True Romance (UK Import) (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)1993 (July 19, 2021)
Studio(s)Morgan Creek/Warner Bros. (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A
[Editor’s Note: This is a UK import, but the disc itself is Region Free.]
True Romance is a true oddity, the collision between a neophyte screenwriter obsessed with pop culture and an established director at the height of his glossy but superficial style. Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott were nobody's idea of a marriage made in heaven, and it's a minor miracle that the film works at all, but the major miracle is that it actually works like gangbusters. The story itself isn't particularly noteworthy: Clarence (Christian Slater) is an employee of a comic book store in Detroit who’s content with his dead-end job until he meets Alabama (Patricia Arquette) at a theater showing a Sonny Chiba triple feature. The two form an instant connection, though there’s more to Alabama than meets the eye. Clarence’s relationship with her will lead the two on a cross-country adventure with a suitcase full of contraband, pursued by both the police and the mafia. The story may not be novel, but the devil’s in the details—Tarantino’s patented dialogue, combined with Scott’s casting choices and staging, resulted in a film that’s stood the test of time despite its unfortunate box office failure in 1993.
Scott’s casting of the film was indeed remarkable, with Dennis Hopper as Clarence’s father, Christopher Walken as the mafia lawyer with whom Hopper has an unforgettable encounter, Gary Oldman as a drug-dealing pimp, Val Kilmer as Elvis Presley, James Gandolfini as a mafia henchman, and Brad Pitt as a stoner who could have stepped straight out of Dazed and Confused. The rest of the cast includes the likes of Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Saul Rubinek, Tom Sizemore, Chris Penn, Samuel L. Jackson, Conchata Ferrell, Victor Argo, and an uncredited Ed Lauter. Slater and Arquette could have easily been buried by that supporting roster, but while all of the actors are given their moments to shine, it’s the two leads who carry the show. That fact is the key to why the film works so well.
For all of the idiosyncratic dialogue, quirky characters, and over-the-top violence, True Romance is indeed just that: a romance. The relationship between Clarence and Alabama is the engine that holds everything else together, and the chemistry between Slater and Arquette provides the fuel. Clarence is clearly a stand-in for Tarantino in terms of autobiographical details, but also as a form of wish fulfillment. He’s a pop culture nerd like Tarantino, but he’s better looking, tougher, and a far cooler customer. Alabama is wish fulfillment as well; she’s a male fantasy made flesh, conveniently dropped into the lap of Tarantino’s doppelganger. The two characters don’t feel authentic, yet fifteen minutes after their awkward meet-cute and the revelations that follow, their implausible relationship seems utterly believable. True Romance may be a fairy tale, but the love at its core feels real. Had Tarantino personally directed the film, it may not have worked as well as it does, and it certainly would have ended differently. Thankfully, Scott embraced the fantasy and fell in love with the characters, enough so that he changed Tarantino’s ending. He made the right call, and it’s one reason why the film endures.
Cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball shot True Romance on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35-III, Panavision Panaflex Lightweight, Panaflex Platinum, and Panaflex Gold II cameras, with Panavision Primo and E-Series anamorphic lenses. The film was finished photochemically framed at 2.39:1 for its theatrical release. For this restoration, the original camera negative and other intermediary elements were scanned in 4K at Illuminate Labs in Hollywood, then restored and graded for HDR at Silver Salt Restoration in London. (Both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are available on the disc.) The original theatrical version and the director’s cut are both included via seamless branching—Fidelity in Motion in New York handled the compression and authoring to maintain the highest possible bit rate. The results are stunning, within the strictures of how the film was shot. True Romance will never be the last word in fine detail, thanks to Tony Scott’s predilection for using smoke, but the image is as sharp and detailed as it possibly can be for any given shot. That varies throughout the film, with exteriors and other smokeless shots displaying more detail than the rest. (The optically printed opening titles are also unavoidably softer.) The HDR grade is used primarily to improve contrast and black levels, but also to expand the color gamut. There’s nothing revisionary in the color timing—this is True Romance as it’s always looked, but subtly improved. There’s naturally a bit less contrast in the smoky scenes, but even those look better than previous versions. The colors are rich and brilliant when they’re supposed to be, and more muted when they’re not. There’s little in the way of compression artifacts, and both the grain and the smoke are managed well by the encoding. Everything looks natural and filmic, with none of the issues that plagued previous Blu-ray releases.
