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Lions Gate presents
Reservoir Dogs (15th Anniversary Edition) (1991)

"Are you gonna bark all day, little doggie, or are you gonna bite?"
- Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: November 15, 2006

Stars: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen
Director: Quentin Tarantino

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and language
Run Time: 01h:39m:28s
Release Date: October 24, 2006
UPC: 012236198376
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-BB- A+

DVD Review

So it turns out that working at a video store and watching every movie ever made turns out to be a good career move after all. A lifetime spent watching, re-watching, and talking about movies paid off in spades for Quentin Tarantino with this, his directorial debut, a film that had a titanic impact on onscreen cool and on years' worth of crime pictures, and has since become the gold standard for pop-culture-saturated dialogue. It's easy to get carried away talking about Reservoir Dogs, and in the fourteen years since its original theatrical release, Tarantino has put together a relatively modest body of work; I'd probably argue that he peaked with Pulp Fiction, and has been kind of spinning his wheels ever since. But this movie remains a crackerjack entertainment, funny and profane and violent and scary, too often imitated but never really equaled.

Tarantino embraces genre conventions, and his movie is a new incarnation of that old standby, the big heist gone bad. We come to know the characters almost exclusively by their noms de guerre, pseudonyms foisted upon them to preserve their identities should the cops capture one or more of them. Masterminding the operation is Joe (Lawrence Tierney), ably assisted by his son, Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn)—their assembled platoon includes Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), just sprung from prison; Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), who fancies himself a keen judge of character; Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), who'd love to tell you about his bona fides; and Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), whose wiry, jangly presence puts him and everybody else on edge. Tarantino never shows us the actual heist; he's devised an elaborate structure that jumps around in time, flattering his audience's intelligence while still keeping us guessing. (An obvious influence is Stanley Kubrick's The Killing.) So we know that the diamonds aren't the point, but are a convenient, necessary element of the plot—Tarantino's real passion and signature style lie elsewhere.

For starters, there's his use of violence—it's a bloody movie, all right, but the most excruciating things are left to our imagination. (When the most brutal act of torture occurs, for instance, Tarantino's camera pans over and away from the action—we're left with the images in our own minds and can hear the screams, making it seriously brutal.) And much of the violence is so outrageous that it becomes comically absurd, the comedy of onscreen sadism—on some level we know it's safe to laugh because it's fake blood that's being spewed all over the place. And going along with that is Tarantino's ear for music—he's got the best sense of pop of any director since Martin Scorsese. One of the conceits of the movie is that the same radio station, K-BILLY, is always playing, and the D.J., Steven Wright, is hosting a Super Sounds of the '70s weekend—so much of the action plays out to the goofily overproduced poppy sounds of the pre-disco era.

And then there are the cascades of language, arias on pop culture (e.g., Tarantino, as Mr. Brown, giving us his own special reading of Like a Virgin), gangster patois, and great heaping piles of profanity. Tarantino has established a house style, right down to the costumes—the fellas look slick in their black suits, white shirts, black ties—and he's assembled a stable of thoroughbreds who rip into the material. Madsen's casual sadism as Mr. Blonde is chilling—"It's amusing to me to torture a cop," he says, as he boogies down to Stuck in the Middle With You while preparing to mutilate. Tierney is a bulldog as Joe, and Penn is a pip as his son—there's something very funny about this great big tough guy chewing out his henchmen with threats about the man he refers to as "Daddy." And maybe most memorable is Buscemi, whose Mr. Pink looks forever pissed off about something petty and is going to let it eat at him. This is just as the actor was becoming an indie icon—we sometimes know now what The Steve Buscemi Part feels like, but we didn't back in the day. (Not that his work doesn't remain creditable these days.) The movie can still startle and jolt you with its language, its violence, and its cleverness, and probably always will.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Tarantino frequently makes good use of the widescreen format, which means that unless you've got a giganto television, you're likely to miss out on some nuance and facial expressions. Also, the colors seem to be a little off—there's some fading generally, and the copious amounts of blood read as more orange than crimson.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: There are some mixing problems on the soundtrack—in the diner scenes especially there's way too much ambient noise, making it tough to attend to what's being said, a particular problem here, as these bits are dialogue-driven. The songs sound crisp and sharp, at least.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Saw II, Saw III, Hard Candy, The Descent, See No Evil
5 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
12 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Quentin Tarantino, producer Lawrence Bender, executive producer Monte Hellman, editor Sally Menke, cinematographer Andrzej Sekula, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Michael Madsen, Kirk Baltz
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. critics' commentaries (see below)
  2. Tipping Guide
  3. radio clips
  4. Pulp Factoids viewer (see below)
Extras Review: This is by my count at least the third Region 1 release of this title, and you get the sense that they're just going to keep going back to the well because diehard fans are ready to continue ponying up. Also, I'm not exactly sure how this 2006 release qualifies as the 15th Anniversary Edition of a movie that came out in 1992. Be that as it may, the packaging is pretty groovy—the two-disc set is housed in a case that's a modified, flattened gas canister, and the discs themselves rest within a foldout made to look like a giant book of matches.

