Before anything else, some housecleaning. In my piece on BluRay and HD-DVD some time ago, I quoted Video Watchdog as saying the BluRay machines would not be backwards compatible. This has turned out, of course, to be inaccurate. Video Watchdog printed its correction, and I now follow suit.
Right, then. So, after a disappointing opening at the box office, the first reports about how Grindhouse will appear on DVD have surfaced, and that’s all the excuse I need to talk about the film again… now with the advantage of having seen it.
The entire exercise is a folly, of course, but it is a glorious one, and my take on the film is that, on balance, it’s a terrific wallow. The presentation is bang-on, the distressed prints, missing reels and other deliberate flaws contributing no small part of the project’s charm. The phony trailers are a treat (especially Edgar Wright’s contribution, which so perfectly captures the movies it mocks, I thought for a moment that I was seeing some actual outtakes from The Legend of Hell House). As for the feature presentations, one is an unalloyed treat, and the other is frustrating.
Robert Rodriguez provides, with Planet Terror, a flick that delivers and delivers and delivers on its exploitation promises. The pace is relentless, the make-up FX are hilariously gruesome, and the characters are surprisingly memorable. The cast is impeccable, and Josh Brolin is looking more and more like his father all the time, calling to mind such priceless fare as The Amityville Horror and The Car. Coming off this film, we are pumped up and ready for more expert sleaze, and that energy is maintained by the aforementioned trailers (not to mention a perfectly authentic, and thus perfectly frightening, add for the food at the concession stand).
And then we hit Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, and the rude sound you hear is a balloon deflating. Now, for the points I want to make here, I’m going to get into some spoilers (spoilers that Tarantino himself has already given away in Fangoria, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, stop reading now. Go see the movie. (In spite of my reservations, I do heartily recommend catching it.) I am not alone here in bemoaning the fact that Tarantino’s script simply refuses to shut the hell up and tell its story. Tarantino has a gift for dialogue, but here that gift has turned into self-indulgence. The first half of the film is supposed to be the ominous build-up and its goal is to make us care for its characters. But what we get isn’t character development. What we get is actors spouting Tarantino dialogue. We can’t buy them. The second half gives us more of the same: different set of female protagonists, more endless blather about nothing in particular while the plot is frozen in its tracks. The only difference is that we know Tarantino loves THESE women a lot more because they talk obsessively about 1970s car chase films, just like all other women in their early thirties. They aren’t characters. They’re Tarantino proxies. What makes the film so frustrating, however, is that it is far from being a total write-off. The murder scene, which Tarantino has described as being a giallo-style kill but with a car instead of a knife, is graphic, shocking, and as visually stunning as it is disturbing. And the climactic car chase is a stunner, almost worth sitting through the yammering to get to. To add to the frustration, it is difficult to see how Tarantino could have structured his film differently and still get in both of his set pieces. But in the past, when his characters have talked about nothing, the nothing was either very interesting, or there was a sense of the story still moving forward. The self-love that bogged down Jackie Brown has here passed all understanding.
Now comes word that the two features will be released individually, in longer forms. Terrible idea. One trusts that the double-bill will also be out on DVD, and don’t let the usual “director’s cut” aura fool you into making the wrong purchase. Lord know Tarantino’s film will be utterly excruciating if it were any longer. As it is, it’s a 45-minute film stretched to 90. But even the Rodriguez feature shouldn’t be touched. It’s just the right length now, and its missing reel should stay missing, as its absence produces one of the funniest moments of the entire three hours.