Tarantino films, aside from maybe the Kill Bill series, are known for talking. Those expecting a balls-out action-adventure from Death Proof will likely be bored out of their mind for the first hour or so. There isn’t a lot for non-Tarantino fans to sink their teeth into for the first half of the film, as no matter how brilliant the dialogue that comes out of Tarantino’s mind, it can get dull.
Starring Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, a sociopath who has a thing for stalking young women, Death Proof is all about girls, cars and girls who love cars. It’s a hard mixture to beat and Tarantino does a superb job fleshing out his characters and ramping up the action in the final act of the film. Once Stuntman Mike gets involved with his second batch of victims, however, he finds out he’s bitten off more than he can chew when they turn the tables on him and hunt him down in a spectacular finale.
Death Proof, the first half of the theatrically released Grindhouse double feature (the other half being Robert Rodriguez’s Terror Planet), is written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Is that enough of a description? For those not in the know, the Grindhouse film was made out of a love of Tarantino’s and Rodrigeuz’s love for the cheesy B-films from the 60s and 70s. While the film didn’t fare well at all at the box office (perhaps due to it’s over three hour run time), the DVD releases of the films appear to want to do better. Rather than compacting both stories into a comfortable time for audiences, both films are being released in extended and unrated cuts.
Since I didn’t see Grindhouse in theaters, I don’t know offhand what was new to this cut, but after a bit of research it seems just a few things that were likely cut for time have been added into the film. Things like the lap dance and a black-and-white portion that bridges both the first half and the second half of the film together better. The black-and-white seems like a major thing that just clears up a few things that the original cut presumably left vague.
The more I think about this film the more I realize it was just two hours of talking with a really awesome car chase at the end. Once we get into the second set of girls, it makes the entire first half seem like a big waste of time, as it’s essentially the same story, just with a different set of girls. Perhaps this is what the old “Grindhouse” films were like, I don’t know, but it just seemed like a bit of a waste of the audience’s time to see the same thing twice. Granted, the Challenger race at the end of the film was superb—I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before in a movie. Even though it kept going on (I think it was near twenty minutes in length) it was so awesome to hear the cars rumble and roar on the road as they bashed into one another. Of course it all came to a very abrupt ending, but what are you going to do?
As stated before, the characters in the film are wonderfully fleshed out. Whether the viewer knows it or not while we listen to hours of dialogue between characters, we’re getting deeper and deeper into the characters minds, personalities and we can even begin to gauge what they’ll do later on in the film with extreme accuracy. Of course the price you pay for this is that the talking eats up the entire film and abrupt endings leave the audience wondering what the hell is going on. Not that it really matters, but we never find out what happened with Lee (Mary Elisabeth Winstead) back with the owner of the White Challenger or how the girls even get back to get her. Minor things, but when the times eaten up for annoying things like excessive cut-backs to Kim (Tracie Thoms) dropping another F-bomb variety as they repeatedly bash Mike’s car. I’m could care less about foul language of any kind, but when all I wanted to see were the cars, it got kind of annoying to have to listen to obscenities.
Aside from a few quirks here and there, all of the actors in the film are remarkable. Russell is terrific as Stuntman Mike and all of the girls play their parts brilliantly. I don’t have any real issues with any of the acting in the film and Tarantino’s small role is even enjoyable. The music, as usual in Tarantino’s films, is a major highlight as well. Plenty of great music, some I’ve heard before and most of it I haven’t, is included that really make the film a joy to watch.
Overall it’s hard to gauge how enjoyable Death Proof really is. The car chase at the end is definitely worth seeing, if only once, but the rest of the film could easily be skipped or thrown away. All the time we invest in our characters doesn’t pay off as the first four women die and the final four don’t have their stories finished. Tarantino fans will know what to expect and for them it’s Recommended. Everyone else should Rent It before deciding whether or not to buy it (or to wait for the inevitable four disc Grindhouse release. You know it’s coming, even if the studio isn’t saying anything).
So how does Death Proof fair on DVD? Packed onto a two-disc DVD set, Death Proof arrives in a standard two-disc amaray tray case with a $5 off coupon for Planet Terror. A cardboard slipcover is included on top, but is no different from the images underneath. An alternate Steelbook packaging will be available exclusively at Best Buy in the US on the day of the DVDs release. Disc art for both discs is the same and is just an image of Stuntman Mike’s car, the same image used on the DVD cover. Menus are animated and easy to navigate.
Video and audio on this release is what you’d expect—clean and clear. The dirt, grain and old-style film “flaws” are fully present during the first half of the film, while the second half is crystal clean and clear. I get the reason for the first half of the film looking that way, but the second half’s absolute crystal-clear look makes absolutely no sense. They may as well be two different films. Audio is a constant in the film, however—all the dialogue is crystal clear and easy to hear, especially with the bar noises in the background and, of course, the cars. The “Death Proof” car comes alive through excellent use of surrounds and the subwoofer and the final chase is so enjoyable I can almost forgive the two hours of dialogue that preceded it.
Nearly all the extras are located on the second disc. The first contains only a trailer for the film and a poster gallery, featuring a plethora of variations on the Death Proof one sheet. A few other trailers for other films (Planet Terror included, of course) are included as well.
On disc two we get to the meat of the special features. First up is a twenty-minute “Stunts on Wheels: The Legendary Drivers of Death Proof.” This is a great extra, possibly the highlight of the disc, as it shows behind-the-scenes work being done on the car chase and stunts done in the film. Tarantino and crew are constantly gushing about how exciting it is to work on stunts such as these, especially in an era where all of these things would be done in CGI. Interviews with the stunt men and women themselves are of course included and the amount of work and prep that goes into these stunts is remarkable, but the end result on screen is completely worth it. Just beautiful.
A lot of the remaining extras on the set revolve around the casting process and the thoughts that the cast and crew had with working with one another. “Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike” is a short, ten-minute piece on the inspiration for the character, as well as cast and crews thoughts on working with Russell. It’s a real nice recap of how Russell came to be involved in the film and how everyone felt with working with a legend such as Russell. A similar short feature, “Introducing Zoe Bell” is also included and talks about how Tarantino came about casting her in this film.
The longest character extra is “Finding Quentin’s Gals”, running over twenty minutes and goes in-depth about how all of the women came to join the film. Another great extra on the set, this featurette features interviews from a large number of cast members and when paired with the above two extras makes the already fleshed out characters in the film even more detailed. The shorter “Guys of Death Proof” is a quick look at the male roles in the film, which there aren’t too many of (hence the short run time).
A short extra on how much Tarantino enjoys working with his editor, Sally Menke (since Reservoir Dogs!), an extended scene of Lee singing with her iPod in the car and a trailer for “Double Dare”, a female stunt driver documentary starring Zoe Bell.
If you can’t tell from the above, the extras are exhaustive on this set. While there is bit of discussion on the cars in the “Legendary Drivers” featurette, it would have been nice to get an extra devoted to the cars in the film as well. Unfortunately those wanting to see more of the Mustang and Challenger’s in the film will be disappointed—odd since the cars are such a focal point of the film, especially towards the end.
Overall the two-disc set does not disappoint. The lack of commentary is odd, but so was the film. I’m sure we’ll see a full version of Grindhouse on DVD in the future, complete with the trailers, but for now the split-up editions of Death Proof and Planet Terror will have to do. If you think you can sustain the torrent of dialogue in every scene, then this release is Recommended. Otherwise, like the film, Rent It–the extras are fun to watch, but they near the point of “enough already!”, especially with the extra about the guys in the film, who really don’t matter at all.