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Natural Born Killers(1994)
Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis star as Mickey Knox and Mallory Wilson, two young, attractive mass murderers in love in Oliver Stone's wild-eyed satire on the American fascination with criminals. After killing Mallory's loathsome parents, the pair perform a ritual "marriage" and take off on a "honeymoon" killing spree that wipes out 52 people. Bloodthirsty tabloid reporter Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.) reports their every move to an adoring public while warden Dwight McClusky (Tommy Lee Jones) is only too eager to welcome such celebrities to his prison.
For more about Natural Born Killers and the Natural Born Killers Blu-ray release, see Natural Born Killers Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on September 28, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey, Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, Rodney Dangerfield
Director: Oliver Stone
» See full cast & crew
Natural Born Killers Blu-ray Review
Warner produces on BD Oliver Stone's "experimental" outing as a book edition package--but dozens of titles are far more deserving of high-definition release.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, September 28, 2008
Director Oliver Stone and writer Quentin Tarantino are credited with one of the most controversial, gratuitously violent films of the 1990s, Natural Born Killers. A child of the '60s with an overdeveloped sense of visual style, deep distrust of authority and resentment of americana, Stone had recently completed his defining triumvirate of Born on the Fourth of July, The Doors and JFK. Then he began to work on a Tarantino script that would trash Stone's favorite whipping boys--law enforcement and authority--and serve as an indictment of media, popular culture and the MTV generation. But at the time, Stone was a darling of the media, the epitome of popular culture and a hero of the MTV generation. Without meaning to, he created a film that essentially criticized his own role in popular culture and his spheres of influence. With its controversial style and content, the film also called into question his judgment that produces revisionist approaches to history and an overtly sensationalist body of work. The edgy visuals and heavy- handed narrative has a tacked-on veneer of sarcasm, as if to make it more palatable to a generation of kids weened on MTV videos. Stones' statement with the film's overbearing style seems to be, "I know I'm creating something over the top, but it is clever and apropos of American culture and values".
True to its ultraviolent, cutting-edge style, Natural Born Killers kicks off with a bloody scene at a truck stop/diner with the imagery strobing between garish, fake technicolor and grainy black and white. The picture is often framed at a diagonal--an approach that few self-respecting directors would abide. Having brutally murdered several people before any significant dialog is spoken, Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis) ride off in their hot red convertible. After this initial slaughter, Stone takes the viewers through a nauseating prologue of Mallory and Mickey's humble origins, featuring Mallory's father Ed Wilson (comedian Rodney Dangerfield in a truly disturbing performance that involves sexual abuse and general boorishness and misogyny). Along comes Mickey, who has a love-at-first-sight reaction to Mallory and some time thereafter murders Ed. The modern-day Bonnie and Clyde duo have been on the run ever since. Their first order of business is marriage, which consists of sharing dime-store rings, slashing each other's palms on a high bridge and holding hands over the water far below. This sets up the film's first descent into full-blown animation--the dripping blood metamorphoses into two snakes that face off in the water, similar to a tattoo that can be seen on Mickey's chest.
After an orgy of emotional turmoil and murder, including the point blank shooting of a police officer and a Native American chief (Russell Means), the duo is surrounded as they rob a department store. The scene is shot using a green filter--more nauseating cinematography. Mickey and Mallory are then taken into custody by supersmooth detective Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore), who seems obsessed with Mallory. Meanwhile, the duo's entire saga has been sensationalized by crime reporter personality Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.), who turns the pair into cult heroes. He gets the idea to interview Mickey in prison. Warden Dwight McClusky (Tommy Lee Jones), whose tie and suit are louder than the soundtrack, has some things to say about Gale's plans. Scagnetti himself has designs to visit Mallory in solitary confinement during the interview. It all heads toward a showdown where Stone tries to artfully blur the lines between media and murder, law and lawlessness. Does Stone's experiment work, or does he only bring cinematic entertainment to an all-time low?
The glossy booklet included in Warner's BD package, printed with bloody fingerprints along with impressive photos, covers the film and actors. It describes Stone and the movie in reverential terms. "Always an alternate or subversive idea upsets the mind of the time. Didn't Kubrick and A Clockwork Orange offend the perceived borders of violence? Did not, years before, Bunuel and Dali, with an eyeball and razor, shock and offend? Eisenstein with a baby carriage and shattered eyeglass? It is, I think, a question of style. The Greeks got there first with buckets of blood and gouged-out eyeballs. I don't think we should artistically differentiate between subject matters. Once we outlaw subjects on the basis of political correctness we have begun the process of undermining our basic freedoms." But no one is questioning Stone's freedom of speech or whether he "can" make a film like Natural Born Killers. The question is whether he tells a story important enough to justify the film's gratuitous violence and bizarre style. Having the freedom to make a bad movie doesn't mean one should.
Natural Born Killers Blu-ray, Video Quality
Natural Born Killers was shot on 35 mm, 16 mm and 8 mm, in black and white and color with live action and animation. The film then underwent 3,000 edits--far too many for any reasonable, two-hour feature. With its hodgepodge of chopped-up scenes and sources and experimental camera styles, the movie would never become renown for the beauty of its picture quality or cinematography. That said, Warner's BD delivers a remarkably good transfer that far surpasses any NTSC version, including the most recent theatrical cut DVD. The garish colors are reproduced accurately and even the grainy, artificially aged black and white footage looks remarkably film-like. Skin tones and earth tones rarely look natural, but this is more the fault of the original production than the transfer for Blu-ray release. Black levels are good too, but overall the quality can best be described as average. The magical level of detail and definition associated with the best BDs just isn't there.
