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Death Proof (German Import) (HD DVD)
Senator Home Entertainment / 2007 / 114 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: December 15, 2008
List Price: $11.99
(Ships worldwide from Amazon Germany.)
Reviewed by Joshua Zyber
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
It's been almost a year since Toshiba conceded defeat in the High Definition format war, and more than six months since the last domestic HD DVD release. We at High-Def Digest haven't published an HD DVD review since June of 2008. Yet here we have something very surprising -- a brand new HD DVD from Germany. 'Death Proof' may very likely be the last title ever released on the HD DVD format. As such, we felt that it merits some special attention.
For more information about importing HD DVD discs, visit the HD DVD imports thread in our forums area.
Portions of this article also appear in our review of the Blu-ray edition of 'Death Proof'.
When they played together as part of the 'Grindhouse' double-feature in 2007, Robert Rodriguez's monster movie 'Planet Terror' and Quentin Tarantino's car chase epic 'Death Proof' divided many fans. The majority of viewers preferred the Rodriguez half, with many of them leveling some downright scathing criticism on Tarantino's entry. Part of the problem is that the two films are very tonally different. While 'Planet Terror' is a goofy B-movie that's action-packed from start to finish and never takes itself seriously, 'Death Proof' is… well… it's a Quentin Tarantino film. The picture is extremely talky, complexly structured, and takes its time building up steam. A lot of time. Conceptually, the two features were actually well-matched in 'Grindhouse'. B-movie double-features of the 1970s often paired together such radically different films that had nothing to do with one another. But there's no denying that 'Planet Terror' sets a certain expectation that 'Death Proof' more or less deflates. I wonder how audiences would have reacted had the order been re-arranged? On the other hand, 'Death Proof' builds to an incredibly rousing finale that sends the double-bill out on a high note, and seems better positioned at the back-end for that reason.
Much like 'Planet Terror', 'Death Proof' isn't really a grindhouse B-movie. It's Quentin Tarantino's interpretation of what grindhouse B-movies should have been, filtered through his own sensibilities. The film starts on a languid, hot summer night in Austin, TX. A trio of young babes led by a radio DJ and local celebrity called Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamaiia Poitier) are out on the town trawling bars, getting drunk, and smoking weed, all the while endlessly talking about the sort of things that Quentin Tarantino characters usually talk about -- in other words, pop culture touchstones that are both meaningless and deeply imbued with personal relevance at the same time. In this case, the main topic of conversation is music of the 1970s, Julia's particular expertise. At some point, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) introduces himself. The girls sum him up pretty quickly as a middle-aged hanger-on, a little pathetic in his attempt to impress the ladies with his dubious Hollywood connections and a jacket adorned with sponsorship labels from the likes of IcyHot and Husky. Yet there's also something strangely charismatic about him, mixed with no small measure of creepiness. They don't give him a lot of thought and eventually say their good-byes expecting to never see him again, but Stuntman Mike has other plans for the evening.
This first storyline takes a long time to get going. In fact, in this Extended and Unrated version, Stuntman Mike doesn't make his intentions known until a full 45 minutes into the picture, after which the story comes to a shocking and swift conclusion, and then the movie switches gears and jumps forward more than a year in time. The second half focuses on an entirely new set of characters on break from a film shoot in Tennessee. There's the actress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the makeup artist (Rosario Dawson), and two stuntwomen (Tracie Thoms and Zoë Bell, the latter actually playing herself). Similarly to the first act, the ladies spend a lot of time hanging out and bullshitting, primarily about famous movie car chases and Zoë's obsession with driving a "1970 Dodge Challenger with 440 engine and white paint job" just like the one in 'Vanishing Point'. Stuntman Mike is once again on the prowl, and has some ideas for a day's entertainment that the women won't be expecting.
