Pulp Fiction exploded into theaters in 1994 becoming the most influential film in the past twenty years. It made a star out of video store clerk turned director Quentin Tarantino, jump-started the career of John Travolta and changed the way movies were made. Now eight years later, Tarantino releases the collector’s edition DVD of his masterpiece.
Pulp Fiction focuses on a couple of days in the lives of seven people: two hitmen (Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson); a mob boss (Ving Rhames); his wife (Uma Thurman); a boxer (Bruce Willis) and two small time criminals (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer). The movie moves back and forth in time, becoming a chronological puzzle for the audience to put together.
Like most great films, Pulp Fiction had as many detractors as it had fans. The main argument against it is that it is exceedingly violent. The film is not really that violent, and you can give credit to Tarantino for making it seem more violent than it really is. For example, the scene in which Bruce Willis slashes the hillbilly with the sword; you never see the sword touch the body. The same can be said when Travolta revives the girl with the needle; you never see the needle puncture the skin. It is Tarantino’s skill with the camera and the editing that these scenes seem more violent than they are.
As thrilling as it is to look at, Pulp Fiction is a dialogue driven movie. At two-and-a-half hours, the movie probably features over two hours of dialogue. That is more dialogue than most movies are long. The best part about the dialogue in this film is that it often has nothing to do with the plot, but it works for the plot anyways. Take for instance the scene in the diner near the end of the film. Jules and Vincent (Jackson and Travolta) have just had a long day of murdering and cleaning and are sitting down to breakfast. Vincent offers Jules some bacon and Jules refuses arguing that he doesn’t eat pork. They spend a few minutes discussing what makes pigs filthy animals. This conversation has nothing to do with the plot, but it is still interesting to listen to. Tarantino knows that people talk about more than just what they did, are doing or will do and he manages to include that excess dialogue in his movies without stopping them in their tracks.
The movie flows with great scene after great scene. One of my favorite sequences in any movie over the past ten years is the scene in which Uma Thurman and John Travolta have dinner at Jack Rabbit Slim’s, a 50s style restaurant where the servers dress like movie stars of the past (the inclusion of the menu is one of the DVD’s best features). “It’s like a wax museum with a pulse” says Travolta, and I envy his character’s trip down memory lane. Of course, the sequence ends with Thurman and Travolta on the dance floor. Turns out that all Travolta needed to do to re-ignite his career was dance again (see Saturday Night Fever and Grease).
Pulp Fiction not only returned Travolta to public view, but made him such a huge name that he has survived through countless disastrous movies ever since (I think we are nearing double digits). Bruce Willis, Tim Roth, Uma Thurman and Ving Rhames all give career-making performances as well, but it is Samuel L. Jackson that comes out on top. The role of the bible-quoting hitman turned the character actor into a movie star. His delivery of Ezekiel 25:17 is one of the most powerful monologues ever delivered. I am still shocked he did not walk away with the Oscar.
The late film critic Gene Siskel compared Pulp Fiction to such classics as Psycho, Bonnie and Clyde and A Clockwork Orange, movies that shook up the movie industry and became film classics. If you are a fan of the film, the new DVD is a must-have. If you are not a fan of the film, here’s your chance to watch it again and see if it has grown on you. Trust me; it just gets better every time you see it. I give it an A.