Release Date(s)1994 (December 6, 2022)
Studio(s)A Band Apart/Jersey Films/Miramax (Paramount Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
Through nine films now (counting Kill Bill as one), director Quentin Tarantino has taken us on a hard-boiled, blood-soaked tour of his cinematic roots. Since arriving on the scene with Reservoir Dogs in 1992, he’s paid homage to gangster films, samurai revenge epics, HK cinema, spaghetti westerns, exploitation films, and WWII commando actioners. His most recent and arguably most personal work, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is itself an homage to the place and time of his youth. But of all his films, it’s Pulp Fiction that best represents the Tarantino style in its purest, freest form.
After a charming prologue set in a diner, the film introduces us to Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), a pair of slick hitmen on the job in sunny Los Angeles. They’ve been sent to deliver a bit of righteous vengeance on some white-boy nobodies on behalf of their gangster boss, Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), but they never forget to appreciate the little things along the way. Those things get complicated, however, when Vincent is tasked with showing Marsellus’ wife Mia (Uma Thurman) a good time while her husband’s out of town on business. They get more complicated still when a washed-up boxer named Butch (Bruce Willis) is asked by Marsellus to take a fall in the fifth, but instead kills his opponent in the ring. And when Vincent accidentally shoots a guy in the face in broad daylight, he and Jules suddenly find themselves up shit creek in the 818, where only Jules’ dorky pal Jimmie (Tarantino) and a professional “problem solver” named Winston Wolfe (Harvey Keitel) can save the day.
Any way you slice it, Pulp Fiction is just a great film. It retains all the raw bravado of Reservoir Dogs, but adds a more polished confidence that’s missing from Tarantino’s debut work. The film is violent to be sure, but far less excessive than, say, Kill Bill or Inglourious Basterds. The story takes its own sweet time to play out, thank you very much, but its various vignettes interweave smoothly and balance each other out well indeed. What’s more, Tarantino’s screenplay and crisp dialogue are endlessly funny yet surprisingly sincere, even as his plot and characters feel fresh and unexpected. Add a bit of Jack Rabbit Slim’s kitsch, a Royale with Cheese, and a UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs T-shirt, and the result is a film that’s arguably Tarantino’s masterpiece.
But as good as the script and direction are, it’s the cast that really elevates this film to the next level. Pulp Fiction is, of course, the film that rejuvenated John Travola’s career and he’s genuinely fantastic here, with an effortless charisma that makes his every interaction with Jackson and Thurman a joy to behold. But it’s the latter who steal the show thanks to a pair of electric performances that won them each Oscar nominations. The rest of this film’s unlikely ensemble delivers the goods too, including Rhames, Willis, Tarantino himself, and Keitel, but also supporting players Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Eric Stoltz, Maria de Medeiros, and Rosanna Arquette. And though he’s only in one scene, Christopher Walken delivers four straight pages of dialogue, one slightly-used gold watch, and plenty of laughs with Shakespearian aplomb.
Pulp Fiction was shot on 35 mm film (the same Eastman EXR 50D 5245 stock used for Reservoir Dogs) by cinematographer Andrzej Sekula using Arriflex 35-III and Panavision Panaflex Gold II, Lightweight, and Platinum cameras, with Panavision C- and E-Series anamorphic lenses. It was then finished photochemically and released into theaters in the 2.39:1 “scope” aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, the original camera negative has been scanned in native 4K to create a new Digital Intermediate, complete with remastering and grading for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are available here). The result is absolutely sublime and a major upgrade of the previous Blu-ray image. Clean and precise texturing abounds in virtually every frame, from skin tones and five o’clock shadow, to the fabric of Vincent and Jules’ suits, the stuccoed walls of Butch’s fleabag hotel, and even the fuzzy-quilted comfort of Jimmy’s best linen. The image exhibits a lovely dimensionality, with deep shadows and bright highlights—both of which retain pleasing detail. The colors are vivid and accurate, which particularly benefits the bold interiors of Slim’s dining room/dance floor and Jules’ 1974 Chevy Nova (both before and after cleaning). Very light but organic-looking grain (an apparent characteristic of this film stock) remains visible throughout. Hands down, this is—thankfully!—is a genuinely reference-quality 4K image.
