TRUE ROMANCE - DIRECTOR'S CUT

Director:  Tony Scott

Starring:  Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper

Patricia Arquette as Alabama WhitmanIt's a shame that True Romance hasn't become as popular as some of the other movies spawned by Quentin Tarantino. Apart from it's more conventional and straightforward narrative structure, it's only a shade away from Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino's rich dialogue and tangible, down-to-Earth characters are slightly undermined by Tony Scott's  neon-infested, slick direction, but the end result is much, much more Jackie Brown than Top Gun. (If nothing else, the cast is populated by actors from other Tarantino movies, including Christopher Penn, Christopher Walken and Tom Sizemore). 

True Romance's narrative twists are less flamboyant than those in Tarantino's self-directed movies, but its appeal is more immediate. In fact, if you're not hooked by a devastating close-up of Alabama (Patricia Arquette) while Clarence (Christian Slater) is explaining the plot of a comic book, a quarter of an hour into the movie, then you simply don't deserve True Romance

The original Region 2 DVD, released in January 2000, was a hidden gem in Warner Home Video's back catalogue: the disc was the only place to get Tony Scott's original Director's Cut of the movie (the film as it was before the MPAA disemboweled it - see CENSORSHIP HISTORY, below). Prior to the release of the Region 1 DVD, the Director's Cut had previously only been released as an NTSC laserdisc. The UK DVD was markedly better than the equivalent US disc, which only had 2.0 audio (the UK version was 5.1 at 384kbps), and, unlike the UK disc, wasn't anamorphic.

True Romance has been re-released as a Two-Disc Special Edition on both sides of the Atlantic, either of which make the older DVDs completely redundant. The improvements are more evident if you're upgrading from the US version, since the UK DVD seems to use the same transfer as the previous DVD (not that there's anything wrong with that - it's clean, sharp and artefact free). The new disc has a significantly improved bitrate (the old version was 4.91Mb/s, the new one is 6.47Mb/s), but this offers no appreciable improvement to the clarity or detail. The old disc was presented on a single-layer disc: the new one is a dual layer disc. (The layer change is well placed, at the end of Vincenzo Coccotti's visit to Clifford Worley (Dennis Hopper). Naturally, the US version has now been upgraded with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, to match the Region 2 version. The two-disc UK version does not include the DTS option offered on the US edition, but since the film's sound mix is not particularly elaborate, this should not be a deal-breaking omission. This new version also corrects a problem found with some of the earlier Region 2 copies, which had swapped audio channels. The Two Disc version has thirty-four chapters, which are the same as those on the old disc. 

DISC ONE:

Gary Oldman as drug dealing pimp DrexlDisc one contains the film in its original 2.35:1 theatrical ratio, enhanced for 16:9 presentation. It is supported by a choice of three commentary tracks: by Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette, by Quentin Tarantino and by Tony Scott. There's also an option to watch the film with the original storyboards superimposed, in a window in the bottom left hand corner of the screen (they're presented using the same technique as subtitles). The commentaries are all worth listening to. The Arquette and Slater track is chatty and informal, but covers the superficial angles you'd expect from the key cast members. Scott's commentary is full of information about general technique, but short on factual detail. There are plenty of interesting revelations, though, including ones about the rather unpleasant technique he used to motivate Arquette at moments when a strong emotional response was needed. Frankly it's just as well Arquette is around to tell her side of the story, otherwise you might think that Scott is a real asshole. Scott often doesn't really tackle the nitty gritty aspects you want him to (he barely mentions the quite radical changes the MPAA made to his film, for example). Quentin's commentary track is exactly as you'd expect, a cascade of information and opinion (particularly about the early part of his career). It's very interesting to hear one director comment on the choices made by another.  Quite why Tarantino has been unwilling to contribute commentary tracks for the movies he's directed is a complete mystery, as he handles the task very ably.

DISC TWO:

Disc two contains the real meat of the extras. There's no doubt that this is a comprehensive effort on the part of Morgan Creek (the company that made the film) and Warner Home Video (who distribute the DVD on their behalf). 

The first option is to watch selected scenes from the film with commentary from the actors featured. This allows Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt and Michael Rapaport to offer their thoughts on the film (and their scenes in particular), without the nightmare that scheduling a group commentary would have incurred. This segment runs for just under an hour, with Rapaport's section accounting for just over half of it.  Each offers interesting insights into their characters, and about working with Scott. Hopper's commentary is a little hesitant, but particularly insightful, as he shares advice given to him by his own acting tutor.  Pitt reveals that he was originally being considered for a larger role in the film (presumably Slater's), but just didn't "get" it, so opted to appear as the roommate, Floyd (it was Pitt's suggestion that Floyd became a stoner, because, he reasoned, the character was always found in the same place!)