Watch the scene where Scagnetti and McClusky are walking together on the prison grounds. Their bright, gaudy ties and flashy suits appear colorful but the picture yields only mediocre resolution of the patterns on their clothes. This could be attributable to Stone's use of standard definition cameras for some footage. If you're looking for material to show off your display, look elsewhere. Natural Born Killers is the video equivalent of a tinker-toys creation cobbled together with all different types of clunky materials. From a distance it may look ok, but the video quality simply doesn't stand up to close close scrutiny. Not to belabor the point but the less-than- stellar picture quality isn't Warner's fault, nor a problem with Blu-ray production.
Natural Born Killers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
With a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, the Blu-ray's audio quality is margianally better than the video. The surround field is immersive with ample use of rear channels and heavy use of LFE. Dialog, solidly anchored in the center channel, often sounds thin and does not show the treble extension characteristic of the very best audio content available on Blu-ray disc. Neither does the soundtrack music, which ranges from Dr. Dre's "The Day the Niggaz Took Over" to Patsy Kline's "My Baby's Back in My Arms" to Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra's "Batonga In Batongaville" to Leonard Cohen's "Waiting for the Miracle" to Nine Inch Nails' "Something I Can Never Have". This eclectic assortment of mostly aggressive music is well engineered. Unfortunately the same could not be said of dialog during some scenes shot on 8 mm. The weak midrange appears dead, muddled and stuck to the speaker. The bass too is poorly defined and perhaps over-aggressive for gunshots, car engines and during action scenes. But for most people, the 5.1 TrueHD content is perfectly sufficient, sounding better than the average DVD.
Natural Born Killers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
As stated above, this BD is Warner's book edition, sporting a nifty 44-page four-color booklet chock full of photos and other graphics, director's notes, actor bios, trivia and more information. If you are a fan of Natural Born Killers, this booklet makes for a nice collectible. Supplementary material on the disc itself includes standard definition versions (ported over from the DVD) of the following:
- Two-minute theatrical version of the original trailer.
- Twelve-minute interview of Oliver Stone by Charlie Rose. Stone's ego is so big that it's hard to understand how it fit in Charlie Rose's studio. Rose is a charming TV personality and does as good a job as he can in diplomatically asking Stone about the hammering the film took at the hands of critics. Rose also questions Stone on the necessity of gratuitous violence. Surprise! Stone feels perfectly justified in his choices for the movie, and acts a bit like a primadonna for even having to be put in the position of defending it.
For even more material like this, as well as some insight into production details, check out Stone's audio commentary track. Listening to Stone explain away the criticism directed at the film, I quickly realized he has a blind spot the size of a Hummer. For all his supposed insight into society, he lacks the ability to turn his razor sharp analytical skills on himself or his own work. If he did, he'd quickly realize that Natural Born Killers does not stand up to serious analysis, nor does it compare favorably to other edgy films by more gifted directors that pushed the envelope. In fact, he'd need to acknowledge that his films are part of the very problem he is trying to attack in Natural Born Killers.
- Twenty-seven minutes worth of deleted scenes, including an alternate ending. I can't imagine many people enjoying this material, but then again it's hard for me to imagine anyone enjoying the main feature.
One documentary appearing on the Theatrical Cut DVD version did not make it on the BD: "Chaos Rising--The Storm Around Natural Born Killers", which showed behind-the-scenes footage.
Natural Born Killers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Reading Oliver Stone's Director's Notes, it becomes clear just how confused and reactive the director is in his observations about society. Stone has simultaneously identified what he perceives to be a problem and become a major part of the problem. He has hit upon an anti- establishment message but in a way that clinches the large role he plays in the establishment (albeit the establishment of Hollywood). Stone writes, "Cops, wardens, prisons, reporters--they all must sense they have become part of a vast and bizarre web of cruel, totalitarian punishment." Excuse me, Mr. Stone, but why have you omitted irresponsible filmmakers like yourself from that list? And the idea is bullocks, regardless. Reading the notes, it becomes clear that Stone's contention (and the message of the film) boils down to the idea that it isn't really the criminal's fault s/he has committed murder. Authoritarian forces in society are forcing murderers to murder just to gain a few moments of fame. I find this idea objectionable because it essentially absolves the criminal of responsibility for his/her crime and makes the very people who try to fight or report crime responsible for violence. I know what Stone would say about that, but I wouldn't belabor the issue with him. Instead, I'd point to so many of his films that have glorified or normalized violence in media--and made him a fortune in the process--and ask him why, after he identified what he perceives to be a problem, did he choose to become such a big part of it.
Natural Born Killers: Other Editions
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Natural Born Killers Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Deal Alert: Natural Born Killers DC Blu-ray $11.58 - July 7, 2010
In late 2009, when Warner Home Video released Natural Born Killers: Unrated Director's Cut, it stayed at a relatively high price for a very long time, never dropping below $17. Last Sunday, it finally fell to $12.99 at Amazon. Mere days later, Deep Discount has ...
• Natural Born Killers Director's Cut Coming to Blu-ray (Updated) - May 11, 2009
Warner Home Video has announced the Blu-ray release of 'Natural Born Killers: Director's Cut' for August 25. No specs have been released, but you can expect a 1080p VC-1 video encode and Dolby TrueHD audio. This release will include a new high-def introduction ...
• Natural Born Killers Announced (Updated) - April 14, 2008
Warner Home Video has announced that they will release the Oliver Stone film 'Natural Born Killers' for Blu-ray on June 10th as a "coffee book" edition. The film, which stars Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, will be presented in its theatrical form, and not ...
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