Blu-ray Review: FROM DUSK TILL DAWN - Tarantino/Rodriguez's Slice of Cult Pie

From Dusk Till Dawn is split roughly down the middle, the former half tinged with the acerbic, dialogue heavy signature of Tarantino’s writing; the latter with the squeamish, image-driven inclination of Rodriguez’ directing.

There€™s something oddly giddy about From Dusk Till Dawn from the outset, probably attributed to the amalgam of styles from the pairing of genre messiah Quentin Tarantino (who penned the picture, and stars in a supporting capacity) and Marmite-like director Robert Rodriguez; let€™s be honest, you either love him or you hate him. Some believe him to be a master at toeing the line between style and substance, while others tote him as a shameless hack €“ a poor man€™s Tarantino. Sure he€™s made some shaky career choices since, but From Dusk Till Dawn remains an early flash of cinematic aptitude in a flourishing directorial career. It begins as a Natural Born Killers-esque road movie from the perspectives of two brothers, Seth and Richie Gecko (George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino), as they flee to Mexico to escape punishment for a string of murders. Realising that subversion is their best tactic for surviving the border police, they kidnap a family €“ the Minister Jacob (Harvey Keitel) his young daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis) and his adopted son Scott (Ernest Liu) €“ using their family R.V to smuggle themselves out of America. They finally arrive at the Titty Twister; a dive strip joint in the middle of the Mexican wilderness at which the Gecko brothers have arranged to meet their contact and ticket into the fabled criminal promised land of El Ray. This drawn out first act reeks of Tarantino. The dialogue scenes are long and satisfying, with exchanges that crackle with a constant energy, exhibiting a prodigious talent for character driven story that has since elevated him to the level of cult icon. However, the shorter but more carnage driven second and third acts bring Rodriguez into full frame and become more about the fast paced, gore splattered action than thoughtful character development. The Titty Twister is more than just a bar; it€™s also a haven for Vampires who feed on the drifting Bikers and Truckers that frequent the place. It acts as a sort of purgatory for the ensemble cast, most of whom in their own ways have had dealings with sin. They must survive the undead assault as the film indicates, from dusk untill dawn. This is one of Clooney€™s earliest Hollywood leading man roles and as you well know he€™s since become something of a fixture for better or worse. He flies off the screen as Seth Gecko, clearly lapping up the opportunity to flex his acting muscles and his roguish take on this dark antihero is undoubtedly a factor in his rise to super-stardom (as well as many an unmentioned damp patch in the audience). Tarantino himself backs Clooney up as Seth€™s younger brother Richie. Where Seth is instantly likeable despite his aggressive personality, Richie is a nauseating sex offender with a taste for rape and murder. It€™s not a nice role to play, but Tarantino has a creepy air of misunderstood brilliance about him in reality that works well channelled into a character like this. Keitel brings his usual level of excellence to Jacob, the faithless Minister who€™s traveling to Mexico to escape the painful memory of his wife€™s death. He€™s brimming with an ocean of forlorn willpower and Keitel does a great job of always seeming ready to smack someone as hard as possible, but just managing to hold back. Keitel€™s been a fan of Tarantino€™s since Reservoir Dogs, when a copy of the script serendipitously found its way onto his desk. He actually called a then unknown Tarantino to personally request involvement in the production. That said, it€™s no surprise to see him here but his inclusion in the cast is nevertheless more than welcome. While Scott, the adopted Chinese son, is something of a non-event and unknown actor Ernest Lui plays him without much in the way of believability, his sister Kate seems to inadvertently steal the show thanks to an impressive performance from Julliette Lewis. Despite having very few actual lines in From Dusk Till Dawn, Lewis€™ cool, collected delivery of a damsel-not-so-in-distress somehow pulls the focus of the entire movie onto her toward the third act climax. Appearing in tertiary roles are the gore guru himself Tom Savini as Sex Machine and blaxploitation favourite Fred Williamson as the Vietnam-vet Frost. These characters are both relatively two-dimensional, unimportant to the actual story but they serve to enhance the latter acts grindhouse tone that takes hold immediately upon arrival at the Titty Twister. I have to admit I don€™t think From Dusk Till Dawn would be anywhere near as good if it wasn€™t written by Tarantino. Rodriguez grindhouse sensibilities are second to none no doubt, but it€™s not the gore-drenched Vampire B-movie aspect that makes this film so interesting. Usually, three-dimensional characters aren€™t the primary concern of a grindhouse picture and even protagonists have a similar lack of depth to Sex Machine or Frost. In misleadingly starting the narrative in the more intimate setting and tone of a road-kill movie, Tarantino allowed himself room to develop the central characters into people we actually care about (or are disgusted by in equal measure). By the time we get to the actual carnage, a character€™s demise actually has an emotional repercussion, rather than just appearing as another gore touting set-piece €“ although they do serve that end as well. This isn€™t a movie for everyone; if your favourite film is Legally Blonde then it€™s not exactly going to whet your appetite (and also, shame on you). But what€™s undeniable is that From Dusk Til Dawn managed to evoked an unprecedented volume of nerdgasmic joy around its 1996 release and this sleek stylish Blu-Ray renovation is only going to maximise the effect. It€™s not quite up to the standards that both Tarantino and Rodriguez have reached since (with Grindhouse, their double feature, as the pinnacle of their partnership in my honest opinion) but it€™s most definitely a worthwhile Blu-Ray purchase for fans of tongue in cheek, but well characterized B-movie style.

