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DVD Review: Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown Collectors Editions

By Glenn Abel

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Pulp Fiction
art "I am the audience," Quentin Tarantino declares from his talk-show throne on the new "Pulp Fiction" DVD. "And I know what I want to see."

Tarantino certainly knew what moviegoers wanted back in 1994, when he followed up his ultraviolent debut, "Reservoir Dogs," with "Pulp Fiction." The movie, made for a mere $8 million, went on to gross more than $200 million worldwide, stunning the formula-fueled majors. Along the way, "Pulp" revived the sagging career of John Travolta, established Samuel L. Jackson as a marketable star of substance and blasted Tarantino into the top tier of writer-directors.

None of this carried much weight when "Pulp" first made it onto DVD. The disc's images had all the charm of an over-inked Dick Tracy strip, garish and pummeled by artless contrast. This criminal neglect is avenged -- and then some -- by Miramax's terrific two-disc release of "Pulp Fiction: Collector's Edition" (retail $29.99). (Owners of the 1998 DVD can even get some of their money back via rebate.)

Tarantino's next major work, "Jackie Brown," had no tawdry DVD past to live down. The 1997 film hasn't been available in the format until now, to the irritation of fans of Tarantino and his star, blaxploitation poster child Pam Grier. "Jackie" strikes it rich the first time out on the Collector's Edition DVD (also $29.99), decked out in handsome images and funkadelic audio. "I wanted you to salivate," Tarantino says of the delay as he introduces the feature.

Both sets are packed with extras, most worthwhile, though a lot of the material dates back to filming. The DVD sets share the same packaging, extras format and (great) menu screens. A lot of the "Pulp" extras appeared on Criterion's laserdisc, though a few recent interviews are cut in.

Tarantino's fabled resurrection of Travolta's career segued into "Jackie's" casting, with '70s soul-cinema heroine Grier and made-for-TV survivor Robert Forster as unlikely romantic leads. Tarantino insists his casting of low-profile actors in high-profile roles is no gimmick. Older actors with chops can return "fresh," he says, not just "the same people on the same list." Once Forster garnered an Oscar nomination for the film, the director notes with pride, the "Medium Cool" actor was once again on The List.

The casting of Grier (aka Foxy Brown) came out of young Tarantino's love of her 1970s pics. When Grier came in for the part, she was floored to find the director's office decorated with framed posters of her old films. Tarantino had changed Elmore Leonard's Jackie (from the source novel, "Rum Punch") from white to black in order to work with Grier. "Quentin's fascination with Pam turned into something special," co-star Jackson says.

Jackson -- who plays badass hoods in both films -- also clicks with Tarantino. "Sam says Quentin's lines better than anyone else alive," the director's partner-producer Lawrence Bender says. Tarantino adds: "Sam sings my dialogue. ... He brings the music out."

Tarantino says "Jackie" is best enjoyed with multiple viewings that allow you to "hang out" with the characters. "The first time, there's a plot in the way," he says, citing "Rio Bravo" as a kindred film. (The audience also gets to hang with Robert De Niro and Bridget Fonda, who play comfortably numb deadbeats.)

Documentaries for both films bring the usual round robins of praise for the director, but the players in particular have some insightful things to say about Tarantino. Bruce Willis calls him a "modern Charles Dickens." Uma Thurman says his gift is to put "everyday minutiae up against hyper-real drama." Jackson and Grier attest to Tarantino's street credibility, and Jackson defends both scripts' liberal use of the word nigger.

Those seeking Tarantino's take on his work and cinema in general have plenty to chew on. The director is interviewed endlessly on both DVD sets, hours of his rat-a-tat-tat rap being enough to try the patience of diehards. Some of the most interesting and coherent material comes on a pre-"Jackie" interview by Charlie Rose that appears on "Pulp." A recent interview tops the extras on "Jackie."

Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert leave their thumb print on both DVDs. The TV critics' prescient review of "Pulp" appears on that set, (they love it but dismiss "Reservoir Dogs") as well as their special on "the Tarantino Generation." They have a soft spot for "Jackie" as well. Less than enthusiastic about "Pulp" were hecklers heard in footage from Tarantino's Palme d'Or win at Cannes.

Both collections feature DVD-ROM links that lead to script/movie comparisons. The script viewer's version of "Pulp" includes scenes taken out during editing, as they would have appeared. Travolta does a lot of stunting with his lines, but they still come out Tarantino.

Deleted scenes collected on "Jackie" include a fascinating clip in which Grier's character coldly details her plans to scam both cops and crooks. The film would have a much darker tone with the scene in, the director notes.

"Pulp's" outtakes are less compelling, mostly chatter cut for quality reasons. On-the-set footage includes the shooting of Travolta's big twist-contest number with Thurman, adding a few moments of music and dance to the delicious scene. Just off camera, Tarantino twists along to Chuck Berry's "You Can Never Tell."

The celebrated soundtrack to "Pulp" sounded OK on the original DVD; here it's elevated into audiophile territory. Dick Dale's pipeline guitar gives shivers; a cover of one of Neil Diamond's old hits erects a wall of sound. "Pulp" audio options are DTS and Dolby Digital, but the mix is mostly stereo, with some tasty reverb echoes from the rear now and then. The stereo-like mix on "Jackie" is especially playful, anchored by a crackling Philly soul bottom. It, too, has DTS. Both discs allow viewers to access the many killer songs directly. For those who want more, spiffed-up soundtrack CDs for both films have just hit the shelves. (Music consultant Laura Lovelace plays a waitress in both films.)

"Pulp's" video transfer takes a while to reveal its finesse, but the images are rich in leather-booth reds and shell-shock whites. Detail such as sesame seeds on a bun pop out at times, while other scenes deliberately go with the grain. The widescreen image on both films has enhancement for 16x9 screens.

Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter

Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter

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