Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is the director’s self-proclaimed “masterpiece,” a project he has been referencing for years but felt necessary to tackle others beforehand. It is every bit as much steeped in cinema history as his past works, though more cleverly disguised by its era and setting. One viewing is not enough to take it all in which has made the wait for the high definition Blu-ray Disc release hard to endure.
Set “Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France, 1941,” Inglourious Basterds tells two stories: Story one revolves around Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), a young Jewish woman who witnesses the execution of her family at the hand of sadistic Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). Narrowly escaping her own execution, Shosanna flees to Paris, where she forges a new identity as an owner of a movie theater.
Story two deals with a group of Jewish- American soldiers, organized by Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), to engage in targeted acts of retribution against the Nazis. Because they collect the scalps of their victims as a prize (each solider owes Raine 100 scalps), the group is dubbed by the fascists as “The Basterds.” Raine’s squad is chosen for a rather important, and possibly suicidal, mission: taking down several prominent leaders of The Third Reich (including Landa) who are in Paris to attend the premiere of the Nazi propaganda film Nation’s Pride. As fate would have it, the Basterds’ mission and Shosanna’s opportunity for revenge converge under a cinema marquee.
A film set in 1940s Europe is a long way from the modern-day California crime capers Quentin Tarantino is known for, but in many ways Inglourious Basterds still very much feels like one of the films that made Tarantino a household name. Like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs, Basterds is chock full of cinematic homage, an eclectic selection of music and long, slow-building, tension-filled passages of dialogue that usually result in a euphoric eruption of sudden violence. And like QT’s other works, Basterds seldom plays by genre rules, opting instead to go in audacious, unexpected and wholly satisfying directions. Wartime revenge has rarely had it so well.
Tarantino knows his movies; and he also knows how to put together a great cast. Pitt is wonderfully over-the-top as Raine, while Diane Krueger is suitably sexy as the Aryan actress out to help the Basterds carry out their big mission. Hostel director Eli Roth turns in a surprisingly good turn as The Bear Jew, a Basterd that has quite a way with a baseball bat, while Laurent nicely conveys Shosanna’s long-simmering quest for revenge.
The real standout of the cast, however, is Waltz. The German actor, who should have a draft of his Best Supporting Actor speech ready by now, gives us a villain that is capable of being charming and sadistic without missing a beat. Landa is a wonderfully-realized character, one of Tarantino’s best, and Waltz’s wonderful performance more than solidifies that.
Though Universal gives much love to the vibrant detailed-filled transfer, as well as the crystal clear 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack so important for such a dialogue-driven film and Tarantino’s music selections, Waltz and his character are nearly a no-show in the extensive list of bonus features. If anyone on the cast deserved a “where did this guy come from?” piece certainly Waltz did, yet does not.
That is not to say the mix of standard and high definition bonus features are not worth exploring. They surely are, especially a casual chat with Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino. But their numbers on paper pale in comparison to what “could” have been offered which may or may not mean there is a lot of material being saved for a new edition down the road.
Roundtable Discussion (30:45) – Tarantino and Pitt sit down with moderator and former New York times film critic Elvis Mitchell for a casual chat about working on Inglourious Basterds. If time is limited then this should be the first bonus feature taken in as both Hollywood elites are laid back and offer from-the-heart commentary about their work and respect for one another.
Extended and Alternate Scenes (11:26, HD) – Additional dialogue in two key scenes as well as the beginning of the Nation’s Pride premiere screening with Hitler already in attendance. The new footage offers nothing earth-shattering but is fun to watch nonetheless.
Nation’s Pride (6:10) –Eli Roth’s fictional film-within-a-film is expertly crafted to match the German propaganda films from that era.
The Making of Nation’s Pride (4:00, HD) – Eli Roth and others “in character” as members of the German film industry discuss their new release. Roth is especially quite humorous in his upper society garb.
The Original Inglorious Bastards (7:39, HD) –Learn how elements of the original Basterds film were tied into Tarantino’s vision, then take in a long trailer and head to Netflix to add this relatively recently released Blu-ray into your Netflix queue.
A Conversation with Rod Taylor (6:43, HD) – Rod plays Winston Churchill and talks about how he was surprisingly offered and accepted the role.
Rod Taylor on Victoria Bitter (3:19, HD) – From the same interview as the previous featurette, this side story did not need to be broken out into its own piece.
Quentin Tarantino’s Camera Angel (2:42) – A purely fun collage of quick clips demonstrating the funny things Tarantino’s clapper girl says just before she claps shut the scene clapper. Love how the cast members sometimes react to her remarks as they are focused for the shot.
Hi Sallys (2:09) – Another fun piece, this one directed to Quentin’s long time editor. He and the cast and crew sneak in a goofball “hi Sally” in unexpected places while filming.
Film Poster Gallery Tour with Elvis Mitchell (11:00) – Elvis returns to narrate this historically information piece about the creation of the fictional posters in the film as well as real German movie posters of the time.
BD Exclusive: Killin’ Nazis Trivia Challenge – Six levels of 10 questions each await those who think they pick up as much from movies as Quentin does. You better be on your toes to perform well as not all the questions are answerable based on you having watched the film. This also includes BD-Live connectivity to compare your scores for each round against the world’s average.
Poster Gallery – Domestic and international posters can be flipped through. It would have been cool to have a link to buy them via BD-Live.
Also included is the teaser, domestic, international and Japanese Trailers, Universal’s Pocket Blu iPhone app and a standard definition digital copy on a second disc.
D-BOX Motion Code
Pure “action” is relatively subdued in Inglourious Basterds which makes it not the ideal choice for a moving chair. Sure, movement could have been “forced” into a number of scenes, but the engineers at D-BOX wisely chose to only use the technology where it made the most sense.
Some of the sparse subtle uses of D-BOX that enhance without overpowering include chopping wood, the clanging of the Bear Jew’s bat on a sewer wall, whipping a prisoner and a few moments of driving. Otherwise D-BOX is completely at rest while Tarantino’s dialogue and tension are left to do all the work sans distractions.
The cinema finale wakes D-BOX up however with a flurry of gunfire, hysteria and burning flames. A crashing large Nazi symbol to the floor is the exclamation point on the scene where D-BOX mirrors the increasing speed of its descent via vibrating intensity. It is an exciting D-BOX sequence to experience that makes the wait for it worthwhile.
While I still remain baffled that Rod Taylor was given not one, but two bonus features while Christoph Waltz struck out, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds on Blu-ray is visually and aurally as wonderful as it played theatrically. The trademark over-the-top violence and spoof on history may not be for everyone’s tastes, but it more than deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt.
– Dan Bradley with movie commentary by Shawn Fitzgerald
Shop for Inglourious Basterds on Blu-ray at a discounted price from Amazon.com.