tarantino
    would shortly make even more mythic in Pulp Fiction, for it is much the same world inhabited
    by Vincent and Jules, Marcellus Wallace and Winston Wolfe. But in True Romance, that world is
    seen through the eyes of a true romantic. One doesn't usually think of Tony Scott in such terms;
    his customary image is that of a macho man who makes loud films with big hardware, and True
    Romance
    has its share. But this unusual collaboration produced a truly unique film of both raw thrills
    and surprising emotional depth -- and now it's been given its best video presentation ever.


    Equipment used for this review:

    Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (Dolby TrueHD decoded internally and output as analog)
    Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
    Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
    Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
    Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
    Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
    Velodyne HGS-10 sub​


    Edited by Michael Reuben - 7/22/2009 at 03:19 pm GMT
     
  2. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    You just reminded me how many times I've bought this. And I'll be adding one more to that tally on May 26. [​IMG]

    Thanks for the review, Michael!
     
  3. Neil Middlemiss

    Neil Middlemiss Producer
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    Terrific review, Micheal. Great film too.
     
  4. Brent M

    Brent M Producer

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    Must buy!!! [​IMG]
     
  5. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

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    Nice review, Michael. I was a little concerned about this transfer given the style of the film - especially in Detroit. Thanks for assuaging my fears.

    I'm pretty sure I've owned every home video release of this film and it looks like I'll be adding another copy to the collection.

    - Walter.
     
  6. MatS

    MatS Screenwriter

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    I've read a lot of "noise" from other sites and am now glad to hear some real perspective and good news

    I have this on order from WB's B2GO sale and am much more relieved with my purchase having read the above
     
  7. EricW

    EricW Cinematographer

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    this is the only early Tarantino movie i still like after all these years. glad to hear the transfer is at least decent. looking forward to getting this.
     
  8. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    There's been no DNR that I could detect; so there's visible film grain. And there's the constant presence of smoke and haze, whether from visible sources in Detroit or from smog in L.A. I could see how someone who doesn't know the film might mistake this for "noise", but it isn't.

    Scott says in one of the featurettes that True Romance doesn't look like his other films, and he's right. He went back to the clean, glossy look in his next film Crimson Tide, and he's pretty much stayed with it every since.
     
  9. urbo73

    urbo73 Stunt Coordinator

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  10. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    The Blu-ray.com reviewer and I start from different understandings of how the film is supposed to look. I don't claim to have the definitive word, but if you read both reviews, my experience with the film does go back further.

    Also, I wasn't able to find what equipment the reviewer was using, which can often account for differences in evaluation of image quality.
     
  11. Richard Gallagher

    Reviewer

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    I've never known Michael Reuben to steer anyone wrong.
     
  12. MatS

    MatS Screenwriter

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    just to clarify Michael
    when I said "noise" I meant chatter/complaining/etc from people at other forums (I'll let you guess one in particular)
    "noise" was not in reference to specific elements of the PQ
     
  13. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Got it. For reasons I'm sure I don't have to explain, the PQ sense of "noise" is always uppermost in my mind when wearing a reviewer hat, especially given the Blu-ray "grain" controversies. I should have realized you meant the other kind. [​IMG]
     
  14. urbo73

    urbo73 Stunt Coordinator

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    Agreed. I trust this site more. My point was similar to Mr. RAH's point r.e. reviews of Blu-ray discs. If one is not familiar with the film to have a reference point, a picture quality review becomes very subjective. That's all.
     
  15. Sam Posten

    Sam Posten Moderator
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    LAdies and gentlemen, THAT is how you review a film. Bravo.
     
  16. Adam Gregorich

    Owner

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    And yes, I will be blind buying this. Thanks Michael! [​IMG]
     
  17. Michel_Hafner

    Michel_Hafner Supporting Actor

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    And deservedly so. Oversmoothed.
     
  18. Bryan^H

    Bryan^H Producer

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    Seriously? Seeing Kill Bill 1 in the theaters was one of my favorite film experiences...ever. That being said, True Romance is probably my second favorite Tarantino movie, and I look forward to picking this puppy up[​IMG]
     
  19. EricW

    EricW Cinematographer

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    not counting KB1... when i said 'early' i'm talking Reservoir Dogs, Pulp, Dusk til Dawn, etc. dialogue is just too thick.
     
  20. Bryan^H

    Bryan^H Producer

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    Oh, somehow I completely missed the "early" part of your post.
    Pulp Fiction still holds up for me quite well. I can still get sucked into that world the minute I start watching. Reservoir Dogs not so much any more.
     

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