Directed by Oliver Stone
Produced by Jane Hamsher, Don Murphy & Clayton Townsend
Starring Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jnr, Tom Sizemore, Tommy Lee Jones, Rodney Dangerfield, Russell Means, Steven Wright, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Everett Quinton & Arliss Howard (uncredited)
Who would've ever thought that the man who made Vietnam cinema his own would take a script by one of Hollywood's most over-inflated "talents" and turn out one of the most controversial films of our time? Or do it so well, and in such groundbreaking style? Mister Stone certainly impressed the pants off of me when I first saw this mind-blowing film theatrically back in '94, so it was with great anticipation that I approached the DVD release of the full uncut "Director's Cut" when it hit the shelves across this big, broad land I live in. Was I doubly impressed by the film seven years later? Oh yeah. Was I suitably amazed at just how different Oliver Stone's original edit of the film was? Do I really need to answer that one?
Who hasn't heard of Mickey and Mallory Knox? The quintessential comic-book anti-heroes of a media fuelled generation. A Warner Brothers cartoon version of the "Badlands" kids. Borne of dysfunctional families, the bond of love and murder unites them, the media circus that surrounds them drives them ever forward. Tailed cross-country by "American Maniacs" host Wayne Gale, and lunatic cop with his own agenda, Jack Scagnetti, time is the only thing that separates them from their inevitable destiny. When things go sour for them on an Indian reservation, the law finally catches up with them. The end for many, but for Mickey and Mallory Knox it is just the beginning. While all around them see their insanity as a ticket to fame, the Knox's line of vision is infinitely more finely tuned. Clouded by their own self-importance and greed, their aggressors will ultimately underestimate the cunning and survival will of a pair of Natural Born Killers.
In an age where confessed Japanese cannibal Issei Sagawa became a celebrity, the O.J. Simpson trial was on the world's lips, and the likes of Ted Bundy and David Koresh spent more time in the headlines than actual news, it's not hard to reflect on why a mountain of controversy surrounded "Natural Born Killers". No one likes to have the finger of blame pointed at them, most particularly the media. Oliver Stone's film version of Quentin Tarantino's script was simply political comment dressed up as comic satire. Satire so potent, that the powers that be tried to stop you from seeing it in its undiluted form. Times have changed, the circus has moved to another town, and "NBK" can finally be seen as Stone intended. Unexpurgated, it is no more shocking than an Arnie or Bruce bash-and-kill fest in its violence, but Stone is a more wickedly creative force than that.
Perhaps the most apparent element of Stone's cut of the film is the portent that Mickey & Mallory are no more than products of a society weaned on a steady diet of media tripe, endearing white trash who believe everything their televisions tell them. Perhaps the far more dangerous element of Stone's satire is that the media, and the Knox's pursuers, are the real "demons" of society. Gale, Scagnetti, and their ilk, are far more dangerous elements of society than the Knox's, hiding their own "demons" and perversions behind facades of normalcy. "NBK" is nothing short of an astonishing attack on our times, just as relevant now as when it was originally released. Stone's cacophony of visual and aural overload replicate perfectly the media onslaught it satirises. Every element, cast & crew, visual & audio, work in harmony to extremely satisfying ends. Cinema extreme when released, cinema perfect when re-evaluated in context.
Jeez, what is there to be said about the R4 release of "NBK"? The UK's DVD Debate voted the Australian DVD edition of Stone's film as their version of choice, so that should give you an idea of the quality of Universal's disc. Superior to Trimark's R1 disc with its visual presentation, Universal's disc tips the scales in their favour with an anamorphic transfer that is virtually flawless. You'd be hard pressed to fault this one, as everything is pretty much dead on the money. Detail is superb, colours are rich, shadow detail is excellent, and the myriad of different film processes are represented to their optimum. Seeing the Director's Cut for the first time, coupled with Universal's superlative transfer, is nothing short of experiencing a brand new film!
Indeed, Stone's preferred cut is not unlike watching a completely different film to the one that did the rounds in '94! For those used to the R-rated version, prepare yourself for some big changes! Source music is utilised in markedly different fashion, scenes play out longer, or with the addition/subtraction of alternate takes, and the violence is amplified up into comic-book excess. Being so wildly comical, it's hard to see why the powers that be took the offense that they did.
As well as a raucous, and extremely effective 5.1 remix of the audio, Universal's disc boasts a host of extras that place it firmly alongside its R1 partner. Audio commentary by Stone is as deep, reflective, and philosophical as you would expect of a man of his stature. Ollie's technical observations are nothing less than fascinating. Add to this the half hour "Chaos Rising" documentary, where Stone and his cast take turns reflecting on the restoration of his original vision, oft quoting hysterical on-set anecdotes, and the disc becomes worth its weight in gold. You'll wonder knowingly where Downey's head was at during his segments! But wait, there's more! There are also six deleted scenes, inclusive of the notorious Hun Brothers sequence and a blackly comic courtroom scene with the wonderful Ashley Judd, all presented & explained by Stone. As an added bonus we are treated to Stone's original ending, which ties up Arliss Howard's character (Sorry! No spoilers here!). And finally, there's the Director's Cut trailer. Woo! What a package…though I do miss Nine Inch Nails' "Burn" all the same…
It's ironic; my two favourite Tarantino films are the two he didn't direct! Yet Stone's film is best enjoyed as exactly the way it is described within "Chaos Rising", and that is a "big budget experimental" film. It is quite unique in that there is not another film like it, nor has there been one like it since it was released (unless you're prepared to count Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights"). It is a bold, confrontational, almost surrealistic meditation on society, the media, and our perverse "Christians to the lions" fascination with moral decay and the horrendous violence prevalent in our age. It is undoubtedly one of the landmark achievements of cinema that the scattershot nineties produced. Critics may decry its outlandish violence, but the same criticism was levelled at Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" in its day, yet today that work is considered a cult classic. I for one am certain that in years to come, Stone's undiluted brew may be less perceived the hedonist poisonous concoction it is now, and more a heady ambrosial delight that stung of the taste of the sorely needed "wake up call" indicative of the decade that it reflected. 'Nuff said!
Review by M.C.Thomason
|Released by Universal Pictures|
|Classified R (18+) - Region 4|
|Running time - 121m|
|Ratio - Widescreen 1.85 (16x9 enhanced)|
|Audio - Dolby 5.1|
|Audio commentary by Oliver Stone; Chaos Rising documentary; Deleted Scenes; Alternate Ending; Re-release Trailer|