Here's the thing about 'Death Proof'. On a first viewing, the movie can feel incredibly frustrating in the way the story is laid out. However, at the conclusion (and especially clear in repeated viewings), the structure is kind of brilliant in its way. Tarantino spends a considerable amount of time setting viewer expectations for what type of movie they're watching, only to pull the rug out halfway through. Then he sets it up again seemingly to do the exact same thing, but turns the tables in the last act with a lengthy and, to be blunt about it, fucking amazing car chase -- staged entirely without CGI or other visual effects bullshit, just real cars and real stuntpeople moving very fast -- that blows the roof off the whole movie and is quite simply the most purely enjoyable thing that Quentin Tarantino has ever directed.
Although I realize that I'm in the minority with this opinion, I liked 'Death Proof' a lot more than 'Planet Terror'. Of the two, it's also the one that holds up the best as its own movie separated from 'Grindhouse'. The Extended version adds nearly half an hour of new footage, most of it substantive changes that help to flesh out the characters and story. Among other things, Arlene's lap dance has been restored, along with a significant amount of material for the Lee character. However, Lee's storyline is still left hanging without resolution, and I remain disappointed that Tarantino missed the opportunity to cut back to it for a quick wrap-up during the end credits.
In the final analysis, 'Death Proof' is perhaps Tarantino's weakest film as director so far. The movie functions best as it was originally intended, as part of the 'Grindhouse' double-feature, which was a greater achievement than either of its parts individually. Nonetheless, it's an entertaining B-movie homage that stands up pretty well on its own.
And Zoë Bell rocks. I just had to say that.
The HD DVD: Vital Disc Stats
Rumor has it that Senator Home Entertainment in Germany originally planned to release 'Death Proof' on HD DVD in mid-2008, and pressed the discs at that time. Due to contractual red tape, the studio was prevented from releasing the movie on any High Definition format until The Weinstein Company did so in the U.S. first, which has only happened recently with the Blu-ray edition of the movie. If the story is true, these HD DVD copies were sitting in a warehouse for half a year or more, and are only now being released, essentially just for the hell of it. Senator has also released their own comparable Blu-ray edition of the movie at the same time.
If this really is to be the final HD DVD, I suppose 'Death Proof' is an ironic choice of title for the format's death throes. Unfortunately, the other half of the 'Grindhouse' double-bill (Robert Rodriguez's 'Planet Terror') is not scheduled for release on HD DVD.
For what it's worth, the 'Death Proof' HD DVD is a pretty nice collectible. The disc comes packaged in a fancy Steelbook case and has A/V quality and bonus features on par with the domestic editions of the film. The disc's menus are entirely in German, but not too difficult to navigate. Even though the movie defaults to a German dub soundtrack, the original English can also be selected from the menus. The German subtitles are optional and can be turned off entirely.
The HD DVD format has no region coding. The 'Death Proof' disc will work in any American HD DVD player.
Although it may have been authored months earlier using a different compression codec, the 'Death Proof' HD DVD looks virtually identical to the domestic Blu-ray edition. The 1080p/VC-1 transfer (also presented in the movie's 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio) is extremely faithful to the intended style, and has a very natural, film-like appearance. Detail is strong, and a significant upgrade over the DVD edition.
Just like 'Planet Terror', 'Death Proof' has been deliberately designed to emulate a tattered theatrical print that's been run far too many times at the grindhouse theater. The picture has recurring appearances of simulated film scratches, dirt, debris, and jump cuts. However, while Robert Rodriguez really went overboard with the effect and made every single frame of his movie look like it'd been scraped off the projection room floor, Tarantino's film is more organic and natural. The film damage is often sporadic. In fact, the entire last act of the movie is virtually spotless.
In addition to the film damage effects, 'Death Proof' goes through three distinct phases in visual appearance. The first act looks a little soft and faded, with washed out contrasts that lose detail in both whites and blacks. At the transition to the second storyline, the entire picture turns black & white for an extended scene, as if the footage had to be spliced in from a b&w dupe print. At the end of the scene, the image immediately pops back into full color that's much sharper and more vibrantly saturated than before. As noted above, this entire final section of the movie is nearly devoid of the scratch and dirt effects. The big car chase makes for some splendid High Definition imagery.
