Inglourious Basterds (Blu-ray)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino sticks his shtick to the Nazis and, for the most part, it works.
Inglourious Basterds is a remake in name only of Enzo Castellari's 1978 flick, The Inglorious Bastards. Both are spaghetti western war movies, but the storylines are dramatically different.
Tarantino's Basterds are a group of eight Jewish American soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt, Fight Club). Their mission: Each soldier is to hunt down and scalp 100 Nazis. It's a scenario that opens the flood gates for Tarantino's trademark violence, putting the war movie squarely in the territory of the '70s exploitation style that has proven to be the foundation for Tarantino's career.
One soldier, nicknamed the Bear Jew (Eli Roth, Death Proof/Grindhouse), beats Nazis to a pulp with a baseball bat then spews baseball euphemisms. Others slit throats or load bellies full of bullets. Aldo has taken to making sure the Nazis who surrender to them are marked for life; he etches a swastika into the forehead.
The B-Troop's mission escalates when it's revealed Hitler, Goebbels and a whole host of Nazis will be in attendance at the French premiere of Goebbels' latest "masterpiece," Nation's Pride.
There's no denying Tarantino's a film nut. He's fluent in the language of cinema and Inglourious Basterds does indeed boast some glorious moviemaking.
The movie opens with a long sequence in which a Nazi nicknamed the Jew Hunter (Christoph Waltz, an Austrian actor set to appear in the forthcoming Green Hornet) interrogates a Frenchman accused of harboring Jews. It's a quiet scene of simmering tension that leads to explosive, high drama.
And that's a technique repeated later in the movie, during an extended sequence in a German tavern. Soldiers commiserate, drink and celebrate one soldier's personal triumph, the birth of his son. In the house are spies and counterspies and the seemingly frivolous, overlong scenes of drinking games ultimately lead to a dramatic confrontation between Aldo and the new father. The frivolity quickly gives way to a sense of lost lives and lost opportunities as Aldo negotiates his way to rescuing Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger, National Treasure), a German actress spying for the Americans.
She's the one who tips off the Basterds about Hitler's imminent arrival and ultimately sets the stage for a climax that brings together several story threads: The vengeance of a Jewish cinema owner, the romantic notions of a German hero toward the same proprietor (whom he knows only to be a French woman), the plotting of Americans to assassinate Hitler, and the backstabbing efforts of the Jew Hunter to surrender to the American forces.
Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) takes stock of a Nazi film.
Photo: The Weinstein Company
Excellent filmmaking abounds in Inglourious Basterds, which is especially fitting for a movie in which movies, movie theaters, projectionists, movie stars and even a movie critic all play a role.
But one needs to play along with Tarantino's shtick, which involves the suspension of disbelief just as much as it does while watching a Tim Burton fantasy.
On the one hand, Tarantino disses the loss of drama in war movies of yore, those in which everybody – Americans, Germans, Italians, etc. – speaks English. In response, Tarantino makes sure all the characters in this movie speak in their native tongue and, yes, it works very, very well. It's cool to read the subtitles as Diane Kruger (a Hollywood hotty) delivers the bulk of her lines in German (she was, after all, born in Germany). But it's also curious to notice the French oui repeatedly appears in the subtitles as oui rather than "yes." And so does the German wunderbar instead of "wonderful." Is that sloppy subtitling or some sort of sly wordplay?
A mere technicality, perhaps, but Tarantino commits his own sins of cinema by unfailingly trying to be too hip. One case in point: David Bowie's Cat People (Putting Out Fire) blares during a key scene of revenge that also features some attention-stealing camera work. Some cinematographers and directors would admit failure if their work distracted audiences from the story at hand, but that's clearly not the case for Tarantino. That sequence in particular smacks of Tarantino's personal relish for a certain visual and aural presentation.
It takes away from the drama to have everybody speak English, according to Tarantino, but apparently it's okay to pull out rock songs some 40 years removed from the time period in order to evoke an emotion.
But more significantly, all that cinematic bravura boils down to one wild climax that effectively rewrites the entire course of World War II. Sure, a movie with a title like Inglourious Basterds needs to be taken at face value: It's a revenge fantasy. But it's a shame Tarantino didn't hold his ground a little more and bring the movie to a dramatic, realistic conclusion that matches the movie's dramatic, realistic beginning.
Inglourious Basterds storm Blu-ray with a fairly standard set of supplemental features.
The most valuable is the "complete" cut of Nation's Pride, the fictional movie-in-a-movie "produced" by Joseph Goebbels and starring a Nazi war hero. But don't be fooled, it's only 6 minutes long.
