The year was 1994 and a film named Natural Born Killers slid its way onto screens. The media outrage at the obscenity of the film was felt worldwide, with the film being banned from theaters in Ireland. As if that wasn’t enough, Senator Bob Dole came out in protest of the film, condemning it for its “promotion of violence”, although his argument later lost water when it was revealed that he had never actually seen the film. On top of that the film was met with ratings turmoil which resulted in Oliver Stone being required to edit the film to get it down to an R rating. Fans were disappointed when the 2008 Blu-ray was the theatrical cut only and Warner has responded in kind with this Director’s Cut Blu-ray release.
From world renowned director Oliver Stone comes a story originally penned by Quentin Tarantino that tells the story of a pair of “Natural Born Killers”, Mickey and Mallory Knox. Across Route 666, the pair rack up a cavalcade of murders, reaching over fifty by the time they escape from prison, all the while with law enforcement in tow. Despite being captured once, even prison couldn’t keep the Knox’s contained, especially when Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.) makes an effort to interview Mickey before his death sentence which results in a prison riot.
Considering I was seven at the time of this film’s release, the chances of me seeing it when I was young was slim to none. I remember seeing the VHS release in Blockbuster and the like but aside from a demonic looking Woody Harrelson (who I had only known from Cheers), I never paid much attention to it. I don’t remember any hubbub around the title and by the time I sat down to view this movie on Blu-ray, I knew nothing else about it other than that it was supposed to be one of the best movies of the 1990s. This was only further spurred by the quote on the cover which said it was, indeed, “The Best Movie of the ‘90’s”, so says Entertainment Weekly. Now I like Entertainment Weekly and read it each week, but I don’t think they saw many movies from the 90’s if they consider this the best.
Within moments of the film starting, I found myself uttering “what the…” on more than one occasion. The funky visuals, constantly changing camera angles (as well as the switches from black and white to color) were all so jarring that I didn’t understand what I was seeing exactly. I’ve become accustomed to strange films, however, so I wasn’t too concerned by my confusion and before I knew it I became used to the weird-as-hell scenes that occurred outside of windows and doors in the film and the change in film stock even became old hat. Once I began to see through the films crazy visual presentation I realized that it…really wasn’t that special.
Granted the film is screwed up beyond belief, but honestly the story of two serial killers really isn’t all that enthralling of an angle. The screwed up childhood of both takes some of the mystique out of the characters and once the shock value is taken away from the film, there’s not much left. I’m so used to over-the-top violence and “shocking” visuals that I adapted to the film a little more quickly than most moviegoers would have in 1994. The film really didn’t age too well, as while some films have copied its visual style…it is really all that this film has going for it. The dialogue is rarely witty and whatever insane statement that Stone is trying to make with the film is reduced by the softness the film has grown over the time. Sure Rodney Dangerfield in a stained wife beater sexually assaulting his daughter is still disturbing, but…I don’t know, I just don’t really see the appeal of the film.
There are issues with watching the “films that inspired” so many more, especially if you’ve seen the films that were inspired by it first. The original immediately feels less original and while I can usually see what made the film so special, aside from the shock value of this film, I really don’t see what kind of staying power it has. I fully expected to be treated to some violent, nineties epic movie, but instead I just got some crazy ass characters paired with even stranger visuals and little else.
I did begin to get into the film by the time Tommy Lee Jones characters was introduced, but at that point the film was nearly over. The characters of Mickey and Mallory really just aren’t that interesting to me, as wonderful as Harrelson and Lewis’s performances are as the leads, and after reading more about the film and writer Tarantino’s original intent behind the film…I honestly would have preferred to see his vision than this mucked up version that Stone pushed out. I’m not even that big of a fan of Tarantino, but he at least creates interesting characters and I can’t say I’ve seen too many of Stone’s films to form an opinion of him one way or another, but unless you grew up in a time when Natural Born Killers was fresh and original, the chances of you fully appreciating this film for what it is crafted for is slim.
