|From Dusk Till Dawn|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Wednesday, 17 June 1998|
"From Dusk Till Dawn" won’t be everyone’s cup of bullets and blood, but it is a near-perfect specimen of its rare type, an amalgamation of "Reservoir Dogs," "Desperado" and the "Evil Dead" films that switches genres on a dime. It is quick of wit and quicker of pace, bracingly profane, often hilarious and gross at the same time, gaudily violent, in-your-face and generally a hell of a lot of fun for those who enjoy this sort of thing. Those who don’t enjoy this sort of thing should probably avoid the artwork on the box, let alone the film itself.
The "From Dusk Till Dawn" Collector’s Edition actually consists of two different full-length movies, one on each of the two-disc set. Viewers should not freak out when Disc 1 – where one might normally expect to find the main feature – contains the aptly-titled "Full-Tilt Boogie," Sara Kelly’s exuberant and highly informative documentary on the making of "From Dusk Till Dawn." Besides all of the interviews, behind the scenes footage and general clowning around, "Boogie" chronicles the ongoing battle between the "Dawn" production company and the IATSE film technicians’ union. Kelly’s attempts to get comments from a union rep are a little comedy/drama in their own right.
The main attraction is on Disc 2, in all its loud, bloody glory. The Gecko brothers, Seth (George Clooney) and Richie (Quentin Tarantino) are a pair of on-the-lam bank robbers who have already racked up a double-digit death toll in their quest to elude the Texas Rangers, police and FBI. The Geckos are headed for the Mexican town of El Rey, a kind of sanctuary for wanted criminals. Knowing they’ll have trouble crossing the border, the Geckos kidnap the Fuller family -- recently-widowed ex-pastor Jacob (Harvey Keitel), daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis) and son Scott (Ernest Liu) – and roll into Mexico in an RV. The Geckos plan to wait out the night with their captives in a roadhouse strip joint. If all goes well, Seth plans to release his hostages unharmed in the morning. Things in fact seem to be proceeding amiably (all things considered), but there’s something about the bar’s staff that the customers don’t know. Exactly one hour into the running time (check the time reading on your player), all hell breaks loose – and pretty much doesn’t let up until the last scene.
Director and Robert Rodriguez and screenwriter Quentin Tarantino, working from a story by Robert Kurtzman (who, along with Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, did the film’s massive special effects), have styles the complement each other, bristling with irreverent energy and dark humor. They get away with playing with audience sympathies in a manner that most films either fail at hideously or don’t dare in the first place. There’s not a figure in the film who doesn’t at least entertain us, and a few of them manage to storm moral barriers that are normally insurmountable.
Keitel and Clooney are particularly good, separately and together. On the audio commentary track, Rodriguez and Tarantino talk about the difficulty of finding a younger actor who could credibly appear to dominate a character played by Keitel; it’s greatly to Clooney’s credit that he brings it off.
The 5.1 Surround on "Dusk" is excellent, with the rears fully alive from the outset. In Chapter 1, we have highway traffic rumbling alongside us, from mains to rears, setting us in the center of a liquor store. The rears also house the store clerk’s twangy radio, while the center keeps the dialogue track nice and solid. When gunfire and explosions break out – still in Chapter 1 – we get roars of individual fires in each of the speakers. Chapter 2 gives us a punchy song in the mains, with realistic-sounding bird chirps in the rears. Chapter 3 gives us still more commendably specific directional sound, as a door opens in the left main, followed by a car driving off through the rears, receding down the road at lifelike speed. In Chapter 4, drums on the soundtrack make themselves felt through the subwoofer, while the rears continue to host the subtle motion of vehicles on the highway beyond. A rumble that makes its way through all of the speakers is used effectively throughout, indicating the unsettled mental condition of Tarantino’s character. Chapter 11 is both menacing and amusing in the way it brings up an instrumental version of "Tequila" in the mains. Chapter 13 brings us to the strip joint entrance. The place looks as much like the mouth of Hell as it possibly can, with the audio to match. Motorcycles roar left to right behind us, while the fire-belching torches at the door blast flame with an intensity that will shake your floor. Chapter 16 marks the abrupt start of the all-out insanity, with music, gunshots, fire, squashy flesh-tearing sounds and screams. A few special sound effects are relegated to the rears for truly startling impact, and Chapter 23 has an almighty explosion. Don’t turn your eyes from the screen before the final shot, which puts a great joke into the last frame.
On my reference system, the supplemental material played entirely in the mains. The Rodriguez/Tarantino commentary is happy and lively, with the actual soundtrack playing underneath in the mains at barely audible levels. The outtakes are reasonably funny, especially the first one, which shows Clooney struggling through take after take with a tongue-twisting line. The making-of featurette is not nearly as enlightening or extensive as "Full-Tilt Boogie," but it’s still engaging.
The DVD also contains two music videos. Tito and Tarantula’s "After Dark" is a sultry number that sounds swell even confined to the mains (for a fuller version, check out its use in the film in Chapter 14), but the video is little more than a film clip, interspersed sparingly with bits of other scenes. ZZ Top’s "She’s Just Killin’ Me" is more like it. Rodriguez, Clooney and Salma Hayek (reprising her role from the film) shot a lot of new footage that has its own narrative but still echoes the film’s themes, intercut with footage of the ZZ gentlemen doing their thing on stage.
If you are an action/horror fan and want to see something that simply won’t quit moving and acoustically lands you in the center of the melee, "From Dusk Till Dawn" is about as close as you can get to must-see DVD.