True Romance, 1993.
Directed by Tony Scott.
Starring 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 anniversary. With an early script by Quentin Tarantino and an accomplished action director in Tony Scott at the helm, this is a movie that didn’t do much at the box office in 1993 but has emerged as a well-loved classic on home video. Not only is the cast packed with talent, but Arrow went all out in commissioning restored prints of the theatrical version and director’s cut, a few pieces of physical swag, and a huge batch of new and legacy bonus content. Highly recommended.
I want to start this review by acknowledging that Arrow Video has been knocking it out of the park with many classic films on disc the last couple years. They’ve taken the Criterion approach of stuffing their platters with tons of extras, as well as throwing in plenty of physical content, including booklets. They’ve carved out a nice niche for themselves as a company that goes above and beyond when giving movie fans what they want.
This time, they’ve done a bang-up job with their 4K Ultra HD release of True Romance, a 1993 “lovers on the run” action crime film directed by Tony Scott and written by Quentin Tarantino way back when he was still trying to break into the industry. It’s an intriguing mash-up of the latter’s pop-culture-infused dialogue and the former’s flashy action film style. It certainly would have been a different film had Tarantino directed it, but it’s hard to say if his version would have been better or worse.
At the very least, True Romance is a fun ride with a great cast and a story that zips along at a frenetic pace. It stars Christian Slater as Clarence, a Detroit-based comic book shop employee who has a meet-cute with Alabama (Patricia Arquette) at the movies and takes her home. It turns out that Alabama is a newly minted call girl who was hired to have sex with Clarence but confesses that she’s fallen in love with him.
When Clarence goes to her pimp’s residence to retrieve her things, he ends up grabbing a suitcase that he thought was hers but turns out to have a couple million dollars worth of cocaine in it. He and Alabama hatch a scheme to travel to Los Angeles and seek out a friend of his who he thinks can move the drugs in one go within the Hollywood film community. Of course, that’s as long as the criminals and cops on their tail don’t get to them first.
The rest of the cast is solid too, 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 consigliere to the crime family that wants their cocaine back; James Gandolfini as one of the crime family’s henchmen; and Chris Penn and Tom Sizemore as two cops who want to make a big drug bust. Samuel L. Jackson even has a small role.
I should add here that you have a choice between the theatrical version and director’s cut when you watch the film. The main difference is that the latter is a lot bloodier, including an extra minute in the brutal fight between Alabama and Virgil (Gandolfini), which, honestly, feels gratuitous. I’m not sure why Scott wanted us to see even more of a woman being beaten up. All told, there’s about two minutes added to the run time in the director’s cut.
Whichever version you choose, the story reeks of geeky young guy wish fulfillment, which Tarantino has confessed to in interviews. None of it seems plausible, but if you’re willing to suspend disbelief and go for the ride, it’s a blast. And it looks amazing in 4K — I know I’ve said this before about 4K releases, so I’ll say it again: this is the best the film has looked since it first unspooled in theaters nearly 30 years ago. If you’re a fan, this is the pinnacle of True Romance on home video.
The rest of this edition is stunning too. Arrow went all out with copious amounts of bonus features and some nice physical swag. I’ll start with the latter, which includes: a reversible case sleeve with new art on one side and the theatrical poster art on the other; a double-sided poster with both of the aforementioned artworks; six double-sided lobby cards; and a nice square-bound 60-page booklet with cast and crew information, restoration notes, and four essays. Kudos to Arrow for continuing to include physical extras during a time when Criterion seems to be the only other company doing so.
Moving on to the bonus features, they’re all housed on the same 4K; it would have been nice if they were on a separate disc to allow maximum bit rate for the movie, but I didn’t see any deleterious effects from that while watching the film. Here’s what you’ll find, which is a mix of legacy and new content:
• Audio commentary by director Tony Scott: This is a legacy bonus feature, obviously, since Scott passed away in 2012. He does a thorough job of talking through the movie from the time he received Tarantino’s script to the end of production.
• Audio commentary by actors Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette: Another older extra, this one features the leads reminiscing on the making of the film. It suffers a bit from the problem a lot of these tracks have — describing what’s on screen and just goofing around with each other — but it’s still a worthwhile listen, especially for fans.
• Audio commentary by writer Quentin Tarantino: If you didn’t believe that 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 “film class lecture” kind of tracks that digs deep into the film’s place in history. These kinds of tracks tend to be my favorites, because it’s clear the speaker has come into the session prepared to ensure there’s no dead air.
• Scene-specific commentaries by Bronson Pinchot and Saul Rubinek: The actors look back on their roles as Hollywood power players.
Here’s the rest of the new content:
• You’re So Cool (10 minutes): Costume designer Susan Becker looks back on the choices she made for the film, all of which made perfect sense to me.
• Relentless Romance (13 minutes): Co-editor Michael Tronick discusses his involvement in the movie.
• Amid the Chaos of the Day (12 minutes): Co-composers Mark Mancina and John Van Tongeren talk about the film’s musical score.
• A Hunger for Mayhem (8 minutes): Author Larry Taylor, who wrote Tony Scott: A Filmmaker on Fire talks about the director.
• Cadillac Man (8 minutes): Super fan Dan Storm, who co-founded the annual True Romance Fest and owns the Cadillac used in the movie, discusses the painstaking work that went into restoring the prized vehicle.
Now let’s run down the legacy extras that were ported over:
• Scene-specific commentaries by Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, and Michael Rapaport: These kinds of abbreviated commentaries tend to be rare in the home video world; I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many included on a disc before. They make sense, though, especially for actors who played supporting roles and thus likely wouldn’t have a lot to say about the scenes they’re not in. Maybe studios should commission more of these.
• Deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary by Scott (29 minutes): You can play through these all at once, if you wish, with optional commentary by the director, who admits that a few of them should have made their way into the director’s cut. I can see his point-of-view, and I think the director’s cut would have been more interesting if it wasn’t just bloodier than the theatrical version. That said, this isn’t a story that needs to push two-and-a-half hours, so I think most of this could have remained in the bonus features section.
• Alternate ending with optional commentaries by Scott and Tarantino (6.5 minutes): Scott and Tarantino famously disagreed on how the film should end, and they present their viewpoints in separate tracks. For his part, Tarantino acknowledges that the existing ending was the right one for Scott’s film, which implies that had he directed it, we would have gotten this ending instead. (Tim Lucas’s commentary track addresses the alternate ending too.)
• Electronic press kit (47 minutes): This is a big batch of legacy materials, including two featurettes produced in the US, 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 run all of these down one by one, but I’m glad Arrow included these for archival purposes. Between the old stuff and the new content, you can really see an evolution in the film from “New movie by the Top Gun director!” to “Classic movie created by the unique pairing of a new (and now famous) screenwriter and a master of action films.”
Trailers, TV spots, and image galleries round out the platter, which should keep you well-occupied this summer.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★