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Reservoir Dogs

Magna/Magna . R4 . COLOR . 95 mins . R . PAL


Armed with the many benefits of retrospection, it’s easy to yabber on about how influential this, Quentin Tarantino’s directorial debut, became. But just imagine what the whole scene must have looked like back around the beginning of the ‘90s. A garrulous motor mouth video store clerk who’s a wannabe auteur, a scrawled script for a film titled after a misheard grumble from a customer which throws most Hollywood conventions out the window – even the established staples like a linear plot - but contains a liberal peppering of trivial pop culture references, shit-loads of violence and f*ckloads of swearing. On the face of it you’d give it an icy pole’s chance in the Sahara of ever being put to film. However, of course, hindsight tells us that it did get made, and how it went on to influence all manner of crap pretenders and, of course, a couple of decent non-pretenders, too. But before the dreaded and decidedly wanky ‘z’ word gets dropped, let’s move on shall we?

It almost seems pointless undertaking a summation of a film which has become such a well-known classic of modern day film noir – in fact it pretty much served as the resuscitator for the once quite forgotten genre. I mean, even the likes of pop culture king of the castle The Simpsons has taken decent chunks of Dogs and done its own thang with them. But hey, I’m a tough cookie, so I’ll give it a go just in case somebody reading this has hitherto been too squeamish to have borne witness to the film.

To define it somewhat over-simply, Reservoir Dogs is a heist flick – except for the slight little detail that the heist isn’t exactly seen. Instead we get the precursory arrangements for a diamond job, with the gang assembled by Joe (Lawrence Tierney) and his son Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn) in a diner discussing the merits of Madonna songs and arguing tipping ethics. To avoid problems if any are caught, aliases are used in the form of Mr Pick-a-Colour-Any-Colour (hello The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3, cheers for the idea...) As such we have Mr White (Harvey Keitel, whose involvement was instrumental in getting this sucker off paper and onto celluloid in the first place), Mr Blond (Michael Madsen), Mr Orange (Tim Roth), Mr Brown (Tarantino himself), Mr Blue (Eddie Bunker) and the reluctantly named Mr Pink (the always brilliant Steve Buscemi).

Then come the opening credits, and before you can say “BAM!” we’re dumped in the back of a car post-job, with a somewhat bloodied and still profusely bleeding Mr Orange being ferried to the rendezvous point, the archetypal abandoned warehouse, by Mr White. Mr Pink rocks up, and it seems obvious there was a rat in their pack, as the cops were on to them just a little bit too quick. Things jump about through time much like Mr Peabody and Sherman in a totally fritzed out WABAC Machine, where we get a bit of back history on some of our Misters, and learn that some were lost in the ambushed heist and some were injured, while others escaped relatively unscathed. Some of these blow in and out, adding agro, hostages and a crap-load more “BAM!” to the whole cocktail as they try to work out who the dobber was. Oh, there’s also a little scene many may have heard of involving Mr Blond and his turning a copper into a Chopper...

"Torture you? That's a good idea, I like that."

It all comes across a bit like an extremely stylised and darkly humorous Dick Tracy tale on steroids that have been laced with bad acid, and still stands up today as both a remarkable debut and an amazingly engrossing tale in its own right – even if nothing much actually happens when you stop to think about it. Much mention, discussion and downright heated argument has gone down over the supposed over-the-top violence inherent within Reservoir Dogs, however what is interesting to note is how often it isn’t actually seen – rather, in the best Hitchcockian tradition, it is implied, and when such things are left to our fragile little minds to warp and twist like hyper-pretzels it’s sometimes amazing how much worse they can seem to be.

Sure much kudos for the tale’s success must go to the stellar cast, as blokey as it is (has anybody else noticed not a single female has a speaking part at all?), however it would be ludicrous to overlook Tarantino’s influence, after all, he also wrote the sucker. For many he really did turn the way filmmaking was looked at on its ear (so to speak), and more than the odd one or two directors since could hardly deny the influence this – and the follow-up, the sprawling Pulp Fiction - had on them. And, for the most part, this alone is reason to be thankful that some people in power were prepared to take a chance on a certain dweeby video store clerk and his dream.


As content-wise this release is essentially the same as the tenth anniversary Artisan one from the US, if reviews of that particular disc are anything to go by then this would have an appalling transfer. The good news? It most certainly doesn’t, at least not to these eyes.

