Blu-ray Review: PULP FICTION - A Masterpiece In Every Sense of the Word

Tarantino’s seminal crime-fiction genre movie, that shot him to super-stardom quicker than a leaked sex tape is out now on Blu-ray and it's as gritty, fresh and exciting as you remember it.

rating: 5

Strap in people, this is a big one. I€™m going to lay my cards on the table now. Any chance of real impartiality went out of the window the second I confirmed I€™d be reviewing Pulp Fiction's debut on Blu-ray in the UK. It€™s not only my favourite Quentin Tarantino movie but I also believe it to be one of the most important pieces of contemporary Cinema existing today. It€™s no secret though €“ Tarantino€™s body of work is widely regarded as one of the finest currently in Hollywood and with roughly a million billion words worth of available justification. The speed of his unprecedented ascension to €˜voice-of-a-generation€™ can surely be rivalled only by former face of popular Cinema, Orson Welles. If I were to describe Pulp Fiction with a single word it€™d be this: ballsy. Everything about Pulp Fiction is brave cinematically; from its reams upon reams upon reams of lavish dialogue to its uncompromising choice of imagery and moral context; from the purposely disjointed narrative structuring, right down to the surprisingly simple yet consistently elegant cinematography. It€™s difficult to keep track of the principals and conventions that he reshapes in Pulp Fiction and in the hands of lesser men this would have no doubt begat a jarring mess of a movie, but Tarantino seems to have such an omniscient sense of character, setting and genre here that each deviance from the rulebook is a refreshing and highly calculated directorial decision. Pulp Fiction is a series of vignettes, told in a non-linear fashion much like a serial pulp story might be received, that detail the inter-connecting lives of an L.A criminal demimonde. One follows the day to day lives of amicable mob enforcers Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), splitting off to explore Vega€™s poorly ending evening out with his boss Marsellus Wallace€™ (Ving Rhames) bohemian wife Mia (Uma Thurman). Another follows the down-and-out prize-fighter Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) as he cheats Wallace by winning a rigged fight and his subsequent search for a lost family heirloom. Another shorter vignette, which bookends the movie (and provides one of Pulp Fiction€™s most powerful scenes) covers the robbery of a diner by the Bonny and Clyde-like Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer). Despite each segment exuding its own unique tone, characters flit about each other€™s stories regularly; every aspect of Tarantino€™s world is inherently connected, albeit usually somewhere beneath the surface. Tarantino assembles such a diverse and exciting ensemble cast here that Pulp Fiction€™s characters bottleneck in the mind when attempting to discuss them. Each actor is thoughtfully and lovingly cast in roles that have sometimes been written with them specifically in mind. Travolta for example, whose career was beginning to suffer by the time that Tarantino hit the big leagues was entrusted with a role of key importance; Tarantino is a life-long fan of Travolta€™s early work and re-cast the role of Vincent Vega (originally Michael Madsen) with him in it, based on a potential he saw for greatness and with little regard to test figures or demographic studies. Similarly, despite still having to audition, the part of Jules was written to fit a much less bankable than of late Samuel L. Jackson, and he went on to deliver a performance through which he became famous for his biblical severity. These are the decisions of a true artiste; not some guy who€™s extrinsically motivated to seek fame and glory but a pioneer of modern Cinema who€™s only intrinsic commitment is to the artistic merit of his output. Bruce Willis plays the stoic Butch Coolidge with his trademark masculinity, but he€™s often surprisingly tender in certain scenes proving that he can be a damn fine actor under the right direction. His