Audio is available in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. True Romance was released theatrically in matrixed Dolby Stereo, so the 2.0 track, properly decoded, is the most accurate representation of the theatrical experience. On the other hand, it's likely that a discrete 6-track master would have been created anyway to cover any potential 70 mm or Dolby Digital releases, so this 5.1 track is probably derived from that. Comparing the two, the 5.1 track is preferable, with better spaciousness and more precise surround envelopment. It’s still not an aggressive mix, but the surrounds do spring to life during the action scenes to support what’s happening on screen. The dynamics are solid, the dialogue is clear, and both the score by Hans Zimmer and the various songs on the soundtrack sound great.
Arrow’s 4K Ultra HD release of True Romance is UK only, but it’s Region Free. (A separate Region B locked Blu-ray-only edition is also available.) The limited edition packaging includes a reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck on one side with the theatrical artwork on the reverse; a folded double-sided poster with both artworks; six double-sided lobby cards; and a 60-page booklet featuring cast and crew information, the essays I Think I Love You by Kim Morgan, Tony Scott, You’re So Cool by Nicholas Clement, True Romance: 15 Years Later by Marc Spitz, The Great Tony Scott by Edgar Wright, and restoration notes. The extras include the bulk of all previously released material, as well as new material:
- Audio Commentary by Tony Scott
- Audio Commentary by Quentin Tarantino
- Audio Commentary by Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette
- Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas
- Dennis Hopper Select Scene Commentary (2002) (UHD – 11:17)
- Val Kilmer Select Scene Commentary (2002) (UHD – 2 in all – 4:08)
- Brad Pitt Select Scene Commentary (2002) (UHD – 4 in all – 5:47)
- Michael Rapaport Select Scene Commentary (2002) (UHD – 6 in all – 34:40)
- Bronson Pinchot Select Scene Commentary (2021) (UHD – 4 in all – 16:27)
- Saul Rubinek Select Scene Commentary (2021) (UHD – 3 in all – 6:51)
- You’re So Cool with Susan Becker (HD – 10:05)
- Relentless Romance with Michael Tronick (HD – 12:50)
- Amid the Chaos of the Day with Mark Mancina and John Van Tongeren (HD – 11:59)
- A Hunger for Mayhem with Larry Taylor (HD – 7:51)
- Cadillac Man with Dan Storm (HD – 7:52)
- Deleted & Extended Scenes w/Optional Commentary by Tony Scott:
- At the Movies (Upscaled SD – 3:32)
- Heroes for Sale (Upscaled SD – 2:09)
- He Really Loved Her (Upscaled SD – 1:23)
- Coming Clean (Upscaled SD – 5:13)
- Drexl Does Business (Upscaled SD – 3:36)
- An Amazing Girl (Upscaled SD – 1:35)
- No Cheers (Upscaled SD – 4:36)
- Vincenzo’s Vendetta (Upscaled SD – 1:47)
- We Know What We’re Doing” (Upscaled SD – 2:21)
- Playing “What If?” (Upscaled SD – 2:04)
- Elliot’s Motivation (Upscaled SD – 1:17)
- Alternate Ending w/Optional Commentary by Tony Scott or Quentin Tarantino (Upscaled SD – 6:23)
- Electronic Press Kit: US Featurette #1 (Upscaled SD – 5:39)
- Electronic Press Kit: US Featurette #2 (Upscaled SD – 5:41)
- Electronic Press Kit: International Featurette (Upscaled SD – 7:48)
- Electronic Press Kit: Behind the Scenes (Upscaled SD – 15:21)
- Electronic Press Kit: Interview with Tony Scott (Upscaled SD – 4:19)
- Electronic Press Kit: Interview with Christian Slater (Upscaled SD – 1:52)
- Electronic Press Kit: Interview with Patricia Arquette (Upscaled SD – 2:00)
- Electronic Press Kit: Interview with Dennis Hopper (Upscaled SD – 1:48)
- Electronic Press Kit: Interview with Gary Oldman (Upscaled SD – 3:00)
- US Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:17)
- US TV Spots (Upscaled SD – 2 in all – 1:04)
- International Trailer (HD – 2:27)
- Production Stills Image Gallery (HD – 72 in all)
- Poster & Video Art Image Gallery (HD – 17 in all)
- Easter Egg (Upscaled SD – 2:22)
The first three audio commentary tracks were available on previous editions. The first with Tony Scott is interesting because he often sheds light on the film by talking about himself. He says that he’s a slow reader, and also admits that he has a short attention span, which is why he tried to provide energy and momentum even for basic dialogue scenes with odd camera angles and cutting. He talks about his feelings on the script, why he changed the ending, and gives numerous stories about the filming process. He falls into the trap of describing what’s happening onscreen at a few points, but there’s plenty of interesting information here. The second commentary with Quentin Tarantino focuses on the differences between his script and the finished film. He talks at length about the non-linear structure of his original screenplay, explains how Scott ignored his scripted song suggestions (with one exception), and points out the few instances of ad-libbing in the film. He reveals the inspiration for the Sicilian scene, and says that it’s almost too good as it happens too early in the film. He also clarifies that his love of Mexican standoffs in his early films was not a John Woo influence, but rather because they were the closest things to shootouts in old Westerns. Amusingly, he notes that he hates smoke, but he loves how Scott used it. The third commentary with Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette is frankly a bit of a slog. It’s more reactionary than commentary, with the two actors oohing and aahing over what they see, in between long gaps of silence. They do occasionally provide interesting information—for example, Arquette makes a point of calling out her stunt person for the fight with James Gandolfini—but this is mostly a disposable track.