The main criticism levelled against the region 1 version was in the blacks being decidedly not black. As an example of how good our release actually looks in this respect, the opening scene where the camera pans about the diner table, often seeing the picture eclipsed completely by the backs of various Mr Colours, delivers absolutely spot on blacks, with no sign of greyness at all. So far so good.

It all comes in a 16:9 enhanced ratio of 2.35:1, and elsewhere the news is nothing but good. The print is remarkably clean and speck-free – putting many, many films of more recent vintage which make have made their way onto DVD to shame. Detail is rich whilst not leading to any noticeable aliasing or shimmer, grain is scarcely an issue and as for colour, well the palette is rather muted – seemingly by directorial intention – however when such things as blood, blood and more blood show up they do so with deep, quite authentic colouring. Even the layer change is well placed, in a fade to black between scenes. It is only slightly noticeable due to a very brief pause in the background thrum.

In all this transfer by far exceeds expectation when compared to other releases of similar vintage, and should have fans severing their ears with utter celebratory glee. Well, the weirder ones at any rate...


Whereas the sound certainly won’t have you tearing the old aural receptors off for any bad reasons. In almost over the top fashion a choice of either DTS 5.1 or Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes is on offer, and really there is virtually nothing discernibly different between the two, although I am sure that those who are desperately trying to justify the extra shekels forked over for DTS capabilities may beg to differ...

This is all despite the fact that there’s very little call for audio gymnastics for what is well and truly a dialogue based feature. This isn’t to say the surrounds, and indeed the subwoofwoof, aren’t called upon on occasions, in fact there are some lovely ambient things going down all around, most notably in the pre-credits sequence. Deep bass is for the most part decidedly scarce, and when present hardly noticeable, but it is certainly nice to have that little bit of extra oomph adding to the mix regardless.

It’s the front soundstage, however, that bears the brunt of the work, and it does so superbly. Dialogue is clear at all times and makes nice use of its three speaker playground (which is good, as for some stupid reason no subtitles are included). The occasional forays into ‘BAM!’ territory give an appropriate jolt without causing dives for the volume control, and in all this is a fantastic sound mix.

As is Tarantino’s style, there is no score as such, simply a selection of rather eclectic super songs of the ‘70s such as the George Baker Selection (they’re from Holland you know, how weird!) with their funky Little Green Bag, that dancing baby from Ally McBeal/flavoured milk ad song by Blue Swede and, of course, the one which gives you a little shudder every time you hear it, Stealer’s Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You.


If you’ve got quite a few hours to kill, then the pretty much exhausting array of extras here will have you boogieing around wherever your home theatre is set up with abject glee. Let’s see if I can make the wade through it all successfully...

Disc One

First up is a commentary of the sticky-taped together variety. Rather than being gleaned from a gathering specifically convened for commentating purposes, a collection of interview snippets with Tarantino, producer Lawrence Bender, a number of the crew and some of the cast (but no Steve Buscemi, humph!) accompanies the film. Whilst it isn’t scene specific, there’s a heap of fascinating insight for fans to munch on here, and pleasingly each person is introduced to us rather than just piping up and leaving us wondering who the hell they are.

If you’re after more of a critic’s ear view of Reservoir Dogs, then the three critics’ commentaries should be right up your alley. In all around 70 minutes of footage is included, playable as a chunk or separately, with critics Amy Taubin (Film Comment), Peter Travers (Rolling Stone) and Emanuel Levy (well, he’s actually an author and film professor) romping through their favourite bits of the film and offering their own insights into Tarantino’s creative processes. It is kind of weird hearing the word “nice” being used in relation to the film though!

Wrapping up the goodies on the first disc is a simple theatrical trailer. In grungy, non-anamorphic 1.78:1, it runs for 1:32 and offers a decent tease as to what the film’s about. Oh, there’s also that rather cheesy DTS trailer, too.

Now, if all that’s not enough, now it’s time for...

Disc Two

...on which all bits and bobs are presented in anamorphically enhanced, 1.78:1 and ‘play all’ options are pleasingly plentiful.

First up is a collection of six interviews, from which much of the commentary was cobbled together. More specifically these are with actors Chris Penn (6:53), Kirk Baltz (6:47), Michael Madsen (11:15) and Tim Roth (9:05), plus Lawrence Bender (6:07) and QT himself (14:44). All put together quite stylishly for the tenth anniversary of the film, these strike a good balance between fluff and substance, although if you’ve listened to the commentary you may get more than the odd touch of déjà vu.

