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review added: 1/20/00
updated: 1/25/01




Natural Born Killers

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

The Films of Oliver Stone on DVD


Natural Born Killers

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Natural Born Killers
1994 (2001) - Warner Bros.

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A/A+

Specs and Features

119 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch 1:22:44, at the start of chapter 27), Snapper case packaging, audio commentary with co-writer/director Oliver Stone, Chaos Rising: The Storm Around Natural Born Killers documentary, theatrical trailer, 6 deleted scenes with optional introduction from Oliver Stone, alternate ending, cast filmography, Oliver Stone biography and filmography, The Charlie Rose Show interview with Oliver Stone, film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (40 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 3.0), subtitles: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, Closed Captioned



Natural Born Killers: Director's Cut

Natural Born Killers
Director's Cut - 1994 (2000) - Trimark Pictures

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/A

Specs and Features

122 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, dual-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, 3 theatrical trailers (for Another Day in Paradise, Storm of the Century and Cube), video trailer for DVD special edition, audio commentary with director/co-writer Oliver Stone, 6 deleted scenes with optional intros by Stone, alternate ending, documentary Chaos Rising: The Storm Around Natural Born Killers, film-themed menu screens with animation, scene access (30 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French and Spanish



Editor's Note: This review has been updated to include a look at the new Oliver Stone Collection version of NBK. You'll find the new comments at the end.

"Let me tell you something. This is the 1990s, all right? In this day and age, a man has to have choices - a man has to have a little bit of variety."

This is going to be one of my most arguable statements, I know. But now that the 1990s are over, I personally feel that Natural Born Killers is the most important film made in those 10 years. Let the hate mail fly. Now, I am not saying that it's the best film, or even the one film that represents film as a whole in the 1990s (there are actually a whole bunch of films that stand out in my mind in that regard). In fact, in terms of film, the 90s rival the 70s when it comes to steps made in the art form of celluloid in my opinion. But it can't be argued that NBK has made either a fan or an enemy of everyone who has ever heard the film's title. Groups of people who haven't even SEEN NBK talked smack about it. Now, that's power. When first released, critics fell on either side of the fence. Some hated it with real venom, and some saw the poetry and truth behind it and embraced it as art. The truth of it all is, whether you like it or not, this IS an art film. Disguised as a summer blockbuster and dressed up with a big name cast for sure - but it's still an art film. A very wicked art film.

By now I probably don't have to tell you that NBK is about Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis), two screwed up kids on a cross-country killing spree, being pursued by an egomaniacal journalist (Robert Downey, Jr.) and a just-as-twisted-as-they-are cop (Tom Sizemore). Of course, they are eventually captured, and that's when Mickey's power is finally unleashed. With the help of the media (purportedly set out to destroy him), Mickey turns the tables on those who have tried to keep him from his soul mate. Oliver Stone uses just about every cinematic element, genre, camera technique and film stock possible to tell his wild story. 16mm, 35mm, 8mm, Super-8, Beta, black and white, color, animation - it's all in here. Punctuate that with spitfire editing and creepy inserts, and you have a powerful theatrical experience. (I'm not going to even discuss the controversies surrounding the film since its release in 1994 - it's been done to death).

But NBK is no longer a theatrical experience. Were seeing this on DVD now. Basically recreating the laserdisc box set put out by Pioneer a couple years back (but sadly - and understandably - missing the Nine Inch Nail Burn video), this new DVD by Trimark showcases Oliver Stone's director's cut, reinstating 150 edits mandated by the MPAA for the theatrical release. What you end up getting is better flow, more insight to several allusions made in the original cut and some more "violence". I put violence in quotes, because even if NBK is ABOUT violence, too many people construe that to mean that it is PRO violence. It's not. NBK is a mirror held up to a lost society, that equates any fame and any media exposure as a good thing. We're not allowed to be invisible monsters anymore, held within our home, keeping our business to ourselves. Today, when we cheat on our wives, husbands, boyfriends or girlfriends, we take an all-expense paid trip to Chicago to break up on the Jerry Springer Show. What happened to our society, and why does Stone feel a need to mirror back our image? It's too soon to tell. I do know this however - no two-hour movie is going to make someone act like a monster. That gene is already instilled in us.

Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox. I've been on it before back in March of 1999 when I wrote about the pending court case on one of the earliest copycat murders. So all this is behind us. He we go, on to the good news. Even with all of the storming and fuming, Trimark decided to put out a DVD special edition and that's pretty cool in and of itself.

