'Pulp Fiction' Takes Cinematic Conventions, Ties Them Up and Slices Off Their Ear

by Jeff Ames

8 December 2011

Pulp Fiction oozes with awesome characters, sumptuous dialogue and a crowd pleasing turn from Bruce Willis. Plus it's got Q.T.'s signature violence. What's not to like?
 
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Pulp Fiction

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames

US DVD: 4 Oct 2011

As films go, you can’t do much better than Quentin Tarantino’s saucy, hyper-stylized, ultra-violent, and completely unforgettable Pulp Fiction. Written and directed by the equally saucy, hyper-stylized Tarantino just a few years removed from the equally astonishing Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction takes cinematic conventions, ties them up and slices off their ear with a 20-foot machete; delivering a pulsing, wry (and often hilarious) cinematic avant garde that caters to casual filmgoers and cine buffs alike.

Truth be told, I missed Pulp Fiction when it first hit theaters back in 1994. At the time I was a wee lad who thought the greatest movie ever made was Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park ... I was 12, okay? (Granted, Jurassic Park still remains a damn exciting film, but I’m sure even Spielberg would hesitate to call his dinosaur creature-feature a genuine masterpiece.) My buddies and I rented Pulp Fiction expecting an actioner along the lines of, say, The Professional—a hard hitting, blood-ridden extravaganza intermixed with seminal character bits. Boy were we wrong. Tarantino’s film bathes in gritty, urban life; oozing with detestable, but ultimately likable characters who just happen to carry guns and shoot people for a living. (Seriously, who doesn’t admire The Wolf?)

Here’s a film that cries for attention; eschewing morals for violence, and action for philosophy. In Pulp Fiction people die hard, but they also expound deep, fundamental life lessons to all who dare listen. Crime may drive these weary souls to the brink of damnation, but none regrets their chosen fate. People live, people die. Shit happens. But then again, good deeds don’t go unrewarded. Grace presents itself to all those who heed its call. 

As all-star casts go, Pulp Fiction delivers the goods. Check out John Travolta, smooth as ever as Vincent, the do-as-I’m-told hit man with a cynics perception of reality. Look! It’s Samuel L. Jackson (in a role that shoulda won an Oscar) spouting Biblical passages and tying themes up with lengthy speeches about life, God and all things in-between. Watch Uma Thurman sizzle in a small, but vital role; her face, lying beneath perfectly cut black Egyptian bangs, caresses the screen with sexy confidence. You don’t want to miss the dance off between her and Travolta, one of Pulp Fiction’s many highlights.

The list goes on and on—Ving Rhames, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Eric Stoltz all turn up for engaging cameos—but the beating heart within Tarantino’s romp comes courtesy of Bruce Willis. Ever the stoic hero, Willis dominates the latter half of Fiction, saying little, but doing much. His story offers the most relatable circumstance, and his is the only character we truly empathize with. The remaining crew draws our interest, but Willis’ boxer-with-a-heaving-chest-full-of-morality earns our respect. Out of all the characters Tarantino has written (including those within the sardonic Inglorious Basterds), Butch Coolidge takes top dog as the only truly realistic personality, reacting to events rather than pushing them over the edge. He’s brilliant.

Of course, as customary, the draw to every Q.T. flick is the dialogue. If you’ve seen any of the aforementioned films then you get where I’m coming from. If not, then Pulp Fiction offers an excellent place to start. The obscene-infested script goes down like a tasty quarter pounder, layered with slight jabs at pop culture and peppered with deep philosophical truths. You haven’t experience cinema until you’ve heard Samuel L. Jackson quote scripture before mercilessly gunning down a hapless victim. Horrific the scene (and violence) may be, but rarely does cinema click flawlessly on so many levels.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Academy Awards that year. Pulp Fiction lost Best Director and Best Picture statues to Robert Zemeckis’ Forest Gump, which still feels like an abomination. Gump was no slouch, but offered nothing in terms of uniqueness or novelty. The story played things straight, following a very basic and traditional Hollywood narrative; one that catered to audiences more than critics. (Granted, The Shawshank Redemption shoulda won that year for Best Picture, but that’s another matter …) Pulp Fiction scrambled onto screens in a mad flurry, seemingly out of nowhere and single-handedly shot Tarantino to the higher echelons of cult cinema. (It also resurrected Travolta’s career, for better or worse.) Here is a film that has yet to be duplicated. Does that not deserve a merit or two?

But I digress. Amazing, hypnotic and gleefully mad, Pulp Fiction is cinema paradisio.         

Oddly enough, the blu-ray to this seminal masterpiece goes for roughly $14.99 despite excellent picture and sound quality. I would have liked to see a high-calibur release, featuring more… I dunno… higher quality material. The package at hand provides some nice roundtable discussions with critics and… well, that’s about it. There are deleted scenes, sure, and a few brief documentaries, but nothing that really delves into the film. This feels more like a Q.T.-ass kissing than anything resembling in-depth making-of footage. Too bad.

As stated, the picture looks great. The sounds roars unpredictably through all channels (thought I felt the mixing sometimes featured too prominently on my front speakers, but maybe my calibrations were awry); and some of those deleted scenes are quite excellent.

I’m drawn when it comes to re-releases. On the one hand I love to see new features, and alternate cuts. Sometimes seeing a different take on the same film provides a unique insight as to why the original film either triumphed or failed.

Then again, it’s nice to see Tarantino distance himself from the double dipping pool. Other directors—notably George Lucas—abuse the system profusely. Tarantino values his craft and while the special editions don’t deliver the goods they probably should for his films, it’s nice to see a man who refuses to bend over for commercialism.

Pulp Fiction

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