Revisiting Quentin Tarantino’s films in close succession after all these years is an extremely revealing exercise. For one, it becomes clear that many memories of Tarantino’s early work have been misleadingly coloured by perspectives about his later work. His early films (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown) are often grouped with his later films (Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds), as if there is a clear continuity between these efforts, but Kill Bill actually marked a fairly radical shift for the filmmaker, one he has continued to pursue in the years since.
While Tarantino’s first three films featured many conventions of genre cinema, the director reinvented these conventions—much like his literary mentor, Elmore Leonard—by placing them in a familiar, everyday framework. By situating elaborate crime movie scenarios in a world of fast food, TV shows, and mundane domesticity, Tarantino created credible, memorable characters that viewers could identify with, while also leaving the door open for all kinds of outrageous cinematic possibilities.
With Kill Bill, Tarantino embraced a more traditional approach to genre cinema. Rather than bring the conventions down-to-earth, he went in the opposite direction, heightening every gesture for maximum impact. A case could be made that this was an act of pandering, a frightened filmmaker’s desperate attempt to return to mainstream acceptance after the box office failure of Jackie Brown, but Kill Bill, Vol. 2 confirmed that he could still deliver complex, surprising characters—in even the most exaggerated genre framework.
Inglourious Basterds marked the most significant departure from Tarantino’s original vision, as it took him to an era before most of his beloved pop culture—and the entire medium of television—existed. With Django Unchained, he’s drifiting further into the past, to an era that pre-dates cinema itself. Where these shifts will ultimately take the filmmaker remains to be seen, but the places he’s already been suggest a deeper, broader love of cinema than just about any filmmaker working today.
This impressive collection includes every feature film Quentin Tarantino has directed (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds) and even one that he’s didn’t (True Romance, which he only wrote). One disc is devoted to each film, offering the same strong transfers and bonus materials that appeared on earlier Blu-rays. These discs come housed in an elaborate fold out package, with artistic renderings of Tarantino’s most iconic characters by Mondo and Ken Taylor. It’s a sturdy, compact, and attractive set.
In addition to this striking new art, this set includes two discs of new bonus material. Disc one features a panel of critics (Elvis Mitchell, Scott Foundas, Stephanie Zacharek, Tim Lucas, and Andy Klein) discussing each of the Tarantino-directed films in this set—for nearly five hours! While samples of these conversations were included on last year’s Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown Blu-rays—and again appear on those discs in this set—the earlier versions totaled just over an hour, which means nearly 80 per cent of the conversation included here is new.
Mitchell (former New York Times critic, host of The Treatment) and Foundas (Variety, Film Comment, The Village Voice) make the most interesting observations, Lucas (editor of Video Watchdog) offers the most historical perspective, Zacharek (Film.com, NPR) backpedals on earlier criticism, and Klein (Christian Science Monitor, Brand X) mostly just reiterates his old opinions. Overall, this makes for a fairly familiar, superficial analysis, but one that is likely to renew old enthusiasm if you haven’t seen these films for a while. While Foundas is the only critic on the panel who seems unambiguously passionate about Tarantino, these discussions offer a fresh jolt of excitement for anyone seeking inspiration to revisit his work. Tarantino’s films have always featured lively dialogue—and they also tend to inspire it.
The second bonus disc is even better, featuring over 10 minutes of Django Unchained trailers in HD, a surprisingly heartfelt Jackie Brown Q&A (featuring Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Quentin Tarantino, and moderator Elvis Mitchell), and the highlight of the Tarantino XX Collection, a 133-minute documentary entitled Quentin Tarantino: 20 Years of Filmmaking. While this documentary is a low key, talking heads journey through Tarantino’s career, it is overflowing with memorable stories, some of which have never been widely shared before. Tarantino himself is conspicuously absent—which makes sense, as this is more tribute than straight-up oral history—but most of his crucial collaborators are on hand to share observations and anecdotes.
Overall, Tarantino XX Collection provides a comprehensive overview of Tarantino’s career, but there are a few omissions. While the Tarantino-scripted True Romance makes the cut, From Dusk Till Dawn (which he wrote and starred in) and Four Rooms (he wrote, directed, and starred in one of four segments) are both excluded. A case could be made that the full-length Grindhouse should also have been included, alongside the standalone version of Death Proof, as it features the superior, shorter cut of the film and the original double feature experience (including trailers) that Tarantino helped conceive. The set would also benefit from the inclusion of Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair, but that film’s long-awaited North American release is probably being withheld until the 10th anniversary of Kill Bill, Vol. 1, which happens next year.
While completists will want to seek out (or hang on to) a few additional discs, this is an impressive collection that covers all the high points from the first 20 years of Quentin Tarantino’s sprawling cinematic journey.