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Blu-ray Review: Natural Born Killers (Unrated Director’s Cut)

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Natural Born Killers is one of the very few films whose message transcends itself and bleeds into the actual material existence of the film in the real world. Three-time Academy Award winner Oliver Stone set out to make a mockery of the American media’s sensationalistic obsession with anything celebrity — and most importantly how we, as citizens, hungrily eat it up. In this director's cut, restored is every visceral, psychedelic, and shocking moment Stone finely tuned to boost the moral of his tale.

Mallory falls for a sadistic but tender loving criminal, Mickey. He steals her away from her sexually and violently abusive father and they set out on a maddening psychological downward spiral of savagery and true love. Robert Downey Jr.’s Wayne Gale acts as a metaphorical assimilation of many a famous media journalist (mostly a Geraldo Rivera caricature), encouraging the propulsion of something as deplorable as serial murderers into celebrity status. In the case of the real world, Natural Born Killers was bashed for not only its extreme violence but for its daringly unconventional approach to filmmaking. In spite of – and perhaps thanks to – all of that, the film has proven its timeless artistic vision. The success of Natural Born Killers has been an amusingly ironic one.

Tommy Lee Jones says it best in one of the many interviews on the disc: “You don’t have be a very sophisticated person to know that this is not an exploitation film. This is an art film.” Stone set out to make something that was a deeper analysis on the consequences and logic behind violence and our appetite for it among other things. He wanted to show us the inconvenient truth that deviants are people too – or used to be – and there are very sound reasons behind their psychological divergence. In Stone’s commentary, you'll discover proof of his incredibly deep grasp of psychology and metaphor through the art of film.

If there are any faults in the film, they’re forgettable. A couple of parts drag. And at the time of this writing, I can’t think of much else unless Stone mentions it himself. In his humility, which Tom Sizemore speaks of highly, Stone admits that Mickey’s taking of the media room later in the film is a bit unrealistic, and would have done it much differently if he could go back.

Still, the film is expertly shot, bouncing between imagery from nearly every type of camera you can imagine from every angle you can imagine — 8mm, 16mm, 32mm, 35mm, and Super 8, to name just a few. Each camera serves its own metaphorical or mood-setting purpose accompanied by an onslaught of over 3,000 cuts, while most films average around 700.

Sound and music incessantly set tone and emotional cues. Each scene and segment has its own soundtrack and sometimes a reprise of particular songs to familiarize the viewer with a common theme or mood. Songs are sometimes mixed with other songs or sounds to create battling emotions or to intensify a scene. This can get as noisy as you would assume, but this only serves to enhance the hectic rampage of cuts, colors, and content.

Performances are equally as strong as the production. Each personality is a caricature of the press, the law, or the media and the entire cast plays along with a funky grace. But I want to speak specifically of Juliette Lewis’ Mallory Knox. Lewis is the only female actor I have ever seen who can exude a persona that's as equally hard-assed as it is genuine and intimidating.

In one scene in particular in which she and Woody Harrelson’s character exact revenge on Mallory’s parents, Lewis conveys a potent hatred that instills a slight sense of fear in my gut. Look at fervent evil in her eyes as she sets her mother’s bed on fire and you’ll see precisely why there couldn't have been anyone better for this role. The best part about her performance is that she never forces it. Eerily, it seems to come naturally to her — no pun, I swear.

Natural Born Killers is a very dark satire, mocking the sick desires most of us hide but wouldn’t dare admit to. In the film, American citizens are just as disturbed as Mickey and Mallory as they hold them up on a celebrity pedestal. The media serves it and we eat it. In fact, we dress it up with our own condiments and spices and devour it like dogs. Oliver Stone is very successful in holding the mirror up to America then painting a goofy mustache and hairdo on our reflection. You can hate what you see in the mirror and throw a brick into the glass, but not only would you be missing the point, you’re a part of it.

Movie Score:

Video

Those videophiles not familiar with Natural Born Killers are in for a shock. Many of the cameras used produce a rather sickly look to promote all the harsh, gruesome chaos. Colors often get washed out and covered in every nasty flaw that film has to offer. But that’s what Natural Born Killers is all about. And I couldn't be happier that most of the imagery has been left every flaw intact.

Presented in 1.85:1, 1080p, the majority of the film is either in black and white and drenched in noise or in Super 8 with the remainder of cameras peppered throughout. The best judge of quality would be of the Super 8 shots, which produce a vibrant and natural palette. These shots can look rather soft and off-putting for those used to the usual sharpness of high definition. This, however, is intentional as it’s used to contrast the dirt and grime of the many other cameras used. Everything shot in Super 8, at least, is consistent, has fantastic color, solid blacks, and an angelic bloom to most light sources or edges. This, again, is a very respectful and respectable transfer from Warner Bros.