vignette, which sees him truly earn the right to own his father€™s war-time watch, plays out in such a way that we don€™t even realise it€™s a subtle redemption story until after the fact - it€™s just implanted so carefully. Uma Thurman turns the infinitely alluring Mia Wallace with a predatory grace, always appearing to be holding something back from Vincent and from the audience with the smouldering premeditation of a femme fatale. The unfolding storyline, which sees Vega teetering on inappropriate contact with his boss€™s wife (a discretion that may or may not have resulted in a fellow mobster getting thrown from a window some time outside of the plot) gets halted abruptly and swerved away from our expectations in true Tarantino fashion. The rest of the cast are all stellar; Ving Rhames seethes as Marsellus Wallace and the superb Harvey Keitel appears as criminal fix-it man Winston Wolfe, clearly relishing the chance to work with Tarantino again after Reservoir Dogs. There are also a few top notch bit part performances from the likes of Christopher Walken, Eric Stoltz, and even Tarantino himself (who always tackles his roles with such exuberance that he pops off the screen despite his obvious lack of formal training). Make no mistake, it€™s an absolutely star-studded cast and Tarantino manages to pull the very best from all of his performers. If you took a look at the script for Pulp Fiction, you€™d be astonished at the blocks of dialogue that appear throughout, sometimes spanning pages. Huge chunks of text are normally the hallmarks of an amateur screenwriter but you only have to read a couple of lines before the brilliance jumps from the page - its chock full of razor-sharp rebuttals, unique characterization and hidden exposition. There€™s never a line in Pulp Fiction that exists only to establish information to the audience. If a character speaks, then it has an effect on the scene; it€™s raising tension, exploring convention or exposing character motivation, but it manages to never stagnate. Tarantino€™s level of writing is so high in Pulp Fiction that his dialogue literally never puts a foot wrong, even when it strays massively off-topic. Despite apparently being set in our reality, Pulp Fiction permeates a strange, otherworldly tone that has to be attributed to Tarantino€™s sheer encyclopaedic knowledge of Cinema €“ every genre, every movement and most likely every film that you or I will ever see €“ and their effect on his vision as a film-maker. Indeed he wears his influences on his sleeve here (and through his other films too) but in doing so, he creates a dream-like film word that exists only in Pulp Fiction €“ almost a dimension dedicated exclusively to the denizen characters of the crime-fiction genre. I€™ve entered debates with fellow film pundits who reason that surely Tarantino isn€™t too original, his films are great as genre pictures but rarely contain little of the man himself. And right enough, Tarantino doesn€™t attempt to evoke epiphanies of the self in his audience but rather a rejuvenation of the affinity that many feel toward the genres that he explores; immediately upon watching Pulp-Fiction, I had the sudden, impossible urge to see every crime-fiction ever made. Pulp Fiction was most certainly one of the most important films released in the nineties and for me, it slots itself neatly into the top ten of all time. It€™s a perfectly observed but never predictable crime-fiction masterpiece that gives a little more each time it€™s watched. Although its inherent intensity and air of youthful cockiness can put certain people off, it€™s my belief that it€™s this self-confident tone that makes for such an exhilarating and dynamic experience. You can almost hear Tarantino saying €œYeah, I€™m making this movie and I€™m doing it my way, so fucking what, alright?€ It€™s always exciting when a Director has the stones to mess with our expectations, and equally refreshing when a studio has the stones to let them. Despite your level of film or genre knowledge, you can€™t go far wrong with Pulp Fiction. It€™s Tarantino at his absolute finest.