The rather intriguing K-BILLY radio is up next, which is a static piccie of an old car radio offering a choice of four out of five active push buttons (as to why number four’s a dud, answers on a postcard please). If you wanna hear what a weal wobber finks of the flick, press button one. If you wish to find out more about Gerry Baker Street Rafferty, one half of Stealer’s Wheel, then press the second. The third presenets us with Steven Wright’s tapingd for the flick, complete with instructions from Tarantino and more than the occasional outbreak of laughter. Finally, button number five brings us Reservoir Dolls – an alternative take on the ear scene which, if the whole film had been done this way, could have left a shitload more budget money for beer and pretzels...

The Class of ‘92 is next up to the plate, which is a collection of interviews not necessarily related to Reservoir Dogs. Instead we get an intro under the auspices of The Memories, the Moments, the Misery (8:04) followed by chats with filmmakers Alex Rockwell (3:24), Chris Munch (4:06), Katt Shae (3:55), Tom Kalin (4:23) and one Mr Tarantino (5:14) and all manner of recollections from the 1992 Sundance Film Festival. Speaking of which, this section also includes the Sundance Institute’s Filmmaker’s Lab, which is basically 11:34 of preparatory work for the film which gives us some bonus Buscemi for our buck.

If you haven’t had enough by now, you may wish to mosey on into Tributes and Dedications. After a general intro (10:42), the late Lawrence Tierney (14:46) and Eddie Bunker (8:03) are both remembered, and then there’s more in the way of interviews, specifically with Monte Hellman (4:48), Jack Hill (5:51), Pam Grier (2:24) and Roger Corman (5:02), all offering their own thoughts on Dogs.

Those into the darker side of movies will surely delight at the Film Noir Web - although the section entitled The Noir Files will only be savoured as long as the viewer’s screens are large enough to allow legibility, as it all comes to us in many, many screens of very small print. Covering books and films, characters and actors, writers and directors and ‘the basics’ (which consists of How to Handle a Gun and Dave’s Handy Pocket Guide to the Big Three - whoever Dave may be...), this is the perfect primer for anybody wishing to learn more about this little adjunct of popular cinema. Meanwhile, more interviews are featured here. Following an intro (10:37), we meet filmmakers Mike Hodges (1:32), Robert Polito (1:19), John Boorman (2:54), Donald Westlake (0:55) and Stephen Frears (1:40), all of whom can easily impart a thing or three about all things noir.

A brief (4:05 to be precise) featurette entitled Small Dogs is next up, giving us a quick look into the action figure marketing side of the film. The Securing the Shot featurette (4:20) follows, offering a quick bit of insight into scouting locations on a budget by the use of stills and a touch of voiceover. Next is a rather pointless little 20 second exercise entitled Reservoir Dogs Style Guide, which well and truly puts the ‘f’ back into ‘arty’, followed by a jam-packed poster gallery featuring a whole three entries.

And finally we get to the deleted scenes. There are five in all - Background Check (4:40), No Protection (2:57), Doing My Job (2:31) and two alternate takes quite perfunctorily entitled Cutting Off the Ear (0:58 and 1:21). Being commentary-free, we’re left to argue the merits of their deletion amongst ourselves, and to constantly titter at remembrances of one of the alternate takes which actually shows the ear being cut off. If it looked even vaguely real it may give cause for more squeamishness, but as it stands it is pure comedy.

What, you mean that’s all there is in the way of extras?!


Containing everything of note from the US tenth anniversary release (we can live without a pan and scam transfer and five different covers, ta very much), this local two-disc release of Reservoir Dogs really does exceed all expectations. Anybody who can find fault with the excellent transfer is a total nut job, especially when you keep in mind this was hardly a big-budgeted blockbuster when made, the DTS and DD5.1 sound mixes make things sound as good as they ever could (even if some may argue they’re a tad superfluous) and the extras package goes beyond just taking a thorough look at the film to dive deeply into fascinating insights into the whole film noir genre through the years and much more besides.

Oh, there’s also a, to use the appropriate vernacular, f*cking incredible film (dare the phrase “modern day classic” be used?) stuck in the middle there somewhere, too...

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  •  DVD NET Gold Review List 
      And I quote...
    "This local two-disc release of Reservoir Dogs really does exceed all expectations..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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