Tarantino is joined by a raft of his collaborators on a commentary track which is pretty well crammed with information—we learn that Tarantino wrote the part of Mr. Pink for himself, and he relates in his put-on tough guy act that he challenged Buscemi at an audition to wrestle the role away from him. Andrzej Sekula, the cinematographer, is especially interesting on working with a first-time director, one with a keen eye but who didn't yet have the chops to get across just what it was he wanted. Also available is what's called the Pulp Factoids viewer, giving the feature the old Pop-Up Video treatment—you may want to watch this in tandem with the commentary track, and it's got interesting nuggets on Tarantino's sources of inspiration and anecdotes from the actors.

Now the drooling begins, with a rash of unabashed Tarantino worshippers professing their love for this movie—it's a good film, but listening to all these folks wax rhapsodic, it's hard not to be a little embarrassed for them. Yoked together under a section called Critics' Commentaries are approximately thirty minutes each on the film from three different writers; they cover some of the same ground, so it's not quite a second commentary track. Amy Taubin's contribution is a nonstop love letter to Tim Roth, interrupted only by a few instances of her pointing out the obvious. Peter Travers talks about falling in love with the movie at Sundance, and he adores all the arcane pop culture references. And Emanuel Levy discusses principally Tarantino's soundtrack, comparing this to old RKO musicals. He also tells us that he spoke with Quentin! At Sundance, no less! Ooooooooh!

The love continues on the second disc, which starts with Playing it Fast and Loose (15m:44s) with Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News and Sharon Waxman of the New York Times, among others, getting in on extolling the movie. Profiling the Reservoir Dogs gives us four little background sketches, on Messrs. Brown, Pink, White and Blonde, which you can listen to or read, and a Tipping Guide is just a little goofy graphic riff on the opening scene.

The five deleted scenes emphasize Mr. Orange, and also provide us with two alternate takes of the ear cutting, providing almost a how-to for any unstable Vincent van Gogh types out there. Reservoir Dolls (02m:17s) re-creates the mutilation scene with the film's official action figures, sort of a bizarre tribute to Todd Haynes' masterpiece, Superstar. And a Reservoir Dogs Style Guide is all of twenty-two seconds, including brief tips on things like Maiming in Style.

Under the logo for the film's fictional radio station are a couple of great audio clips, including outtakes of Wright recording his D.J. bits, and a few words from Jerry Rafferty of Stealers Wheel, who wrote Stuck in the Middle with You. Billy Fox, the film's location scout, is front and center on Securing the Shot, and Tarantino shares the spotlight with some other members of The Class of '92 (28m:43s), directors whose movies premiered at Sundance alongside Quentin's. (These included Poison Ivy, In the Soup and The Hours and Times.) And synergy is on display with a look (03m:25s) at Reservoir Dogs: The Game.

The final section, Dedications and Tributes, is kind of a random collection. It starts with Tarantino (10m:39s) free associating about influences on his work, including Tierney, Timothy Carey and Chow-Yun Fat, and includes an appreciation of Tierney (14m:48s) with comments from Madsen, Roth and Penn, along with Tarantino. Mr. Blue, Eddie Bunker, on screen only briefly, gets more time in a featurette (08m:03s) that shows him driving around and telling stories about the old days. Also included are tributes to Monte Hellman (04m:45s), director Jack Hill (05m:49s), Roger Corman (05m:01s), and Pam Grier (02m:21s), later Tarantino's leading lady in Jackie Brown.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

Unquestionably one of the most auspicious of all filmmaking debuts and one that has an impact that still resonates, in oodles of crime pictures, pages of self-conscious dialogue and all sorts of onscreen violence, Reservoir Dogs is still a killer of a picture. Diehard fans probably have at least one of its previous DVD incarnations and this new edition probably isn’t worth another dip, but it's as good a caper movie as has been made in decades.


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