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Quentine Tarantino
Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, Lawrence Tierney, Christopher Penn, Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino

Four perfect killers. One perfect crime. Now all they have to fear is each other.
Rated R.

Widescreen 2.35:1
Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English, French, Spanish

Runtime: 109 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 6/17/1997

• Production Notes
• Theatrical Trailer

Special Edition DVD

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Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

I originally saw The Terminator during its theatrical run in 1984. At the time, I thought it was a pretty terrific action movie, with lots of exciting sequences and a creativity that clearly rose above its origins as a low budget film. I watched it again when it came out on video and that was it for a while.

When it came out in 1991, Terminator 2: Judgment Day also made a very strong impression on me. At that time, I had just started to collect laserdiscs. Even though I hadn't seen the first film in many years, I had positive memories of it so I figured it was worth a try.

In retrospect, Terminator didn't hold up too well for me. It wasn't that anything about it was particularly problematic. The problem arose from the fact that I had seen the sequel. In my opinion, T2 outdid the first movie in virtually every way so that the original looked tame and dull by comparison. How are they going to go back to the farm when they've seen the bright lights of Paris?

At this point, you're probably thinking, "Wasn't this supposed to be a review of Reservoir Dogs? Did these bozos screw up or what??" Sorry for the confusion, but I told the preceding story simply to illustrate a point: frequently our impressions of films are substantially different than they otherwise would have been because of other movies we've seen.

Which (finally) leads me to Reservoir Dogs. I'd heard a lot of positive comments about it over the years, but I missed it during its theatrical engagement, and I'm not much of a renter, so it took me a while to actually see it. What prompted me to finally do so was the success of director Quentin Tarantino's second film, Pulp Fiction. That one I did take in during its theatrical run, and I liked it very much, enough so to finally break down and rent Reservoir Dogs.

So what did I think? I thought that Pulp Fiction was a much better movie. Both films feature a long list of similarities: story told in very nonlinear way, many pop culture references, witty but frequently crude dialogue, graphic violence, etc. However, Pulp managed a more compelling story, better acting, and much more variety than the fairly static Dogs. I couldn't help but feel that Dogs now came across as something of a dress rehearsal for Pulp.

Which is why I wish I'd actually gotten around to seeing Dogs before I took in Pulp. In truth, Dogs really is a good movie but it clearly would have made a much greater impression on me if I'd not already had a crash course in Tarantino. Might that then have caused Pulp to seem less compelling than it did? Perhaps, but I doubt it. I think that Pulp progresses from Dogs, so I could have appreciated it from the point of view of someone watching a director develop.

In any case, Dogs does work pretty well on its own. Its main fault stems from the fact that it possesses a tremendously thin plotline. In fact, there really isn’t any plot. Ostensibly, it's about a jewel heist, but we never see the robbery itself and we see its immediate aftermath only through brief flashbacks.

No, the purpose of the film really is to provide as many of Tarantino's now- patented dialogue exchanges. Dogs is a very talky movie, in which little actually happens, except for a few very notable moments. Not that this is a bad thing; when the dialogue is as good as that which Tarantino can write, screechy action scenes aren't necessary.

Still, Dogs feels padded to me, even though it's only 100 minutes long. Many scenes seem unnecessarily drawn out and I occasionally grew impatient; I just wanted the story to move along and get where it was going. While that feeling popped up from time to time during Pulp - mainly during the Bruce Willis segment - the impulse was less strong, and it should be noted that Pulp is almost an hour longer than Dogs.

Across the board, the cast provides solid acting in virtually all roles. Well, except for maybe Tim Roth's Mr. Orange. Roth struggles with his accent and he seemed over the top to me; I thought he just tried too hard. Best of the lot clearly is Michael Madsen. He's tremendously creepy and affecting as the psychotic Mr. Blond, especially in the infamous sequence in which he Van Goghs a cop to the tune of “Stuck in the Middle With You”. Madsen provides a chillingly laid-back portrayal of a seriously spooky guy.

In the end, I can't help but feel that while Reservoir Dogs works fairly well, it really is too long. Rarely have I felt so strongly that a director was really stretching to get his movie to feature length. Ultimately, it probably would have worked better as one segment in a movie, ala the three parts of Pulp Fiction. On its own, it provides many positive moments, but it simply takes too long to deliver the goods.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+ / Audio B- / Bonus D-

Reservoir Dogs appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the widescreen image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. The image seemed watchable but flawed.

Sharpness generally looked decent. The movie showed some moderate softness during wide shots, but the other scenes came across with reasonable clarity. The picture never boasted the crispness I might see in an anamorphic transfer, but it seemed acceptably accurate. Unfortunately, the absence of anamorphic enhancement almost inevitably led to some moderate amounts of jagged edges and moiré effects, and I also noticed some distinct edge enhancement at times. As for print flaws, I saw intermittent examples of grain, grit, speckles, nicks, and marks. These never became overwhelming, but they marred the image a little more frequently than I’d like.

Colors caused some noticeable concerns. The hues seemed too hot, and they rarely looked natural. For example, Harvey Keitel often appeared orange, while others displayed pinkish skin tones. Had Tim Roth looked orange and Steve Buscemi appeared pink, I’d accept this, but otherwise, the tones simply came across as oversaturated. Black levels seemed fairly deep and dense, however, while shadow detail was appropriately thick but not too opaque. Ultimately, Reservoir Dogs presented a passable image at best.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Reservoir Dogs fared a little better. The soundfield consistently provided a forward emphasis and it accentuated general ambience. Much of the track remained largely monaural, as the majority of the information from the side speakers dealt with environmental factors. Of course, music displayed some solid stereo imaging, and the track popped to life reasonably well during action sequences. Elements moved across the front channels smoothly and efficiently. Those also added reasonable usage of the surrounds, which remained fairly dormant most of the time.

Audio quality seemed flawed but generally acceptable. Speech tended to sound somewhat thin and hollow. The lines always remained intelligible, but they displayed moderately brittle tones. Effects appeared clean and accurate, and they packed a minor punch when appropriate. Music showed good clarity but lacked much depth; bass response seemed modest and failed to convey substantial warmth. In the end, the audio of Reservoir Dogs seemed decent for a decade-old flick with cheap origins.

This DVD of Reservoir Dogs presents few supplemental materials. Cast and Crew includes entries for actors Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Edward Bunker, Chris Penn, and Lawrence Tierney, writer/director/actor Quentin Tarantino, producer Lawrence Bender, editor Sally Menke, and costume designer Betsy Heimann. The area provides short notes for the actors and Tarantino; only filmographies appear for the others.

In addition, we get the film’s trailer, presented non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby 2.0 sound. Oddly placed within the “Cast and Crew” domain, we also find some Production Notes. The DVD includes five screens of text that provide some brief but decent comments. Lastly, the Coming Attractions area simply lists 11 other Live Entertainment titles; no trailers or additional materials appear. Strange error in the production notes: the writer mentions that Silver Surfer memorabilia was to be featured in Mr. Orange's apartment but was replaced with a character made up by Tarantino. Funny, but that sure looked like a Silver Surfer poster to me, and it's not like it flits by; we stare at that thing for a good three minutes while Roth rehearses an anecdote.

After four or five viewings, my feelings about Reservoir Dogs remain mixed. On one hand, it presents a number of solid elements, but on the other, it seems somewhat padded and thin. The DVD offers fairly mediocre picture and sound plus only a few insubstantial extras. Though I don’t adore the movie, I like it well enough to recommend the film, though purchasers may prefer to pick up the special edition release of Dogs, as it presents moderately stronger sound and image along with many more supplements.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5714 Stars Number of Votes: 7
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