Release Date(s)1992 (November 15, 2022)
Studio(s)Live/Artisan/Dog Eat Dog Productions/Miramax (Lionsgate)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: D
Part debut film and part cinematic announcement by director Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs depicts the aftermath (and the lead-up, via flashback) of a Los Angeles diamond heist gone terribly wrong. But the story here is less about the actual heist and more about the unique personalities of the rogue’s gallery criminals who both carry it out and—ultimately—are their own undoing.
Hired by veteran gangster Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney) and his son “Nice Guy Eddie” (Chris Penn) to do the job, these six strangers are warned not to reveal anything about themselves to each other. This of course is for protection in case one of them gets caught. But Cabot seems to understand that there’s more to it when he specifically assigns them each code names—Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi), Mr. Orange (Tim Roth), Mr. Blond (Michael Madsen), Mr. Blue (Eddie Bunker), and Mr. Brown (Tarantino)—rather than letting them pick names for themselves. “Tried it once, it doesn’t work. You get four guys all fighting over who’s gonna be Mr. Black. But they don’t know each other, so nobody wants to back down.” And right there, he’s just diagnosed the crux of their problem.
Apart from their code names, we actually learn very little about these men, yet we know everything we need to through the stories and jokes they tell each other. That’s what makes Reservoir Dogs so interesting: This is character-driven dialogue film, not an actioner. Sure, the bullets fly from time to time, but the real fireworks—often deadly serious and frequently comic—happen when the guys are just shooting the shit together, trying to prove to their badass bona fides. In this way, the film packs a strange kind of punch. While it certainly lacks polish, it’s got raw style in spades. And though its inspiration was drawn largely from the hard-boiled vibe of HK crime cinema, perhaps the best thing one can say about Reservoir Dogs is that—at least at the time of its debut—there was simply nothing else like it.
Reservoir Dogs was shot by cinematographer Andrzej Sekula (Pulp Fiction, American Psycho) on 35 mm photochemical film in Super 35 format, using Arriflex 35-III and Panavision Panaflex X and Gold cameras with Panavision Primo and Canon spherical lenses, and it was finished on film at the 2.39:1 scope aspect ratio. In honor of the film’s 30th anniversary, Lionsgate has completed a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, complete with digital remastering and grading for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are available here), to create a new 4K Digital Intermediate from which this Ultra HD has been produced. On disc, the result is very impressive; Reservoir Dogs hasn’t looked this good ever. Strikingly crisp detail abounds in every frame, from skin and hair textures to the grimy warehouse walls. Yet a bit of subtle noise reduction has also been employed to dial back the photochemical grain. The grain is still there, but it’s very subtle, much more tightly controlled than it was on Lionsgate’s previous Blu-ray. (I almost wonder if the image hasn’t also been sharpened a hair to balance out the noise reduction, but it’s hard to be sure—the image still looks great, just a bit processed.) Dynamic range is impressive, with inky blacks and naturally bold highlights. And the wider gamut makes the colors more vivid and nuanced too—consider the brightly blue sky and deeply red blood (of which there’s a lot). All in all, this isn’t quite a reference-quality 4K image, but Reservoir Dogs has definitely never looked better that it does here.
[Editor’s Note: Upon completing this review, I learned of a great American Cinematographer article (see link here) in which DP Andrzej Sekula discusses his choice of film stock for this production—Kodak’s 50 ASA 5245—which is normally used for shooting daylight exteriors. The stock renders particularly vivid colors and—combined with the use of Primo lenses—reveals very little grain, resulting in a bolder and more dimensional image. It also requires a great deal of light on set. This likely explains not only the lack of grain, but also the slightly crisper detail. My thanks to Bits reader Jez G. for the heads up!]
The film’s original English audio is offered on the 4K disc in a new lossless 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix that delivers plenty of impact, while preserving the sonic character of the theatrical audio experience, and offering the soundtrack’s classic rock tracks in outstanding fidelity. The soundstage is medium-wide up front and definitely front-biased, though with a surprising amount of ambience in the surround channels. You can hear subtle directional cues shifting around you as the camera prowls around the gangsters, who are having lunch at a diner in the film’s opening scene. When the action moves outside or into the warehouse, things open up a bit more to create a pleasing sense of sonic environment. Bass is modest but firm. Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital audio is also available, as are optional subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.
There are no extras whatsoever on the 4K disc, but the package includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray as well (also newly remastered from the 4K restoration) and that adds the following:
- Deleted Scenes (SD – 5 scenes – 12:43 in all)
- Playing It Fast and Loose (HD – 15:43)
- Profiling the Reservoir Dogs (HD – 7:06)
The deleted scenes were produced for Artisan’s Reservoir Dogs: Ten Years – Special Edition DVD release back in 2002. (You remember the one: It was available in no less than SIX different “character” slipcovers.) About half of the scenes feature Mr. Orange talking with his police associates. There’s also a scene with White, Pink, and Nice Guy Eddie arguing in the car on the way back from retrieving the diamonds, as well as two outtakes of Mr. Blond cutting off the cop’s ear. The other two features are carried over from the previous Lionsgate Blu-ray. Playing It Fast and Loose has Harry Knowles and other film critics/analysts comparing Tarantino to Peckinpah and Hitchcock. (The fawning tone is a little bit insufferable.) And Profiling the Reservoir Dogs is a cheesy criminal analysis of each of the criminal characters.
Unfortunately, all of the other great content from the 2002 DVD is missing here, including a director’s commentary (with Tarantino, Sekula, producer Lawrence Bender, executive producers Monte Hellman and Richard Gladstein, editor Sally Menke, and actors Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Michael Madsen, and Kirk Baltz), original video interviews (with Penn, Baltz, Madsen, Bender, and Tarantino), a trio of critics commentaries (featuring Amy Taubin, Peter Travers, and Emanuel Levy), a K-BILLY Interactive Radio feature, 6 Class of ’92 featurettes, scenes from the Sundance Institute’s “Filmmaker’s Lab” version of Reservoir Dogs, 7 Tributes and Dedications featurettes, 6 The Film Noir Web featurettes, 4 additional featurettes (The Noir Files, Small Dogs, Securing the Shot: Location Scouting with Billy Fox, and Reservoir Dogs Style Guide), a poster gallery, and the film’s theatrical trailer. So you’ll definitely want to keep that DVD if you have it. You do at least get a Digital Copy code on a paper insert here and there’s a cardboard slipcover as well.
Though actually a bit tame by today’s standards, Reservoir Dogs marked the beginning a new era in indie filmmaking as well as the start of Quentin Tarantino’s meteoric rise—not bad for a guy whose cinematic education happened at a Video Archives movie rental store in Manhattan Beach. Lionsgate’s new 4K release presents the film in best ever image quality on both UHD and remastered Blu-ray, so—the lack of extras not withstanding—it’s definitely recommended for fans.
- Bill Hunt