|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Wednesday, 20 May 1998|
The pleasures of 'Pulp Fiction' are many and varied, ranging from writer/director Quentin Tarantino's love of bad boy characters and dialogue to the opportunity to hear Tim Roth use his own accent for once in an American movie. By now, sections of the movie have been parodied in everything, even 'Antz.' Indeed, a whole (pretty lame) feature-length send-up, 'Plump Fiction,' even found its way into theatres.
'Pulp Fiction' permanently injected Tarantino into the cultural vocabulary, reanimated John Travolta's career--forward up to Chapter 10 if you can't wait to see for yourself that he's still got his dance moves--and informed the uninitiated what cheeseburgers are called in France. With all this baggage heaped on top of it, 'Pulp Fiction' still manages to stand up perfectly well on its own.
Tarantino, working from stories he created with Roger Avary, divides 'Pulp' into four interlocked plot threads that are not presented in chronological order. Vincent (Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) are a pair of hitmen who reflexively debate nuances of ethics and fast food when they're not blowing away the enemies of their boss, the formidable Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). Wallace's wife Mia (Uma Thurman) is an alluring young woman addicted to dangerous drugs and flirting, not necessarily in that order. Butch (Bruce Willis) is an over-the-hill boxer whose refusal to take a dive on Marsellus' orders leads to havoc. Finally, there's the young couple (Roth and Amanda Plummer) who coo heartfelt endearments at each other as they prepare to rob a coffee shop.
None of the tales are in themselves brand-new, but Tarantino's take on the material is vigorous and inventive. Why he succeeds where so many of his imitators have failed is probably not so much because he got there first, but because he genuinely enjoys all of his people and conveys absolute glee at how they talk. Tarantino has a gift for staging eye-opening bloodshed, but his real wizardry is in crafting conversations we feel we could jump into ourselves.
The DVD transfer lacks some of the little goodies often found on prestige releases--there's no 'making of' special or audio commentary--but the widescreen transfer is excellent, with great audio reproduction on the electrified Spanish guitar riff over the opening credits in Chapter 2. For major 'Pulp Fiction' buffs, the DVD also offers the opportunity for a do-it-yourself chapter-skipping edit if you want to see the film's events in linear order (something better tried only after becoming familiar with the original structure).
The shock value and humor of 'Pulp Fiction' have gotten plenty of press, but there's also a strange, touching measure of optimism at the climax. The cast is terrific--Jackson is a particular stand-out--and Tarantino's energy and skill are such that 'Pulp Fiction' seems to slip by like a 90-minute breeze, even though the running time is 153 minutes.