Dvd extras

Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Star Trek II

Spock dead; Quentin Tarantino missing.

The DVD should be the ideal platform for Quentin Tarantino. The guy can talk endlessly about himself and his films. But strangely, on the new Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs disks, he hardly talks at all. There’s almost no fresh material from the director. The problem is that the disks are arriving during Tarantino’s Silent Period, when he’s holed up making actual movies and presumably has no time for DVDs. It’s enough to make you long for his Yammering Phase of the mid-’90s, when his primary profession was doing interviews and appearing on late-night talk shows.

This is not to say that the Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs two-disk sets aren’t worth buying. Both come trimmed with high-quality, if somewhat dated, extras, which show the freewheeling Tarantino in full bloom. But there’s very little newly recorded material from the director, and neither disk nails down how well he or his movies have aged.

It may seem hard to believe now, but seven years ago, Tarantino was Hollywood’s Mr. Available. He was a tireless raconteur and self-promoter, shilling for independent film in general and himself in particular. The Pulp Fiction disks first catch Tarantino in full swagger at the 1994 Cannes Films Festival, where during his Palm D’Or acceptance speech he shoots the bird to a French heckler. In an episode of Charlie Rose included on the disks, Tarantino appears in a teal sports jacket and Key lime tie. He praises his own screenwriting and then, minutes later, berates the great American directors of the ‘70s for fumbling away their careers.

This old footage is fun to watch, but where’s the fresh material? As it is, the most notable new Tarantino features are a couple of short interview segments attached to Reservoir Dogs. These could have been interesting, but Tarantino is too scatterbrained to fashion a coherent interview by himself. He needs a good interlocutor, someone who could point the director toward obvious questions like: What do you think of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction now? And is your tireless promotion of independent filmmaking a good thing even if indie directors are making low-grade rip-offs of your own stuff? As they’re presented here, the interviews are almost unintelligible, though Tarantino has an inspired jag about underrated “comedies” in which he calls Taxi Driver “fucking hilarious.”

Tarantino has tricked out both DVDs with deleted scenes. The Reservoir Dogs disks have two alternative camera angles of the scene in which Mr. Blonde, played by Michael Madsen, whips out a razor and slices off a hostage’s ear. Both are so gory as to make the scene nearly unwatchable; in the film, the camera mercifully pans away at the moment of severance. The excised scenes from Pulp Fiction feature more jokey monologues that go on way too long, including a monotonous bit from Eric Stoltz about people who willfully give wrong directions. The Pulp scenes come with wild, rambling introductions from Tarantino, but even these are dated: They were recorded shortly after the release of the film and first appeared on a Criterion Collection laserdisc several years ago.

The big disappointment is that Tarantino, who never used to stop talking, didn’t record audio commentary for Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown, which is being released on DVD simultaneously. Reservoir Dogs has a commentary track, but it’s populated by Tarantino and a mishmash of actors and crew, and some of the audio clips were obviously heisted from old interviews. Tarantino’s reluctance to get more involved puts him squarely in a group of director-recluses who are too cool for DVD, like Woody Allen and Terrence Malick.

What drove Tarantino into hiding?Perhaps a clue lies in a 1995 episode of Siskel & Ebert, included on the Pulp Fiction disks, in which the hosts urge Q.T. to ditch the guest-star and talk-show circuit, lest he one day wind up appearing on games shows opposite Charles Nelson Reilly. Shortly after, Tarantino slunk back to his desk and buckled down, working on Jackie Brown, then the upcoming splatter flick Kill Bill, and after that a World War II drama called Glorious Bastards.

A distracting dancer in this famous scene In a way, that’s too bad, because these DVDs could have used his boundless energy. We’re reminded of this while watching one marvelous extra: on-set footage from the filming of John Travolta and Uma Thurman’s Pulp Fiction dance scene. The stars don’t really catch your eye—they look and move exactly as they do in the film. What does catch your eye is a man, his back to the documentarian’s camera, dancing right alongside the actors. A dance coach? An overeager stage hand? No, it’s Tarantino, doing a White Man’s Boogie that seems to be the missing link between the Watusi and the Heisman Trophy pose. He is giddy and fearless and without ego. Which makes you wonder, whatever happened to that guy?

The new Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan DVD has plenty of extras for obsessives to moon over: director’s commentary, new scenes, even an interview with Trek-obsessed writers who have novelized other Khan adventures. But the masterstroke was commissioning a text-only commentary from Michael Okuda, the co-author of the Star Trek Encyclopedia and a consultant on various Trek films and TV shows. Where audio commentary runs on top of the movie’s soundtrack, text commentary scrolls out along the bottom of the screen, like subtitles. Because we’re constantly waiting for Okuda’s words to refresh, the commentary has the feel of having snuck into an Internet chat room. Okuda types: Star Trek II is a lesson in efficient film making … (long pause, while screen refreshes) … and ingenious use of resources.

Clip 1 - Scene from Star Trek
Witty commentary on Scotty’s burden

With that paean to Trek dom out of the way, Okuda morphs from obsequious fanboy into a snide, Mystery Science Theater-esque wisecracker. When the Enterprise’s chief engineer appears next to Kirk and Co. with a dead body after a battle sequence, Okuda deadpans, It’s not entirely clear why Scotty brought his nephew up to the bridge. He even tallies the number of times The Wrath of Khan breaks sacred Trek laws. Infraction No. 1: Kirstie Alley’s Saavik is the first female Vulcan to appear on Trek with a name beginning with a letter other than “T.” Infraction No. 2: In the film, Khan’s first mate is named Joachim. But when the same character appeared in an old Trek TV episode, his name was Joachi n.

This is important stuff. And Okuda knows how to pilot the viewer through a Trek film: First, shower the Trekkies with arcana; then, once we’ve established that we’re all nerds here, hoot at the truly awful stuff that slipped into the film. But Okuda also knows when the series should command our awe. At the end of The Wrath of Khan, Spock swallows a mouthful of radiation and dies—though not, of course, before having a final Meaningful Conversation with Capt. Kirk. During this, the most moving scene Star Trek ever produced, Okuda doesn’t type anything at all.