It’s almost impossible to watch ‘Pulp Fiction’ today without mentally checking off director Quentin Tarantino’s cinematic tics.
Great soundtrack? Yup. Aging actors rescued from obscurity? Yes, indeed. Dialogue so quotable you could print bumper stickers from every other line in the script? Oh, yeah.
But back in 1994, when the film first rocked movie houses, ‘Pulp Fiction’ was simply Tarantino’s entrance into the upper echelon of movie makers. The film hasn’t lost its zip in its new Blu-ray incarnation. If anything, the giddiness Tarantino fuses to the action genre is more appealing in an era of shaky cams and uncertain plot twists.
‘Pulp Fiction’ defies knee-jerk categorization. It’s a series of interlocking stories with a chronological hiccup or two to keep us guessing.
The main story involves a pair of chatty thugs doing the bidding of the mysterious Marsellus (Ving Rhames). Vincent and Jules (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson) crack wise in between blood-thirsty assignments. Vincent seems more interested in cultural differences across the pond than doing Marsellus’ dirty work, while Jules has a speech for nearly any occasion.
But Vincent gets more than he bargained for when Marsellus asks him to escort his lovely wife (Uma Thurman) on a platonic date.
Travolta brought his career back from the ‘Look Who’s Talking’ abyss with ‘Fiction.’ Whether it’s acting unsure of his desires around Thurman’s character or tearing up the dance floor with moves inspired by Adam West, Travolta reaffirms his movie star status in spades. His scenes with Thurman crackle with temptation, as Thurman twists Vincent around her manicured finger just for the thrill of it.
Yes, their ensuing dance sequence is worth rewinding, but it’s how their conversations evolve that cements their bond.
Jackson, arguably the best conduit for Tarantino’s rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, makes Jules a fearsome presence no matter how wide the actor’s grin grows.
The second half of ‘Pulp Fiction’ cannot measure up to the first. Bruce Willis’ turn as an aging boxer who refuses to throw a fight is a hoot, but it lacks the panache of those early Travolta sequences. Even when the story heads back to the diner where it all began the film can’t quite recapture that fizzy sense of the unknown.
One can quibble that Tarantino is being too precious with some of the film’s now-iconic moments, like the retro diner where Elvis impersonators mingle with wannabe Jayne Mansfields. But Tarantino’s control of the material is masterful – there’s not a wasted gesture or syllable.
The Blu-ray edition comes packed with six-plus hours of extras, including cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, a Tarantino interview on ‘The Charlie Rose Show,’ still galleries and a retrospective on the director’s career featuring Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.