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Featured Blu-ray review - Inglourious Basterds

December 12th, 2009

Inglourious Basterds - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc DVD, Two-Disc DVD, or Blu-ray

It's the film that might have saved, or at least postponed the demise of Weinstein. The film Quentin Tarantino worked on for the better part of a decade, maybe more. What movie are we talking about? Inglourious Basterds, of course. The World War II flick with the international cast that earned stellar reviews and, despite opening late in the summer, became one of the surprise hits of the year, the first Tarantino film to reach $100 million domestically in 15 years and his first film to reach $300 million worldwide ever. It is also one of the most hotly anticipated home market releases of the week. ... Make that month. But does it live up to its hype? Is it worth picking up or just renting? If it is worth picking up, which version is the best deal?

Inglourious Basterds stars Brad Pitt, sort of. He plays Aldo Raines, the leader of a group of Jewish-American soldiers sent behind enemy lines for one purpose: to kill Nazis in ways so horrible that they will spread terror throughout the army. His recruits include Donny Donowitz, a.k.a. "The Bear Jew", who has terrorized the Nazis so much that some think he is a golem, while in France he recruits German soldier, Hugo Stiglitz, who murdered 13 Gestapo officers before being caught and sentenced to death. The movie's advertisements emphasized this aspect of the movie, the killing and scalping Nazis, and promised a lot of violence for those who thought Kill Bill was Tarantino's best movie. However, this is only one thread in the movie, which is an ensemble piece in every sense of the word. (Our massive cast list doesn't even include Harvey Keitel and Samuel L. Jackson, who provided voices for the film, or Tarantino's two cameos, for example.)

The film divides into four main storylines, which intermingle repeatedly over its two-and-a-half hour running time.

Things start with Christoph Waltz, a.k.a. The Jew Hunter. A member of the SS, he is in charge with hunting down Jews throughout France, and he is good at his job. We meet him as he arrives at the home of French dairy farmer, whom he suspects of hiding Jews. In a scene that plays to Tarantino's strengths, the tension is built up masterfully throughout until it reaches the point where the only possible result is violent release. This scene also sets up the second major thread: the story of Shosanna, who was the only member of her family to survive the opening scene. A few years later she is running a cinema in Paris that will be the site of the premiere of Goebbels' latest propaganda movie about the heroics of a German soldier. She has plans to use this event to stage an act of revenge against the Nazis. The third thread also involves this premiere, which the Allies are using as a way to strike at the heart of the German high command, since so many high ranking members of the Nazi party will attend the event. They decide to send Archie Hicox undercover, since he is so knowledgeable of German cinema before the war and hope he will be able to pass as a film critic. All four threads converge on the night of the premiere. That's the basic setup, but the fun is in the details, which I won't divulge here.

It was said numerous times that this film was in development for almost a decade, and you can tell. It is arguably Tarantino's best movie since... well... it is arguably his best movie ever. The tension is built up slowly, but ends up ratcheted so high that your heart is pounding when all that is happening on screen is a few people sitting around a table drinking and talking. However, the movie has more than just tension going for it, as it is also a terrific send-up of escapist World War II adventure films that usually involve a group of commandos sent in on a suicide mission in order to end the war. His encyclopedic knowledge of film history really comes in handy when capturing the essence of these films. That said, while he is poking fun at the exposition-heavy scenes, for instance, he does them well. The secret agent aspects of the plot are also much better than in most World War II movies, as the actors speak a wide variety of languages, as opposed to having all of them speak English in a wide variety of phony accents.

The strange thing, given that the movie is called Inglourious Basterds, is that it is at its weakest when the actual Inglourious Basterds are on the screen. Some have called the movie, "Holocaust Revenge Porn," and while that might not be 100% accurate, as the movie is much more than just that, there are certainly elements of that in the movie, especially during the Basterds' scenes. And like I said, these elements were the least interesting, at least in my opinion.

The other main complaint I've read concerns the number of anachronisms in this movie, from major changes to the actual history of World War II to minor things like the songs chosen for the soundtrack. This could actually be combined with a general lack of realism in the film's finale, as there's no way there would be that little in the way of security if Adolph Hitler was actually there. But that's the whole point of escapism entertainment. If you are bogged down in reality, it's not as fun.

Overall this is an excellent movie and certainly worthy of the praise and box office success. As for the home market releases...

The Single-Disc DVD has the deleted scenes and the entire Nation's Pride as shot for the movie. There are only three deleted scenes and Nation's Pride is just six minutes long, so this version is strictly a rental.

The Two-Disc DVD has plenty more extras. Things start off with a Roundtable Discussion with Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt and Elvis Mitchell, which has the three men talking for 30 minutes on the movie, its influences, etc. I think this is the third special feature like this I've seen with Elvis Mitchell, and he is certainly knowledgeable enough to go toe-to-toe with Tarantino. It's a fascinating featurette to watch. On the other hand, the faux making-of featurette on Nation's Pride couldn't hold my interest for four minutes. There are two short behind-the-scene bits, Hi Sallys and Quentin Tarantino's Camera Angel. The former has a bunch of people saying hi to Sally Menke, the editor, which has become a tradition on Tarantino's films. The latter has the clapper announcing the scene, which is referred to by a number and letter. However, she doesn't say the letter(s) but substitutes words. Sometimes it's the names of famous filmmakers, sometimes it's something in the scene, and sometimes its just swear words. It's fluff, but cute nonetheless. There are two short conversations with Rod Taylor, who has a cameo in this movie and was in the original. There is also a featurette on that original film, which is clearly loved by the people making the remake. The DVD also comes with a digital copy of the movie.

The Blu-ray has all of this, almost all in High Definition. (The spotlight on the original movie is not.) It also has BD-Live features including a trivia game, and the usual assortment of My Chat, My Scenes, etc. There are also features to use on your iPhone, but since I don't have an iPhone, I was not able to test them. As for the Blu-ray's technical presentation, it is damn near perfect. And the only reason I say "near perfect" and not just "perfect" is because there could be imperfections that I didn't notice or was unable to detect. (If you are unable to detect an imperfection, does it really exist?) The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track really gives your surround sound speakers a workout from calm ambience to the frenetic action. It's awesome. This is a Blu-ray you will be popping into your player to show off your home theater system. Additionally, on Amazon it is cheaper than the Two-Disc DVD and only 12.5% more than the Single-Disc DVD.

For those who were waiting for years and years and years for Inglourious Basterds, it was worth the wait and quite possibly Quentin Tarantino's best movie. If you just want to rent it, then the Single-Disc DVD is worth checking out. However, the Two-Disc DVD is worth buying, while the Blu-ray is Pick of the Week material.

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