In true Tarantino style, he required the transfer of his seminal movie to be personally approved before he let the Blu-Ray be printed. And it shows. By the credits I felt like I€™d just spent two and a half hours washing my face in film. It€™s just breath-taking and all presented in an AVC encoded 1080p, in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. There€™s barely any grain to be found and despite some very minor visible edge enhancement on a few occasions there€™s hardly an aesthetic blunder anywhere. There€™s a nigh-on perfect colour mix; in equal measure warm and stark when it needs to be, and shadow yields an unprecedented amount of detail. I€™m not saying it€™s the best transfer around, but its damn well near the top of the list. Pulp Fiction€™s audio track is something special indeed. It€™s all beautifully presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and its actual mix is one of the finest I€™ve heard to date it must be said. Every detail in the mix is crystal clear, perfectly placed and that€™s saying something when considering the frenetic soundscape that Tarantino embeds underneath the visuals. The pace of the movie is constantly driven by soundtrack and audio cues and it€™s testament to Tarantino€™s understanding of the importance of effective sound that this track is laid out with so much care and attention to detail.


From the superb cinematic poster of Uma Thurman stretched out on a boudoir style bed that adorns the front of the box, to its excellent animated montage home screen that seems to last forever and its intuitive menu selection system, nothing detracts from the movie€™s tone for a second. This strikes me as something that€™s often misunderstood by distribution companies but the presence of a well thought out menu system can often pique audience interest and generate excitement toward the following film. Tarantino seems to get that though; just hearing the driving twang of Miserlou by Dick Dale, and seeing the first couple of images in the rolling montage was enough force my memory back to why I love this movie so much. It€™s presentation at its most purposeful and I can€™t praise it enough.


This Blu-ray contains one of my now all-time favourite behind the scenes featurettes entitled €˜Not the Usual Mindless Boring Get to Know You Chit-Chat€™. It€™s an in-depth series of interviews with the cast about their experiences working with Tarantino at every production stage of Pulp Fiction, presented in full HD and running for a whopping forty five minutes. There's a wealth of other Bonus features here too, so much so that at times it feels like you€™ll never get to the bottom of the list. There€™s a twenty minute HD discussion on the film by a gang of critics, another twenty minute behind the scenes expose in SD, a production design featurette and several other interesting diversions comprising of stills, deleted scenes, T.V spots, interviews and acceptance speeches (for the countless awards Pulp Fiction picked up on the indie circuit). There really are hours in the way of extras on this release and it€™s not only informative, much of it is flat out inspirational. In a nutshell€ Film -


Pulp Fiction is Tarantino€™s seminal crime-fiction genre movie, that shot him to super-stardom quicker than a leaked sex tape. It€™s gritty, it€™s fresh, it€™s exciting and it loses none of its original impact with this release. It€™s simultaneously completely unique while still holding true to established iconography and convention. If Pulp Fiction isn€™t a perfect movie, then I don€™t know what is. Quality -


It€™s as close as you€™re going to get to flawless transfer without it being so. Apart from the slight presence of edge enhancement in a few places, there€™s very little to complain about. Colour is rich and satisfying, and detail is breathtakingly crisp (wait until you get a glimpse of Jules€™ Jheri curl in close up €“ it will blow your mind). Any minor gripes with the visual transfer is counteracted by a perfect sound mix; in equal measure intimate and epic, allowing minor sound details to ring out amidst a dynamic, pacey soundtrack. Presentation -


Pulp Fiction is presented beautifully, in everything from its box to its menu systems and overall interactive design. You€™ll be able to see the menu animation through two or three times before it starts to jar and you€™ll never have any issues with general perusal of the disc. An overall delight to behold; it looks fantastic on the shelf, even better in the player. Extras -


There€™s enough here to keep you occupied for hours after the credits have rolled and much of it is actually presented in HD. It€™s all intimate, candid stuff, showing Tarantino at work and revealing details about the film and its meanings that you€™d only usually get from deep analysis or research. It€™s not only informative though, it€™s also inspirational; as the minutes flew by, my urge to write grew exponentially. It€™s not often you get that whipped up from Blu-ray extras. Value -


Why are you still here? This is out today you know (the European release that is). Pulp Fiction shockingly carries a mid-to-low range price tag and when you combine that with its inherent cinematic importance, it becomes an absolute must-own. Any Blu-ray collection without this poking out somewhere near the front end is surely incomplete. Hell, even I€™ve just bought it, and I got a free copy. Overall -


It€™s all there, man. Superb movie: check. Outstanding audio/visual quality: check. Lavish presentation: check. And hours of entertaining extras: check. It€™s the perfect gift (from another or from the self) to get or give, possibly not to your Gran, but to anyone who enjoys fantastic, challenging film, regardless of their level of cinematic knowledge. Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Pulp Fiction is out now on Blu-ray.
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Stuart believes that the pen is mightier than the sword, but still he insists on using a keyboard.