True Romance (1993) – Review 4K Ultra HD
Directed by Tony Scott.
With Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, Chris Penn, Michael Rapaport, Tom Sizemore, Bronson Pinchot, Samuel L. Jackson, James Gandolfini and Saul Rubinek.
true romance arrives in 4K in time for its 29th birthday. With an early screenplay by Quentin Tarantino and an accomplished action director in Tony Scott at the helm, it’s a film that didn’t do much at the box office in 1993 but became a much-loved classic. home video. Not only is the cast brimming with talent, but Arrow has pulled out all the stops to order restored prints of the theatrical version and director’s cut, a few bits of physical loot, and a huge batch of new and legacy bonus content. Highly recommended.
I want to start this review off by acknowledging that Arrow Video has knocked it out of the park with many classic movies on disc over the past couple of years. They took the Criterion approach of filling their decks with tons of extras, as well as adding lots of physical content, including booklets. They’ve carved out a nice niche for themselves as a company that goes above and beyond when it comes to giving moviegoers what they want.
This time they did a great job with their 4K Ultra HD version of true romance, a 1993 “love on the run” action thriller film directed by Tony Scott and written by Quentin Tarantino when he was still trying to break into the industry. It’s an intriguing blend of the latter’s pop culture-infused dialogue and the former’s flashy action movie style. It certainly would have been a different movie had Tarantino directed it, but whether his version would have been better or worse is hard to say.
At least, true romance is a fun ride with a great cast and a fast-paced story. It stars Christian Slater as Clarence, a Detroit-based comic book store employee who has a cute encounter with Alabama (Patricia Arquette) at the movies and takes her home. It turns out that Alabama is a newly created call girl who was hired to have sex with Clarence but confesses that she fell in love with him.
When Clarence goes to his pimp’s residence to retrieve his belongings, he ends up grabbing a suitcase he thought was his but turns out to contain a few million dollars worth of cocaine. He and Alabama hatch a plan to travel to Los Angeles and search for a friend of his who he thinks can move drugs in one go through the Hollywood movie community. Of course, as long as the criminals and cops on their heels don’t get to them first.
The rest of the cast is also solid, including: Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s estranged father, a cop-turned-security guard; Val Kilmer as “mentor”, the voice in Clarence’s head who manifests as Elvis; Gary Oldman as Drexl the Pimp; Christopher Walken as the crime family consigliere who wants his cocaine back; James Gandolfini as one of the crime family’s henchmen; and Chris Penn and Tom Sizemore as two cops who want to do a big drug deal. Samuel L. Jackson even has a small role.
I should add here that you have a choice between the cinema version and the director’s cut when watching the film. The main difference is that the latter is much bloodier, including an extra minute in the brutal fight between Alabama and Virgil (Gandolfini), which honestly feels gratuitous. I don’t know why Scott wanted us to see a woman getting beaten up even more. All told, there’s about two minutes added to the running time in the director’s cut.
Whichever version you choose, the story reeks of a young geek’s wish-fulfillment, something Tarantino has confessed to in interviews. None of this sounds plausible, but if you’re willing to suspend disbelief and take the ride, great. And it looks amazing in 4K – I know I’ve said this before about the 4K releases, so I’ll say it again: this is the best the movie has seen since it first hit theaters nearly a year ago 30 years old. If you’re a fan, this is the pinnacle of true romance on home video.
The rest of this edition is equally stunning. Arrow has pulled out all the stops with plenty of bonus features and some nice physical loot. I’ll start with the latter, which includes: a reversible case sleeve with new art on one side and theatrical poster art on the other; a double-sided poster with the two aforementioned works of art; six double-sided lobby cards; and an attractive 60-page square-bound booklet with cast and crew information, catering notes, and four essays. Kudos to Arrow for continuing to include physical extras at a time when Criterion seems like the only other company to do so.
Moving on to the bonus features, they are all hosted on the same 4K; It would have been nice if they were on a separate disc to allow maximum bitrate for the movie, but I didn’t see any deleterious effects while watching the movie. Here’s what you’ll find, which is a mix of old and new content:
• Audio Commentary from Director Tony Scott: This is a legacy bonus, obviously, since Scott passed away in 2012. He does a painstaking job of talking about the film from the time he received the script from Tarantino until the end of production.
• Audio commentary by actors Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette: Another older extra, this one features the protagonists recalling the making of the film. It suffers a bit from the problem that many of these tracks have – describing what’s on screen and making fun of each other – but it’s still worth listening to, especially for fans.
• Audio Commentary by Writer Quentin Tarantino: If You Didn’t Believe It true romance was a wish fulfillment fantasy before, you will after listening to this track.
• Audio Commentary by Film Critic Tim Lucas: The only new commentary track is one of those “movie class lecture” type tracks that delves into the film’s place in history. These types of tracks tend to be my favorites because it’s clear the speaker came to the session prepared to make sure there’s no dead air.
• Scene-specific commentary by Bronson Pinchot and Saul Rubinek: The actors reflect on their roles as Hollywood powerhouses.
Here’s the rest of the new content:
• you are so cool (10 mins): Costume designer Susan Becker talks about the choices she made for the film, all of which made perfect sense to me.
• relentless romance (13 minutes): Co-editor Michael Tronick talks about his involvement in the film.
• In the middle of the chaos of the day (12 minutes): Co-composers Mark Mancina and John Van Tongeren discuss the film’s musical score.
• A hunger for chaos (8 minutes): Author Larry Taylor, who wrote Tony Scott: a filmmaker on fire talk about the director.
• Cadillac Man (8 mins): Super fan Dan Storm, who co-founded the annual True Romance Fest and owns the Cadillac used in the film, discusses the painstaking work that went into restoring the prized vehicle.
Now let’s review the legacy extras that have been ported over:
• Scene-specific commentary by Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, and Michael Rapaport: These types of abbreviated commentaries tend to be rare in the home video world; I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many on a record before. They make sense, however, especially for actors who have played supporting roles and therefore probably wouldn’t have much to say about the scenes they aren’t in. Maybe studios should order more.
• Deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary by Scott (29 minutes): you can go through them all at once, if you wish, with an optional commentary from the director, who admits that a few of them should have ended up in the director’s film. To cut. I can see his point, and I think the director’s cut would have been more interesting if it wasn’t just bloodier than the theatrical version. That said, it’s not a story that needs to push two and a half hours, so I think most of it could have stayed in the bonus features section.
• Alternate Ending with Optional Commentary from Scott and Tarantino (6.5 minutes): Scott and Tarantino disagreed on how the film should end, and they present their views in separate tracks. For his part, Tarantino acknowledges that the existing ending was the correct one for Scott’s film, implying that if he had made it, we would have gotten that ending instead. (Tim Lucas’ commentary track also touches on the alternate ending.)
• Electronic Press Kit (47 minutes): This is a large set of legacy material, including two US-produced featurettes, another featurette created for the international market, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and short interviews with Scott, Slater, Arquette, Hopper and Oldman. I won’t list them all one by one, but I’m glad Arrow included them for archival purposes. Between the old stuff and the new content, you can really see an evolution in the movie from “New movie by the Superior gun director!” to “Classic film created by the unique combination of a new (and now famous) screenwriter and a master of action movies.”
Trailers, TV spots and image galleries complete the set, which should keep you busy this summer.
Scintillating Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Film: ★ ★ ★ ★