What’s harder to believe: the fact that it’s been two decades since Quentin Tarantino first burst into international screens with Reservoir Dogs or that he even made it in the first place? The Blu-ray set Tarantino XX, which at first glance looks like nothing else than a marketing gimmick to sell catalog titles at a steeper price while promoting QT’s upcoming Django Unchained, might in fact be one of the smartest retrospective sets to be released in recent memory, because it makes us question the value of Tarantino’s contribution to cinema.
Reservoir Dogs was released in early 1992 and shocked audiences because it was both violent and very, very witty. When your opening scene turns Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” into a philosophical debacle, you know you’re either in for a celebration of the ridiculous or a thought-out ode to pop culture and how it affects everyone alike; both criminals and non-criminals (there are rarely other kinds of people in Tarantino’s movies). Tarantino’s first strike of luck was how he was able to turn his movies into instantly quotable phenomenons. Less than a year into the release of Reservoir Dogs, people would be dressed in simple black suits and white ties for Halloween. His characters always appeal to film snobs and more casual viewers alike.
This was never more obvious than with Pulp Fiction, the endlessly entertaining labyrinthine masterpiece that takes us to a version of Los Angeles so dark and seedy, it gives classic film noirs a run for their money. Displaying a vast array of colorful characters and scenes, Pulp Fiction became a worldwide phenomenon for its rescue of ‘70s movie star John Travolta (in what’s unarguably the performance of his career), as well as its mainstreaming of the now ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson.
Tarantino’s use of beautiful violence—if such a thing even exists—appealed to younger audiences who were also thrilled to see there was a life for comedic action movies after Die Hard. Simultaneously, the movie was an object of adoration for critics who saw references and homages that escaped the eyes of those less educated in cinema history. The wondrous thing about this movie then—and all of Tarantino’s oeuvre—is that it democratizes art, yet like the slyest of political strategies it makes snobs believe that there are pleasures still being denied to those who’ve yet to earn them.
In subsequent films, Tarantino would keep paying tribute to spaghetti Westerns, blaxploitation films and Japanese samurai flicks, which leads us to what might be the most controversial issue on his career: Is he a visionary? or a flat out plagiarist? Easier said, would Tarantino have a career if it were not for the spaghetti Westerns, blaxploitation films and yakuza revenge epics he obviously likes so much? Is there a single, truly original bone in his body?
Unlike mavericks like Pedro Almodóvar, Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, Tarantino seemed like he would never be able to detach himself from the shadow of the legendary figures he loves so much. Instead of reshaping their messages into dissections of his own artistic self, he just kept perpetuating their ideas about violence, revenge and life.
His first truly mature work came in the shape of Inglourious Basterds, a Wild Bunch inspired fantasia, that had Brad Pitt kick some Nazi butt and reshape history while allowing Tarantino to establish his own visionm for once. The result was his most flawed movie—or at least the one that felt more urgent, less affected—but the first true Quentin Tarantino movie.
Even more fascinating is the fact that Tarantino has become one of the most recognizable filmmakers of all time. His outspoken persona, quirks and almost caricaturesque features (quick! Remember him in “The Itchy and Sratchy Show”?) have put him next to people like Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock in terms of recognizability. It’s no coincidence that it’s his mug and body that occupy the cover of this Blu-ray set. The illustrations by MONDO give him a camera, positioned just as if it was a gun, because few filmmakers have been able to evoke pure discord, under such meticulous techniques as Tarantino. His movies may be odes to chaos, but his aesthetics show the traits of OCD at its most glorious.
Extras in this set don’t offer anything previous incarnations of the movies haven’t showed before, except for two extra discs filled with what is advertised as over five hours of new bonus material, mostly consisting of interviews where people praise Tarantino’s influence to independent and commercial cinema alike. The interviews cover all of his films and make for an interesting retrospective, without ever truly contributing anything we’ve not heard before.
The cynics among us must be shaking their fists to the heavens and asking why didn’t we get the Kill Bill director’s cut or why is True Romance included and there’s nary a sign of Natural Born Killers, or why is Death Proof here without the rest of Grindhouse? This set, like anything Tarantino related will be sure to be divisive. Judging on the quality of the works included—especially if you haven’t bought the movies before—there’s no way you’ll go wrong with this set.