Quality

From Dusk Till Dawn hasn€™t received the finest visual transfer that I€™ve seen on Blu-ray; there are blemishes from time to time and grain can become visually noisy in some of the darker colour palettes. That said the overall clarity of the general picture often borders on astonishing. The first act actually looks the most striking €“ the desert palettes are made up of warm oranges and bleak yellows which look stunning in full 1080p with a cinematic 1.85:1 aspect ratio. With rich, but somewhat standard sound (put across in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) everything is where it should in the mix - voices front and centre, sound effects creeping around the centre edges - but it€™s far from the most immersive I€™ve heard. I found the overall presentation to be beautifully realised; its box is donned with a reworking of the classic cinematic poster, which many will have last seen on a VHS box and the menu frames a low angle animated shot of the Titty Twister that appears to have been painted onto the side of a breezeblock building. It€™s all very grindhouse and all very cool.

Extras

This release is packed with extras that actually enhance a viewer€™s understanding of the film itself as well as the overall process in its realisation. The audio commentary track is highly engrossing, voiced by Tarantino and Rodriguez themselves, providing a depth of insight into what we€™re watching. There€™s a compelling ten-minute featurette that illuminates the writer/director team (Tarantino had a more hands on approach to the usual dynamic) and their processes further, along with a selection of strangely candid outtakes and deleted scenes (commented on by Rodriguez) and a short fly-on-the-wall style montage of footage from on-set. The most exciting supplementary though is by far €˜The Art of Making a Movie€™ €“ an in depth shot for shot look at certain key moments in the film, with Rodriguez himself providing detailed analysis on the mechanics of each scene. This will undoubtedly excite and delight any who pursue Cinema further than just entertainment value. Film4 / 5 From Dusk Till Dawn is split roughly down the middle, the former half tinged with the acerbic, dialogue heavy signature of Tarantino€™s writing; the latter with the squeamish, image-driven inclination of Rodriguez€™ directing. Both mesh in a dissonant but satisfying mish-mash of tonal style that later went on to form their high profile Grindhouse double feature release. While not a patch on its spiritual successor, From Dusk Till Dawn is still an effortless fan favourite that even now refuses to be restricted by genre. Presentation3 / 5 The presentation of the unit itself is satisfactory; its box art remaining largely unchanged from its predated releases and the menu itself ascending repetition by avoiding the typical rolling video montage. There are some issues with grain and some obvious blemishes throughout but the overall audio/visual transfer is sufficiently enhanced to justify its mid-to-low range price bracket. This is the films third Blu-Ray incarnation (a lacklustre American release followed a renowned Canadian one); this European version promises to be one of the best of the bunch. Extras4 / 5 It€™s been a while since I€™ve actually been genuinely intrigued with the special features on a Blu-Ray or DVD release but From Dusk Till Dawn's Bonus content piqued my interest from the outset. It€™s not that there are hours of material to wade through, it€™s the fact that what€™s here provides a high amount of insight, not only toward the film itself but toward Tarantino and Rodriguez€™ own processes too. With an in-depth commentary track by the writer and director combo; interesting featurettes; a gag reel and deleted scenes; intimate set footage and deep analysis into the construction of some key scenes, it rarely gets more candid or revealing than this. I€™d have awarded it a higher had we been presented with this HD, but unfortunately we weren€™t. Value4/5 At a mid-to-low price range this European Blu-ray release of From Dusk Till Dawn practically jumps into your shopping basket. It€™s a justifiably well-loved movie, with a decent enough audio/visual transfer that makes up for its hit and miss HD with interesting and relatable bonus content. For many, this would be a day one purchase regardless but with its wallet friendly price-tag it€™s accessible to even the not-so-hardcore fans. Overall4/5 From Dusk Till Dawn is a brilliant slice of cult pie, presented in a sleek, satisfying package with a wealth of extra knowledge to be consumed within the bonus features. There are some underlying gripes with the transfer as discussed but in general the film itself looks and sounds good enough to justify its price. A must own for baptized fans but also comes recommended to even less involved patrons. From Dusk Till Dawn is available on Blu-ray from tomorrow.
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Stuart believes that the pen is mightier than the sword, but still he insists on using a keyboard.