The fourth commentary was newly recorded for this edition by Tim Lucas. He states up front that since both of the previous commentaries with Scott and Tarantino will be included, he wants his commentary to be more of an appreciation of the film thirty years down the road. It certainly is that, but it also provides a deep dive into the all the minutiae in the film. He gives biographical details about the cast and crew, as well as background information about all of the songs and films that are featured in True Romance—he even touches on the specifics about the comic books that Clarence shows to Alabama. He also covers things like the frequently clueless reviews from 1993, and compares Scott’s choices to Tarantino’s script. Typically for Lucas, it’s a well-planned track that’s dense with facts and other salient information, and it does a nice job of supplementing the older commentaries without repetition—though he does erroneously refer to Han Zimmer’s main theme as being played on steel drums rather than marimbas (a minor error, but one that can be overlooked). The select scene commentaries feature the actors talking about their scenes in the film. Dennis Hopper comments on the Sicilian scene only, while the rest of the actors cover the majority of their own scenes in the film. The commentaries with Hopper, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, and Michael Rapaport were originally recorded for the DVD release of the film, while the commentaries with Bronson Pinchot and Saul Rubinek are newly-recorded for this edition.
You're So Cool with Susan Becker is a conversation with the costume designer for the film. She discusses her history with Scott, her work on the film, and why she made the choices that she did for each of the main actors. Relentless Romance with Michael Tronick is a conversation with the co-editor of the film. He talks about why he made the transition from music editing to film editing, and how he came onto the project after Christian Wagner had already started cutting things together. He points out that Scott always shot a lot of coverage, and even did his own second unit work, so there was rarely a lack of necessary footage. Amid the Chaos of the Day with Mark Mancina and John Van Tongeren features the composers talking about their collaboration with Hans Zimmer. They discuss their backgrounds, how they ended up working with Zimmer, and the use of marimbas for the main theme. A Hunger for Mayhem with Larry Taylor has the author of Tony Scott: A Filmmaker on Fire give an overview of Scott’s filmography prior to True Romance, and it was a transitional film before Scott’s later hyper-stylized films. He notes that Scott always kept his demons bottled up inside while he was working. Cadillac Man with Dan Storm features the current owner of the 1974 Cadillac El Dorado from the film. He gives the history of the car, and also talks about the True Romance Fest that he co-founded. The Deleted and Extended Scenes can be played individually or as a group, and they include optional commentary by Tony Scott. He explains why he cut all of them, and opines that he should have left a few of them in the film. The Alternate Ending includes two optional commentaries by Scott and Tarantino. They disagreed about the ending, and each of them give their own sides of the story—though Tarantino does ultimately admit that Scott’s ending was the right one for Scott’s film. The Electronic Press Kit materials are mostly standard promotional fluff, though the behind-the-scenes featurette does provide interesting glimpses into the filmmaking process. Everything wraps up with 72 production stills and 17 examples of poster and video artwork. Also included is an Easter egg, which can be found by pressing right when Behind the Scenes is selected in the Electronic Press Kit sub-menu. This will take you to brief additional pieces of behind the scenes footage.
True Romance is a prime example of a film that manages to fuse its disparate elements into a unified whole. At the time, it seemed like a shame that Tarantino didn’t direct the film, especially after the release of Pulp Fiction the following year. But with hindsight, it’s pretty clear that everything worked out for the best. Tony Scott put his own stamp on it in ways that Tarantino couldn’t have matched, and it’s arguably the finest film in his tragically abbreviated career.
- Stephen Bjork
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