True Romance: Unrated Director's Cut
Before Quentin Tarantino was knighted the king of retro-pop culture cool with his 1994 Pulp Fiction, he was best known not just for his startling indie debut Reservoir Dogs, but for his screenplays. As a struggling filmmaker Tarantino wrote a few scripts that got knocked around and eventually made: 1993's True Romance, 1994's Natural Born Killers, and 1996's From Dusk Till Dawn. Oliver Stone directed Killers pre-Fiction and abandoned much of Tarantino's script to give himself a psychedelic soapbox to comment on the ills of pop-culture, while Roberto Rodriguez directed Dusk post-Fiction and emulated much of Tarantino's directorial tone. True Romance is the anomalous picture, as it is a Tarantino film in its dialogue, even though director Tony Scott put as much of his stamp on the material; it's the only Tarantino film that wasn't influenced by Tarantino qua icon, yet it still bears his mark. It's also anomalous because it's one of the rare Tony Scott films that was DOA when it was released theatrically, yet was reborn on home video. But for all the love the film gets because it comes from Tarantino, it's a picture that wouldn't work had it not been for Tony Scott's touch. Tarantino has claimed True Romance to be autobiographical, and it's hard not to see certain parallels to the younger geek king: Christian Slater stars as Clarence Worley, a virginal comic-book store employee who meets the love of his life Alabama (Patricia Arquette) while watching a Sonny Chiba triple-feature. After a perfect night together, Alabama reveals to Clarence that she's a call girl, but she's fallen for him. He's in love too, and they get married. But Clarence feels that he's got to kill her pimp Drexl Spivey (a brilliant Gary Oldman) especially with the encouragement of his Elvis-esque inner voice (played by Val Kilmer) as he's a scumbag. Things go bad with Drexl, and Clarence ends up with a suitcase full of cocaine that the newlyweds take to Los Angeles hoping to sell through his actor friend Dick Ritchie (Michael Rappaport) to a big Hollywood mogul. But the drugs belonged to the mob, who's now after Clarence and Alabama, while Richie's sole contact Elliot Blitzer (Bronson Pinchot) gets busted, which means the cops are on to their deal as well. From there, things get a little crazy.
* * *
It would be easy to just list the great moments in True Romance: from Oldman's marvelously strange white pimp, to the confrontation between Alabama and a mob thug (James Gandolfini), to Brad Pitt's hilarious turn as the stoner roommate Floyd, and perhaps the most famous scene of all, when Clarence's father (Dennis Hopper) is interrogated by a mob boss (Christopher Walken), and explains the lineage of Sicilians. They're all doozies, but as Tarantino says on his commentary track the movie is good enough to not be stopped cold by them. However, had this been Tarantino's first picture, it might have ended his career. Done on a low budget, it would have been just another wacky Bonnie and Clyde-type crime flick with colorful dialogue. In Tony Scott's hands it becomes a fairy tale that examines the darkness surrounding its characters, keeping the story balanced with the film's lively quality. Scott draws parallels between Clarence and Alabama and punk couple Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon, and he sees the match between the awkward but earnest boy and the more experienced girl. He also gets that Tarantino was as much influenced by the cinematic world as the real world, and he incorporates such into the film (Hans Zimmer's score is a re-imagining of the Carl Orff piece used famously in Terence Malick's Badlands). Tony Scott has been doubly underrated throughout his career because he worked for Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson in the '80s, and because he's the younger brother of the more famous Ridley Scott. But Tony is an impressive stylist, and many of his commercial outings are above average thanks to his talents. This weird reputation may be why True Romance was so underrated when it came out. Scott shows full command of his form here, as the film becomes something more than a collection of scenes which it likely would have been in someone else's hands.
Warner Home Video has released a stacked two-disc set with True Romance: Unrated Director's Cut. On Disc One the film is presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The disc offers three audio commentaries, the first by stars Slater and Arquette. Actors rarely have much to add to commentaries, and this could be presented as evidence of that. The second track is by director Scott, and he peppers his speech with the word "yeah" often. The most interesting track is by writer Tarantino in his first solo commentary. QT describes how this was his first finished screenplay, how he got "discovered," and how personal this film is for him. This disc also comes with a storyboards option where the viewer can see Scott's doodles while the film is playing. Disc Two includes a behind-the-scenes featurette supplemented by six "on the fly" icons that access longer behind-the-scenes footage. Next up are selected audio commentaries by Val Kilmer, Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, and Michael Rappaport; most spend their time complimenting everyone else. The major addendum is the 30 minutes of deleted or extended scenes (which mostly features brief tidbits), all with commentary from Scott. In the first one, a young Jack Black can be seen as a theater usher. The scripted ending is on board (which leads down a darker road) with optional writer and director commentary. Also included are the original featurette, the theatrical trailer, two TV spots, still galleries, and promo trailers. Dual-DVD digipak with paperboard slipcase.