Audio

While the surrounds don’t do much for cranking the atmosphere, this is one of the most even and clear mixes I’ve heard on Blu-ray. With a crisp 5.1 Dolby TrueHD aural front, every specific piece of the mix is as clear as day no matter which element you wish to dissect. Focus your ears on the dialogue during the loudest, most obnoxious scenes and you can hear every pop of their lips. Listen to the music as it folds into and on top of other songs and you can still hear every cymbal crash and vocal tone of each piece.

One particular bit I really love is a rather obscure reference, but pay attention to a scene where Downey Jr.’s Wayne Gale is interviewing Mickey. Watch for a point where Gale puts the arm of his glasses in his mouth. You can hear the plastic rub against his teeth as if he is leaning over into your ear gnawing on a pen.

Special Features

Included is a  44-page Booklet" (if you want to call this a special feature) – A strikingly informative read showcasing the individual characters as well as tons of stats and factoids. Awesome bathroom material.

"Introduction by Oliver Stone" (New Intro HD) – Oliver Stone quotes the Mexican poet Octavio Paz to convey his disgust regarding the then and still current state of our obsession with media and celebrity.

"Commentary by Director Oliver Stone" (from original SD release) – A very informative commentary especially if you’re an up and coming filmmaker looking to get an inside look at how one of today’s most risky American director’s mind works.

"NBK Evolution: How Would It All Go Down Now?" (in HD) – This is a rather clever and simultaneously unsettling idea that is explored intelligently and cohesively arranged. A surprising and ironic choice for a guest makes an appearance for this documentary.

"Chaos Rising The Storm Around Natural Born Killers" (from original SD release) – a self-explanatory piece satisfyingly rife with various actors insight.

"Deleted scenes with optional commentary by Oliver Stone" (from original SD release)

  • The Desert
  • Steven Wright
  • The Courtroom
  • The Hun Brothers
  • The Drive-In
  • Denis Leary
  • Alternate ending with an introduction by Oliver Stone (from original SD release)

These are all fairly interesting in their own right. They’re not really deleted scenes per se, since many of them don’t fit into any context of the story. These are more like supplemental scenes, or bonus scenes, if you will.

"Charlie Rose Interview" (from the HD DVD release in SD) – Charlie Rose asks of Oliver Stone what’s in Natural Born Killers personally for the filmmaker.

"NBK Director’s Cut Trailer" – Last but not least, the trailer.

The special features here are a relief. While they aren’t as extensive as some densely packed offerings such as Transformers, Natural Born Killers: Director's Cut offers quality over quantity. Each feature has something intriguing and informative to offer the viewer/ or fan as every actor, producer, or director supplies insightful and sometimes surprising morsels of data for you to chew on.

Overall Score:

Released on October 13, Natural Born Killers Unrated Director's Cut on Blu-ray is available now and is absolutely the definitive, must-own package for fans and film geeks everywhere.

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About Jesse G. Barnes

  • Diane

    NICE! I barely remember this movie. Your insight has inspired me to watch it again.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jesse-g-barnes Jesse G. Barnes

    When I was much younger, I just thought it was a cool movie. Watching now, I see how obvious the message is – especially considering that Oliver Stone and company speak incessantly of it throughout the special features.

    Thanks, for reading! I’m glad I’ve inspired a re-watch.

  • http://www.factzoo.com tokay gecko

    I was much younger when I saw it and although I think I understood the message I didn’t start to philosophize, but now… I wonder if people became more aware of the issue from watching the movie. Will people consciously deal with the shallow and evil culture we have. Geraldo TV and much worse seems to be growing bigger.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jesse-g-barnes Jesse G. Barnes

    Tokay,

    I don’t think enough people translated NBK as it should have been. Do people consciously deal with it? I don’t know. Do we even recognize it happening? But,I use my talents in the best way I know how to do my part in artistically conveying a reminder of this sort of wake up call through music and literature.

    The sensationalism bores me. I see right through it. And sadly, I agree it only seems to be getting bigger.

    Thanks for reading and your thoughts.

  • http://spectropoetics.com philosophy

    cinema is errie, it is filled with ghosts and its hard to tell if they are acting like us or we are acting like them. i think it increases superficiality, but then we wouldnt know of each other without mediation.