The new DVD, like I said above, is a pretty good representation of the special edition laserdisc box set. Gone is the NIN video, but that's okay. The picture quality is a grainy non-anamorphic that shows the color off well. The film jumps from film to video (in varying degrees of quality) so much that it must have been a nightmare just to get it to look as good as it does. I wish it was 16x9 - I think it would have been a crisper picture - but it seems Oliver Stone wanted it non-anamorphic exactly the way it was presented on laserdisc. As it stands, NBK looks pretty good, and you will only see a few questionable areas (usually in the black and white Super-8 stuff) that you're going to get with a straight laserdisc to DVD transfer. Sound-wise, the disc is more active in the front and it works. You'll find a little play in your surround channels, but NBK didn't originally have a very playful soundfield. Dialogue is clear and there are no distortions. Other than the music video, the extras that popped up on the laserdisc are all here: 6 deleted scenes that don't really add that much (except maybe for two: the desert and the trial sequences) and an alternate ending that twists the morality of the story. Stone gives an intro to each (that can be turned off and on) and he is fun to listen to. Speaking of that, Stone's commentary track is fun as well. He goes into great detail about the making of the film, the aftermath of it and his philosophies on it. I actually listened to the whole thing without once thinking about anything else. I was totally absorbed. Finally, the disc is rounded out by a documentary about the film and a neat made-for-DVD trailer. Not too bad for a disc we've all been waiting over three years for.

The wait is over. Natural Born Killers is finally out on DVD where it belongs, and I for one couldn't be happier.

1/25/01 Update

I have to say... the new Warner version of Natural Born Killers, which is the original theatrical cut, has a much better presentation on disc. I still like the more rounded director's cut a bit better, but this IS the version of the film I saw in theaters and, therefore, it's worth having. Someone will have to explain to me why Warner released True Romance in all its unrated glory, and yet continues to say that their policy is "not to release unrated material on home video". Doesn't make much sense. But, I digress...

Overall, NBK isn't any worse for the wear story-wise, due to the lack of about 3 minutes of "excessively" violent footage. Some of the missing footage sheds a bit of perspective on the motivations of the characters (like Mickey's childhood abuse), and some of it is just cheap thrill (blood, blood, blood). In any case, the director's cut IS still available separately on DVD from Trimark, so no worries.

The important thing to note here, is that Warner has released this version with a wondrous anamorphic widescreen transfer, which is spread over two layers on the disc. The added bit budget really helps clarify the image. Colors are sharper and deeper, blacks are a bit more solid and the grain in the differing stocks is tighter and less obvious. Viewing the two DVDs side to side sheds a lot of perspective of how faulty the Trimark transfer is. A lot of the problems with the original disc's picture have been chalked up to the different film stocks used, but those faults aren't on this new disc - further prove that dual-layering and new anamorphic transfers really do make a difference. The sound on this new disc is Dolby Digital 5.1, and it's basically about the same as the Trimark disc's audio in terms of quality (but with just a little more oomph here and there - especially in the subwoofer).

The extras on the new Stone Collection disc are all basically about the same as on the earlier release. All the deleted scenes are here (with optional introductions by Stone), as is the film's alternate ending. There are a few additions to the new disc, including the theatrical trailer and about 12 minutes of an interview between Stone and Charlie Rose. It's pretty fun to watch, as Rose eggs Stone on but can't get him to budge. There's also a cast list, a Stone bio and filmography as well as a Stone commentary track. It's basically the same one that appeared on the Trimark DVD, only in a slightly edited form. The Trimark commentary includes comments pertaining to the director's cut, which obviously aren't on the Warner disc. But, surprisingly, there are a few segments on the new Warner track that didn't appear on the Trimark disc. Right from the start, Stone talks about his appreciation for Warner in a series of new comments. I think it might be a conspiracy...

That's pretty much that. I think both discs are worth having, just because (particularly if you're a fan). I'm certainly not getting rid of either disc anytime soon. Warner's is the better DVD quality-wise, with a flawless transfer and fuller sound (plus, I now have the trailer... and a Charlie Rose appearance is always good for a DVD special edition). If Natural Born Killers at all intrigues you, this new disc is definitely worth the price.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com

The Films of Oliver Stone on DVD

Natural Born Killers


Natural Born Killers: Director's Cut


The Oliver Stone Collection (6-film)


The Oliver Stone Collection (10-film)


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