Django Unchained

  • Reviewed by: Todd Doogan
  • Review Date: May 08, 2013
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Quentin Tarantino

Release Date(s)

2012 (April 16, 2013)

Studio(s)

Weinstein Company/Columbia/Sony (Anchor Bay/Starz)

Review

So, it’s pretty much agreed upon at this point in his career that Quentin Tarantino can do no wrong, yeah?  He lives and loves all types of films and that life and love shows through in everything he touches.  Sure, he’s got his quirks and he’s pretty vocal about his opinions on things outside of the scope of film; making him an easy target for criticism.  But in the end, it’s so easy to shake all that off when you look at his final product.  In our current culture, Django Unchained should be a terrible idea for a movie.  It’s a tremendously violent revenge film set-up like a classic 1960s Italian “spaghetti western” which unapologetically focuses on a freed slave turned dead-eyed bounty hunter killing the white men who stand in his way of reaching his beloved wife.  Straight-up hard R stuff.  It’s a pretty bold idea to start writing out, let alone film.  And if anyone but Tarantino pitched that anywhere in Hollywood it would have been applauded as bolder than bold and followed up with an “okay, what else you got?”  But for some reason, the minute you hear that idea and know that it flowed from the pen of QT – it becomes something that everyone can go, “How hasn’t he made that film yet?”  Django Unchained is just an obvious Tarantino film.  It’s not as awesome as Reservoir Dogs, or as “important” as Pulp Fiction but it’s better than Death Proof and a cool companion piece to Inglorious Basterds.  It’s by no means a perfect film, but it’s a mighty fine Tarantino movie.

Jamie Foxx stars as the titular Django, an incredibly smart and as we’ll come to find, equally ruthless slave who is freed by the enchanting former dentist, turned prolific bounty hunter Dr. King Shultz (the always winning Christoph Waltz).  Django and Shultz meet up, go on some training missions and make a plan for Django to reunite with his beloved wife Brunhilda who he was separated from a few months prior to the events in this film.  It turns out that Django is a natural at bounty hunting and the two men make a great team.

Okay, here is the part of the review where I notice something that has come up in the storytelling of the latest spate of Tarantino films.  Like Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds, Django has a disjointed “is this movie missing some stuff?” feel to it.  It’s like two movies smooshed together – and this is exactly how I felt about Death Proof and Basterds.  The first hour of Django is all about how Schultz and Django meet and how Schultz gets Django on his feet and made to feel like a human instead of a thing.  Then, whiz bang, the next hour and a half is an almost completely different film with its own feel and pace to it and it’s focused exclusively on Django and how he tries to get his wife back.  If this was a film based on a book, I would have guessed that Tarantino adapted the first book to give the audience a feel for the characters but used it as an extended open to his intention of adapting book seven – which is the cooler book in the series.  It doesn’t make for a bad film at all, I loved the hell out of Django (as well as Basterds and Death Proof) but it’s this weird thing that Tarantino’s been doing lately and I wish he would stop making these novel structured films and give us a straight-up movie again.  Anyway – that’s my cross to bear – many who I’ve talked to about this approach he’s been taking seem to love it.  I find it’s frustrating because I can’t help but feel we’re missing major chunks of stuff.  Having read the scripts for this and Basterds, I can attest that there is stuff in those scripts that aren’t in the films (and would have been great if they were), but for the most part my issue outlined above is in the original scripts.

So, like I said, the goal of the film is to show us the roads and valleys that Django travels to get his wife back.  She’s been taken in by one Calvin Candie who is a slimy piece of shit played by Leo DiCaprio in a very, very out of character performance.  No Olivier is he, but this role reminded me that if Leo has to, he can act outside of being another version of himself.  Don’t tell him I said that, but it’s his value and staying power.  As for the rest, I know I write this a lot in my reviews, but I always mean it: I don’t want to run down the film for you because half the joy in Django is experiencing it.  Know going in that Django Unchained is a helluva fun ride.  It’s not offensive unless you’re looking to be offended.  It’s a western about a slave so yeah, there are a lot of race issues at play; and it’s also a Tarantino film, so there’s a lot of bad and offensive language to be found.  So, if you’re wilting flower – stay away and go rent something else with lovers on the cover.  If you’re cool with Tarantino’s style, you’ll have a great movie watching experience.

Django Unchained is presented on Blu in a nice wide 2.40:1 AVC HD.  It looks fantastic.  The cinematography and color choices really shine through in this presentation.  Considering QT is one of the hold-outs to digital, the film transfer to digital looks nice and real with grain texture and hard blacks.  Sound is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio and there are lots of great soundscapes in this film to test out your system with.  Front-centric dialogue, gun fire in the surrounds and bassey explosions are all very well accounted for.  I was hoping for some better extra features, but alas, what we get is pretty much EPK.  Reimagining the Spaghetti Western: The Horses and the Stunts of Django Unchained is a talking head piece focused on the horse work and stunts – all done the old fashioned way so it must have been a hoot on set.  Hearing about it second hand is only just interesting.  Remembering J. Michael Riva: The Production Design of Django Unchained is a nice look at the recently passed Riva and all the hard work he put into the film and the formation of his team.  The Costume Designs of Sharen Davis is just that.  Rounding out the extras is a promo for the Tarantino XX Film Collection and a quick commercial for the soundtrack.  There’s also a DVD/Digital Copy with a code for the UltraViolet copy in the packaging – the Riva featurette and the two promos are included on the DVD presentation.  And if you care, the DVD disc looks and sounds great as well.  It’s a solid package, but I wish there was more to the extras than what we got.  Here’s to the anniversary edition, I guess.

Django Unchained continues to showcase the Tarantino many of us applauded when he first showed up 20 years ago.  Hopefully he’s not going anywhere any time soon and we’ll get some more great genre films out of him.  I’d love to see him make a cinematic narrative film next, but my guess is – that won’t happen.  Regardless, I’ll be there in the theater eagerly munching up what he gives me.

- Todd Doogan

Additional Notes

Django Unchained on Blu-ray comes in three additional retail-exclusive “flavors” outside of the standard edition reviewed here (and purchased from Amazon), so if you haven’t picked your copy up yet – maybe this list will help you decide which version is best for you:

Target Exclusive:  Comes in an nice Steelcase package with a loose (but enveloped) third disc containing the special feature The Stars of Django Unchained at Comic-Con 2012

Walmart Exclusive:  Comes in the standard packaging with a loose (enveloped) third disc containing the special feature: Django Unchained: Reimagining The Spaghetti Western – A Making of Documentary

Best Buy Exclusive:  Comes in an exclusive slipcase and digipak containing a third disc housed inside the Digipak with the special feature: Around the Globe with Django Unchained: Conversations with the Filmmakers and Cast

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