Looking only at the technical specs, the HD DVD would seem to offer a soundtrack inferior to the domestic Blu-ray's lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio. The HD DVD uses DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 instead, which is a lossy (but high bit-rate) compression format. However, in practical real-world terms, the two tracks are audibly indistinguishable.
That's certainly not a bad thing. In either case, the soundtrack is an excellent representation of the movie's artistic intentions. In keeping with the grindhouse spirit, audio in the first half is mainly basic stereo without much surround activity. Dialogue is sometimes a little flat, and some of the source music is shrill (like it's being played off old vinyl), but most of it sounds just fine.
Things pick up in a big way in the second half with the chase scene. The surround channels are put to much more aggressive use and the roar of revving engines will get your subwoofer rocking.
The HD DVD also includes almost all of the same bonus features as the Blu-ray, albeit with forced German subtitles here. For convenience sake, I've listed the features by their English titles as found on the Blu-ray.
- Stunts on Wheels: The Legendary Drivers of Death Proof (SD, 21 min.) – As Tarantino explains it, this featurette is all about "Real cars, real shit, at full fucking speed." The director has a pretty big man-crush on stuntman Buddy Joe Hooker.
- Introducing Zoë Bell (SD, 9 min.) – An overview of the stuntwoman's career, from the documentary 'Double Dare', to getting the gig as Uma Thurman's double in 'Kill Bill', to her surprise at finding out that Tarantino had written a whole movie for her to star in.
- Double Dare Trailer (SD, 3 min.) – A trailer for the documentary about stuntwomen featuring Zoë Bell.
- Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike (SD, 10 min.) – Tarantino waxes on about the actor's greatness.
- Finding Quentin's Gals (SD, 21 min.) – A look at the casting process, writing the roles for the actresses, and re-using many of the same cast in both 'Grindhouse' features.
- Uncut Version of "Baby, It's You" Performed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (SD, 2 min.) – A brief extended scene.
- The Guys of Death Proof (SD, 8 min.) – Highlighting three of the male supporting roles.
- Quentin Tarantino's Greatest Collaborator: Editor Sally Menke (SD, 5 min.) – A video love letter to the director's longtime editor.
- Extended Music Cues – Audio-only renditions of three music cues by Ennio Morricone, Guido & Maurizio de Angelis, and Franco Micalizzi.
It would appear that Senator originally planned to provide 'Death Proof' with web-enabled content using the DynamicHD platform. Unfortunately, that content never went live. If you select the DynamicHD option in the disc's menus, you'll be greeted with a "Please check again later" message. Somehow, I doubt they'll update that now. To be fair about it, Weinstein's Blu-ray also offers a BD-Live option that leads nowhere.
With that said, the HD DVD does have one exclusive supplement:
- Stunts on Wheels: The Hot Boxes (SD, 12 min.) – OK, I don't know if that's the real title, but it's the closest available translation. (I suppose "The Hot Rods" would make more sense, so perhaps that's what they meant.) This appears to be an extension of the other "Stunts on Wheels" featurette. Tarantino expounds on his favorite movie car chases.
The Cutting Room Floor: What Didn't Make the HD DVD?
The HD DVD is missing a theatrical trailer and a poster gallery found on the Blu-ray. Of course, both are missing the rest of 'Grindhouse' (i.e. 'Planet Terror' and the fake movie trailers).
No easter eggs reported for 'Death Proof (German Import)' yet. Found an egg? Please use our tips form to let us know, and we'll credit you with the find.
Objectively speaking, there isn't much reason for an American viewer to import this 'Death Proof' HD DVD if they own a Blu-ray player. The A/V quality and bonus features are basically the same as the domestic Blu-ray release. However, as the final release on the HD DVD format, it's a pretty cool collectible, especially now that Amazon Germany has lowered the price dramatically. Interested collectors will find it worth a look.
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