Audio on the Ultra HD comes in what sounds to be the exact same lossless English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that appeared on the previous Blu-ray. And that’s okay, because—while a new Atmos mix would certainly have been appreciated—it was very good before and it remains so now. It offers clean dialogue, a large and atmospheric soundstage, some nice directionality in the surrounds, and smooth panning. The mix is well balanced, with modest but sufficient bass, and excellent fidelity for the film’s soundtrack, an eclectic mix of pop, surf, and rock tunes that boasts—but is not limited to—Dick Dale’s Misirlou, Kool & the Gang’s Jungle Boogie, a Neil Diamond cover by no less than Urge Overkill, and Dusty Springfield’s Son of a Preacher Man. Additional language options include German 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as French, Italian, and Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital, with subtitles available in English, English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, and Dutch.
Paramount’s 4K Ultra HD release is a 2-disc set, available in regular Amaray or Steelbook packaging. It contains the film remastered in 4K on UHD and also 1080p HD on Blu-ray (unfortunately the same disc that Lionsgate released in their 8-film Tarantino XX box set back in 2012). Both the UHD disc and the Blu-ray contain the following special features:
- Not the Usual Mindless Boring Getting to Know You Chit Chat (HD – 43:01)
- Here Are Some Facts on the Fiction (HD – 20:37)
- Enhanced Trivia Track
To this the Blu-ray adds the following:
- Pulp Fiction: The Facts (SD – 30:31)
- Deleted Scenes (SD – 5 scenes with Tarantino introduction – 24:39 in all)
- Behind the Scenes Montage: Jack Rabbit Slim’s (SD – 4:44)
- Behind the Scenes Montage: Butch Hits Marsellus (SD – 6:02)
- Production Design Featurette (SD – 6:22)
- Siskel & Ebert “At the Movies” – Pulp Faction: The Tarantino Generation (SD – 16:00)
- Independent Spirit Awards (SD – 11:29)
- Cannes Film Festival – Palme D’Or Acceptance Speech (SD – 5:20)
- Charlie Rose Show (SD – 55:27)
- Marketing Gallery
- US Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:35)
- UK Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:04)
- French Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:32)
- German Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:34)
- Japanese Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:17)
- TV Spots (SD – 13 spots – 5:11 in all)
- Poster Gallery (HD – 47 images)
- Academy Award Campaign & Trade Ads (HD – 47 images)
- Soundtrack Chapters
Some of these features were produced for Miramax's Collector’s Edition DVD release back in 2002 (as the original 1998 DVD was bare-bones), while the rest appeared on Blu-ray in 2009 and 2011. But while none of it is really new, these extras amount to terrific batch of material for fans of the film and Tarantino’s work in general, including a look at the production, outtake material, the film’s artistic design, film critic analysis, and various interviews and award-season speeches. Really, all that’s missing (that you might be wanting) is an audio commentary with the man himself, but Tarantino doesn’t really do those for his own films (outside of the original Reservoir Dogs DVD release). While it is a shame that Paramount hasn’t remastered this film for Blu-ray too, you do at least get a Digital Copy code on a paper insert. And the Steelbook packaging is quite nice looking (the regular Amaray cover is pretty good too).
Quentin Tarantino isn’t exactly the one-man Hollywood New Wave that some fans would like to believe, but he’s certainly a cinematic wunderkind, whose splashy debut recalls the likes of Orson Welles and Citizen Kane. It’s been widely reported that Tarantino plans to make just one more film and call it quits. For a while, he was circling around a Star Trek sci-fi/gangster project, though that’s since fallen by the wayside. If one looks for genres he hasn’t yet honored, plenty remain to be explored—kaiju films, classic monsters, Hollywood musicals, screwball comedies. But for all the entertainment value that he’s provided over the years, Tarantino hasn’t truly surprised cinephiles since Pulp Fiction. So here’s hoping that he drops the mic with something genuinely unexpected.
Until then, Paramount’s gorgeous new 4K remaster of Pulp Fiction is straight-up treat, right up there with a $5 milkshake. See you at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, Ringo.
- Bill Hunt