The unfortunate reality is this: no film Quentin Tarantino makes will ever come close to rivaling the brilliance of Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. The writer-director has said himself that he does not expect to repeat the critical, commercial, or artistic success of his first two movies. Fans have to accept that, while Tarantino’s subsequent work is unlikely to be again as groundbreaking as films he wrote when he was but a starving, lowly video store clerk, his visual style, at once derivative and innovative, and his sharp dialogue, often imitated but never equaled, make any of his movies worth seeing.
With Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Tarantino has taken somewhat of a risk by limiting, if not almost entirely excising, two of the hallmarks of his films that endear his film geek fan base to him. The film contains both far less dialogue and far less pop-culture references than any of his previous films. Instead, we are treated to multiple extended action sequences punctuated by an eclectic soundtrack.
The direction is solid without being showy. As always, Tarantino has an excellent eye, and pulls off many difficult shots with ease. The limited dialogue, two-dimensional characters, and episodic structure serve the absurdly basic revenge plot, limiting characters’ motivations and emotions to the comic-book basics of loyalty and revenge. It’s doubtful Tarantino will get another Oscar nod for this particular script, but his talent at making a basic story more layered and interesting is a large part of what makes the film worth watching.
Uma Thurman does a fine job as “The Bride,” but if the viewer is not as enamored of her as Tarantino clearly is, lingering shots of her bare feet and close-up upon close-up of her face set into a determined resolve may begin to wear thin by the end of the last reel. For better or for worse, Thurman is largely overshadowed by the supporting players: Lucy Lui as Yakuza boss O-Ren Ishii, Sonny Chiba as sword maker Hattori Hanzo, and even the mostly off-screen David Carradine in the title role all add more to the film than Thurman. The Bride is less of a character than a force in the film, moving between the episodes with an almost mechanical certainty.
Cinematic tricks, including O-Ren Ishii’s anime-inspired back story and a black-and-white battle sequence, while sure to delight Tarantino aficionados, add little to the film overall.
Despite its limitations, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is a fine addition to the Tarantino canon. While only one-half of the story, it is well-crafted and entertaining enough to stand on its own.
This first version of Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (there is sure to be a “special edition” once Vol. 2 hits DVD) is presented in beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The print is flawless and the layer shift indistinguishable. The animated and b&w sequences, whatever their cinematic merits, benefit from the high quality of the presentation.
The DTS 5.1 soundtrack makes excellent use of surround sound in both quiet and loud sequences, creating a truly immersive experience.
Where the disc completely falls down is in terms of special features. Other than a short featurette, music video, and trailers for other Tarantino films, there are none to speak of. No commentary, no outtakes or screen tests, no in-depth making of or interviews. While all of these are likely to show up in the special edition, there’s little here beyond the film itself to make this disc worth owning.
Film: *** Disc: **