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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.78:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • 7 Deleted scenes - including alternate ending
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary - by director Oliver Stone
  • Animated menus
  • Awards/Nominations - 'Chaos Rising - The Storm Around NBK'

Natural Born Killers - The Director's Cut

Trimark/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 116 mins . R . PAL

  Feature
Contract

I'm fairly sure that everybody reading this review has some conception of what Natural Born Killers is, or, at least, they believe they do (and often, public perception is incorrect in hindsight). Immediately controversial even before release, it was accused by critics and The Guardians Of Public DecencyTM of condoning the media violence that director Oliver Stone claimed it was satirising. At the time, the film itself seemed almost secondary to the Moral Outrage (which makes great copy on Page 3), but time has marched on and the director's cut (with around 150 MPAA-enforced snips restored) has slipped quietly into the shelves.

The screenplay is based upon a story by Quentin Tarantino, but I have no idea how he feels about the final product; his presence is conspicuously absent during the accompanying documentary. The story concerns a pair of lovers, Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis), both abused in childhood, who take out their pain and disillusionment upon society in a killing spree across the country. Chased by a sleazy reporter (Robert Downey Jr) and a seriously corrupt police officer (Tom Sizemore), they become media darlings.

Stone is making a simple point - that our society treasures celebrity above all else, and with the rapid attention of the media, such a simple and depraved an act as mass murder is enough to gather a cult following. However, he undermines his own position; many critics believe that by utilising eye-catching visual techniques and allowing his protagonists to escape justice, he reinforces the culture of violence rather than condemning it.

When the inevitable 'copycat' killings occured soon after the film's release, Stone made the statement that no piece of art was sufficient to incite murder in the average person, and there's absolutely no scientific evidence that he's wrong. Of course, that's beside the point. The film is not about violence per se. Violence occurs, certainly, but the real focus here is our reaction to that. Many critics seemed to miss that and ended up attacking Stone with ill-conceived arguments designed to stir up the public. Truth mimics fiction.

My personal take on the issue is that it should be blatantly obvious to anybody who's endured an episode of A Current Affair that our popular media is sensationalistic, biased and exploitative before they've even seen a frame of NBK footage, and there's really not enough meat in the plot or the characters to carry the film much beyond the half-way point.

I'm also trying really hard to avoid mentioning the pain caused by Downey's 'Orstrailyan' accent.

  Video
Contract

The film has been described as the biggest student film in history, as Stone and his creative team decided to go to town on the visuals, making a pastiche of the style pioneered by MTV, which had a hand in reducing the average attention span of American teenagers to approximately that of a goldfish. Virtually every format of film and video is used bar 70mm, VistaVision and IMAX!

For this reason, it's difficult to give a rating for the picture, as some shots consist of grainy black-and-white Super-8 footage while others will have fairly crisp 35mm stock typical of a blockbuster. Given the huge differences in intended visual style, it seems appropriate to judge subjectively, and this is certainly a strong effort.

The Australian disc immediately scores points over the US version, with a solid 16:9 transfer. Although some scenes have some edge-enhancement apparent, for the most part the picture is pleasingly natural. Colour is well-saturated, there are no obvious film or MPEG artefacts, shadow details are present and correct and sharpness is fine. Overall, an impressive effort from 'Melbourne's Own' IML, except for the glaring omission of subtitles for the hearing impaired.

  Audio
Contract

Much like the video (hell, even the film itself), the audio doesn't hold much stock in that newfangled subtlety thing. Fidelity is fine, but the sound design is quite schitzophrenic. The sound sometimes restricts itself to the centre channel, other times flinging itself gleefully to all corners of the room like the quad demonstration albums used to sell bad stereos in the 70s.

Dialogue is clear and, for the most part, natural and well-integrated, with no trace of distortion. The score is divided between loud, aggressive industrial and rock music and Leonard Cohen, but it's generally confined to the front of the soundstage. The mix and sound design complement the tone of the film with the same degree of slapdash 'art for art's sake'.

  Extras
Contract

A good collection of extras here:

  • Director's Commentary - Stone reflects on the controversy surrounding the film, points out the various film stocks, usage of rear projection, and so on, and also points out the symbolism. Hate to point it out, Oliver, but meeting an Indian in the desert is cheesy as hell.
  • Deleted Scenes - Seven in total, including the alternate ending where Mickey and Mallory get their just desserts from their guardian angel. Also of interest is the courtroom scene where Mickey stabs Ashley Judd to death with a 2B pencil. All the scenes are presented in fullscreen, and the video and sound quality are very good. Often deleted scenes are taken from VHS dailies, but these are transferred from the original negatives.
  • Theatrical Trailer - More of a teaser really, this runs for a mere 53 seconds, in the full-screen 4:3 ratio with Pro-Logic sound.
  • Documentary - Chaos Rising - The Storm Around NBK, is a 26:25 documentary mainly consisting of interviews with Stone and the cast. It reveals a little about Stone's working methods and his casting process, and is pretty interesting viewing.

You also get some pretty animated menus, though I hesitate to call them an extra.

  Overall  
Contract

As far as I can see, the Director's Cut appears to have been untainted by the OFLC's scissors, although the majority of the cuts amount to mere frames. In fact, the 150 restored cuts only add about 3 minutes to the running time, and I didn't notice any huge difference from the original theatrical version.

Although I consider it more a launching pad for a discussion around the water cooler than a disc to buy and keep, this is a good transfer to DVD and should make fans very happy.

Do me a favour though - if you do decide to go kill a mess o' people after watching this film, could you blame it on Baywatch instead?


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