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Kill Bill, Volume 1
2003 (2004) - Miramax (Buena Vista)

review by Todd Doogan and Bill Hunt, editors of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Kill Bill, Volume 1 Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B/D

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B/A

Specs and Features

111 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), keep case packaging, The Making of Kill Bill, Volume 1 featurette, film footage of the 5, 6, 7, 8's performing I Walk Like Jane Mansfield and I'm Blue, 6 Tarantino trailers (including Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Vol. 1 teaser, Kill Bill, Vol. 1 "bootleg" trailer and Kill Bill, Vol. 2 teaser), animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD & DTS 5.1) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, English (for the hearing impaired), Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Traditional Chinese, Closed Captioned

"Revenge is a dish best served cold." - Old Klingon Proverb

The long-awaited "fourth" film from Quentin Tarantino is an interesting one. We put fourth in quotes because, as most of you know, it's really half of a film. As legend goes, QT's original cut was so long (but so very good) that Harvey Weinstein told QT to not cut a single shot and just break the film in half and release it in two parts. So he did exactly that, and now we have twice the stylized bloodletting. It was a matter of convenience and had nothing to do with marketing cough-bullshit-cough. The question then is, is the film so good that it really needed to be two films, or is it just cinematic masturbation? To tell you the truth, it's a little bit of both.

You see, Kill Bill, Volume 1 is the ultimate Grindhouse film, except it's a Grindhouse film put through the grinder. It's got exploitation and it's got cat fights and it's got Japanese sword fighting and Dutch angles and geysers of blood and pop cultural references and unblinking violence and music stings pulled from some of the greatest B and Z-grade films ever made. In its simplest form, it's a handful of bloody popcorn... every last bit of which is delicious. This is the greatest "best of" party videotape ever made on the subject of exploitation. About the only thing it's missing is a sequence in a prison with butch female wardens and violent lesbian bunkmates. But maybe that's in Volume 2.

All of that aside, Kill Bill, Volume 1 is not a perfect film. It's not even a great one. Sure, all of it is "good" and "fun" and "interesting" and "rousing," but when it's all said and done, anyone who loves the flicks that Tarantino's cribbing from will have already seen and heard all of this before, just with different actors and dialogue. Kill Bill is good, and all together neat, but it's not "cinema". It's just a really fun movie... and it seems that's really all QT intended it to be. He's clearly having fun making a movie out of the best bits and pieces from his own favorite movies - 70s exploitation films, samurai epics, spaghetti westerns and the like. God bless him for it, because he completely succeeds in the effort.

Kill Bill, Volume 1 concerns itself with a woman we only know as The Bride, played wonderfully by Uma Thurman. On her wedding day, she and everyone at her wedding party are slaughtered. As she lays dying, she looks up and stares at someone who calmly wipes the blood off her bruised and beaten face with a handkerchief emblazoned with the name "Bill." She tells him she is pregnant - with his baby - and he shoots her in the head.

Many years later, The Bride is lingering in a coma. She's been locked away inside her own mind and unwittingly used as a comatose prostitute for a foul-looking orderly. As she's about to be abused again, she suddenly comes out of the coma, kills everyone in the room and sets upon her new mission in life - revenge against Bill and his dastardly crew of assassins. Things are a little bit complicated, however. You see... The Bride at one point was part of that crew. It seems that when she tried to quit and start a new life, Bill and the gang didn't take too kindly to that and decided to cancel her plans. In so doing, they only succeeded in pissing her off. Now, she wants payback for what they took from her. She's made a "kill" list and she's crossing the assassins' names off it one by one. And she won't rest until she gets to the end. Until she kills Bill.

The film is almost ungradeable in terms of review, because it's really just a silly exploitation film. Still, it looks great and moves at a wonderful pace. The acting is better here than in most the films it homages. The dialogue is just as you'd expect from Tarantino and the action is top notch. You should know right off the bat that if you don't dig exploitation cinema, you won't dig this. Don't come in thinking it's Pulp Fiction, Part 2 or anything like that. This film is bloody, ultra-violent junk... but it wears that badge with pride.

The video quality on this disc, in anamorphic-enhanced widescreen, is quite good. It's not grade-A material, but it's not meant to be. The film has a gritty, grainy look that's intended as part of the style. As a result, detail is occasionally a little lacking. But the contrast is excellent and the colors are lush and vibrant. The surround audio, presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS, is quite good. Most of the time, the rear channels are used for atmospheric fill and to envelope you with the pulsing, grinding soundtrack music. But they do kick in a little more during the action scenes - you'll hear the blood splattering all around. For our money, the DTS definitely gets the edge in terms of sounding fuller, smoother and more natural, which particularly benefits the soundtrack. The Dolby Digital mix still sounds good though, and has a slightly more directional quality some might prefer. Either way, both tracks support the visuals well.

In terms of extras, don't expect much and you won't get much. It probably goes without saying that Tarantino and Miramax plan a far more elaborate collector's edition of both Kill Bill, Volumes 1 & 2 once the second film (due on April 16th) has played itself out in theaters. Think of this disc as Kill "light" - a basically movie-only taste to sharpen your steel and bloody your clothes enough to be ready for Volume 2.

What you do get here includes a 20-minute featurette on the making of the film, performance footage (from the film) of the 5, 6, 7, 8's raging through two songs, and trailers for all of Tarantino's other films, as well as the teaser and "bootleg" trailers for this film and the teaser for the sequel. The featurette isn't fluffy exactly, but it's isn't very substantial either. QT, Uma and other cast and crew members talk about the origins of the film, its cinematic influences and references, and how the production went. Like we said, Kill "light". By the way, the extras are all non-anamorphic, which is just lame and unnecessary, "light" or not. The menus, however, are anamorphic and they're damn cool.

Kill Bill, Volume 1 on DVD (this version at least) will never win any Bitsy Awards, but you can't ignore it either. If you're as into genre flicks as we are, you pretty much have to have it in your collection. Hell... any modern film that references Lady Snowblood is a do-er in our book. The bottom line is, anyone who discounts this film offhand is an idiot, and anyone who says it's the greatest film they've ever seen is equally an idiot. Kill Bill simply is what it is - a good ol' fashioned drive-in movie that you get to watch in your own home. If you're a fan, our advice is to buy it on sale and do just that. Yeah, you'll have to shell out again in a year for a better version, but so what? If you're a fan, that's easy cash on the barrel head. And if you're not a fan, you'd probably never buy Kill Bill on disc anyway. So how's that for a recommendation?

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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