Christopher Walken as Vincenzo Coccotti in a scene deleted from "True Romance"The highlight of the disc, at least for its growing band of fans, will be the eleven deleted scenes, which run for a total of  just under half an hour. These finally reveal the source of several shots which tantalisingly appeared in the trailer, but which didn't make the finished movie, including a conspicuously absent bath tub sequence! Some are extensions to scenes that were in the film (a longer version of Alabama and Clarence's meeting at the cinema, which now ends with a tiny role for High Fidelity's Jack Black, for example). These are available with or without commentary by Scott (who admits that he now regrets that some of them were dropped). 

The deleted scenes also include additional material with Samuel L. Jackson (delivering dialogue almost as good as the famous Tarantino-penned speeches in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction), Christopher Walken (the source of his memorable trailer line "find out who this wing-and-a-prayer artist is and take him off at the neck"), Tom Sizemore, Christopher Penn and Bronson Pinchot. The deleted scenes are presented in anamorphic widescreen format, and are generally of reasonably good quality. Presented separately from the deleted scenes is an alternative ending (6'32"), with optional commentary by Tony Scott or Quentin Tarantino. Scott's fairytale ending is one of the film's weakest aspects, but Tarantino's version, despite being more realistic, is no more satisfying. Tarantino articulates Scott's motives for changing the ending better than the director himself, and ultimately has to admit that Scott's ending is "better for the film that Tony made".  The alternative ending has storyboards standing in for a couple of shots which weren't located (or shot), and seems to have been "completed" on video rather then film. Annoyingly, when this scene ends you're returned to Warner's endless series of copyright screens, which destroys the mood, and is rather irksome. 

Val Kilmer as the ghost of Elvis, in a shot from the "True Romance" trailerThe disc's Publicity Gallery section contains the film's theatrical trailer ("Not since Bonnie and Clyde have people been so good at being bad!"), which suggests that the marketing people couldn't make their minds up how they were going to sell the film, which, admittedly, is somewhat schizophrenic, mixing romance and brutal violence in roughly equal measure!

This section also contains two TV spots (Cast and Chasing), and a contemporary promotional EPK (5m), which includes on-set interviews with most of the key cast members, and a few precious scraps of behind the scenes footage. (If there's one criticism of the disc's content, it's that there's not more material like this)  The EPK and the trailer, incidentally, are the only place you can see a reasonably clear shot of Val Kilmer in his Elvis makeup (above).

An animated photo gallery (5m), set to Hans Zimmer's bouncy score, offers an anamorphic slideshow of on-set photo's, portraits and pictures especially shot for the poster. The UK disc is missing trailers for a handful of other Morgan Creek movies.

The True Romance Two Disc Special Edition improves upon the original disc in every way, and offers a wealth of new bonus material. The producers of the disc have done an outstanding job, offering fans of the movie just about everything they have hoped for (not to mention securing the help and services of half a dozen leading actors, the film's writer, and its director - no mean feat!) Warner Home Video have been on a roll recently, and True Romance builds on their reputation for creating first-class Special Edition discs. 


CENSORSHIP HISTORY

WARNING: This section contains spoilers

The MPAA cut about three minutes from the film before it hit American cinemas, to allow it to be released with an R rating. This included cuts from four sequences:

Samual L. Jackson's dialogue was extensively trimmed, reducing his role in the film to little more than that of an extra.

Clarence's fight with Alabama's pimp, Drexl (Gary Oldman) was toned down, reducing the number of shots fired, and removing sight a bullet hitting Drexl's groin.

The harrowing scene where Virgil (The Sopranos star James Gandalfini) beats up Alabama at the Safari Inn was extensively cut.  The end of the scene is cut, too. In the R-rated version Alabama shoots Virgil once with the pump-action. In the Director's Cut she shoots him five times, emits a primal scream, and then brutally clubs his body with the gun. Further shots of Alabama being thrown through a glass shower door (totaling about three seconds) were removed from the UK theatrical version by the BBFC, which was otherwise the same as the R-rated.

The shootout at the Beverly Ambassador hotel was also heavily trimmed, significantly reducing the Peckinpah-style violence, and deleting one of Donowitz's lines, as he realises Elliot Bitzer (Bronson Pinchot) has betrayed him. Most significant, though, is the excision of a sequence showing Alabama shooting Officer Dimes (Christopher Penn) three times. In the theatrical version this was replaced by a brief shot showing one of the New York thugs as the killer.

Previous UK VHS versions (including the letterboxed Maverick Directors tape) were of the UK theatrical version. The cuts to the video version were made before submission to the BBFC by Warner Home Video (in order to bring the film into line with the theatrical version). When the Director's Cut was submitted to the Board in 1999, it was felt that film could be released uncut. 

With thanks to Brad Stevens, the BBFC and DeadKenny.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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