My biggest issue with the film was that it while it delved into the pasts of Mickey and Mallory, in that they were both abused in their youth, there just isn’t anything other than that behind their characters. In similar fashion into how Rob Zombie’s Halloween stripped some of the mystique away from the Meyers character by knowing his origins, this film would have worked best if we didn’t know the motivations behind Mickey and Mallory’s killing spree. Sometimes knowing less is more, but while I can see what the film was protested for, in terms of what’s airing in theaters today…I don’t know if they owe anything or not to Natural Born Killers as, besides creating a lot of controversy, it really doesn’t do anything aside from making the viewer feel like they’re on a psychedelic journey.
I had every intent to edit whatever I found to be necessary in the above portion of the review as what you read above is what I wrote about the 2008 theatrical Blu-ray release. Watching the 2009 director’s cut? Uhh…well…four minutes of footage doesn’t do a whole lot for me. I was impressed by the four extra minutes it ran that there was so much extra violence but in the grand scheme of things I don’t see how what was removed got this films rating dropped from an NC-17 down to an R. It’s just more of the same brutality over and over again.
Overall Natural Born Killers is worth seeing at least once just so you can say you watched a very, very visually disturbing film, but once you start to dissect it…it really just falls apart. There’s little meat to the characters presented here and aside from showing off the seedier sides of the world…there’s nothing to see here. And as for the director’s cut? You aren’t missing much here if you’ve only seen the theatrical before. Rent it just to see what everyone’s talking about, but don’t expect too much.
While the theatrical cut arrived in a digi-book style packaging, this Director’s Cut comes housed in a standard Elite Blu-ray case. Those disappointed that the “book” portion of the set is gone now, however, need not worry as it is included in stand-alone form inside. The rest of the set is pretty much identical in terms of extras, but I’ll go through it again all the same.
Video for this release is, as one would expect from a film that used so many different recording media, ranges from a crisp picture on close-ups to overly grainy and VHS quality shots at times. It’s a mixed bag but that’s part of the film’s visual appeal is the many formats it goes through to get Stone’s message across. Detail is sometimes a bit soft at times, but that’s to be expected from a film almost fifteen years old. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio, however, sounds absolutely fantastic. There was a host of rear channel usage (at least I think there was, it may have been my brain tripping out from the visuals and making me think there were voices coming from behind me, I don’t know) and the occasional call for the LFE channel pushed out a nice boom here and there. Overall a fine Blu-ray presentation and if you own the Theatrical edition already then everything is pretty much the same as that edition.
For the extras on the set the majority of the extras are from the original standard definition DVD release of this film. The first is a commentary with Oliver Stone who remains talkative throughout; Stone always seems well-prepared for his commentaries and, like the films he makes, always has plenty to say on the subject. He covers every element of the film on this commentary and when paired with the short intro by him with the film, you get set up for the visual feast that is Natural Born Killers.
Other extras include additional scenes (24:08) with introductions by Stone. One of my favorite scenes here is the final one with Dennis Leary, who goes on a grant little rant; it’s a shame this was cut, as it was originally supposed to play during one of the many channel flip sequences on the film, but it’s cool they included it here on this release anyway. Also included is an Alternate Ending (3:30), for those that didn’t like the one the film contained (my problems with the film really didn’t have anything to do with the ending, so either one of these endings are fine by me).
One of the most interesting extras here is the “Charlie Rose Interview” (11:38), where we get to hear Stone go one-on-one with Rose. Rose brings up a quote from Stone’s ex-wife that sets the interview off rolling and from there it easily becomes one of the more interesting interviews I’ve seen. I’ve always enjoyed Rose’s segments and they’re always a nice treat to watch on the DVD releases that include them. The Theatrical Trailer (1:47) is included as well, but it’s nothing to get too excited about.
New to this Blu-ray release is a How Would It All Go Down Now? featurette which takes a present day look at the film and a New Introduction by Oliver Stone. Both are in high definition and make the fact you have to double dip so soon to get the director’s cut slightly less harsh.
Natural Born Killers: Director’s Cut arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on October 13th.