Also worthwhile is The Making of Nation's Pride, a mockumentary about the movie, it features interviews with the director, Alois Von Eichberg (Eli Roth, who apparently really did direct the movie-in-the-movie), and Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth, The Reader). It's a humorous 4-minute segment.
The Original Inglorious Bastards is a look back at the original 1978 film by Enzo Castellari. The 8-minute featurette includes behind-the-scenes footage of his cameo, along with original star Bo Svenson, in the Tarantino flick. It ends with the original movie's theatrical trailer.
The 31-minute Roundtable Discussion with Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt and Elvis Mitchell is a bit tedious in parts, particularly when the conversation drifts toward self-infatuation. Even so, and although there's no roundtable in sight, there are some interesting thoughts on the extremely positive reception the movie received at a preview in Germany and Tarantino's work process. There's also a notable conversation about World War II and Tarantino's take on it as the last "white-on-white" war wherein various parties could pull off assorted missions as long as they could speak the lingo in the land's native tongue. Therein lies Tarantino's comments about movies like Where Eagles Dare, which he contends "piss away" valuable dramatic elements by having everybody speak English. The big disappointment in the piece comes courtesy of Elvis Mitchell. He's a cool guy, no doubt about it, and in the past he's been an approachable guy at festivals, including the Starz Denver Film Festival. But he gets a major demerit for seeming oblivious when Pitt and Tarantino admit to diverging dramatically from history at the film's end. Naturally, they don't want to give away the ending of their movie, but Mitchell comes across as confused about what they're referring to since he's not familiar with that period in German history. Dude. Please.
Also on the chatty front are a Conversation with Rod Taylor and Rod Taylor on Victoria Bitter. Taylor plays Winston Churchill in the movie. The first conversation is a 7-minute fluff piece, basically about Taylor and Tarantino admiring each other's work. The second is a 3-minute bit about Taylor's favorite Australian beer and Tarantino's bringing some to share with the thespian.
The Film Poster Gallery Tour with Elvis Mitchell is more interesting than the title implies. It's not about the many promotional posters of Inglourious Basterds, that's a different part of the disc. This one's an 11-minute segment about the posters on display and the movies referenced within the movie, as well as the in-film artwork for Nation's Pride. There's some topical info on Goebbels' use of, or involvement in, German film as well. But, please, pay attention to what's real and what's fiction. References to Reifenstahl blur into chatter about Zoller and Von Hammersmark.
A tad disappointing is the section for Extended & Alternate Scenes. There are three scenes, totaling 11 minutes. Neat to watch is Lunch with Goebbels, which includes Tarantino's on-set comments setting the stage, prior to saying "action." It's a single camera, single shot version of the conversation that includes much more chatter about Goebbels' attitude toward film.
There's also an extended version of the La Louisiane Card Game and Nation's Pride Begins is an alternate version of the crowd settling in for the movie's start.
Quentin Tarantino's Camera Angel is a fairly silly 3-minute collection of clapboard action and the sometimes humorous titles given to each take.
Hi Sallys is another silly segment, a 2-minute assemblage of greetings from the set from Tarantino and other talent to the film's editor, Sally Menke.
Inglourious Basterds Poster Gallery is the more traditional poster gallery, an extensive collection of poster art from around the world used to promote Tarantino's movie.
There are also four trailers, the teaser, domestic, international and Japanese.
The set is packaged with a second disc that holds a digital copy download of the movie for use on mobile devices.
The Blu exclusives are a disappointment.
The centerpiece is the Killin' Nazis Trivia Challenge, a collection of six 10-question quizzes with questions about characters in the movie, who said what, behind the scenes minutiae, and some real history. Some of the questions are extremely inconsequential (such as, "What did Col. Landa forget to order?") while others are more informative (such as, "What does 'SS' stand for?") In terms of presentation, the neatest part of each quiz is a "watch it closely" question in which a scene is played followed by a question related to some detail in the scene. Thanks to Blu-ray's BD-Live Internet connectivity, it's possible to rank your score against other players around the globe.
There's also a "pocket BLU" function that allows some bonus features to be played on the iPhone or iPod Touch. It's all about branching out to the gadgetry these days.
Picture and Sound
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, Inglourious Basterds has been given a glorious 1080p presentation. Contrast holds well in the low-lit scenes and Shosanna sizzles in her red dress as she plots to blow up her movie theatre.
From creaky French cabins to David Bowie singing Cat People, the English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio rocks the house and, while the movie is dialogue heavy, there are still several scenes that serve as surround sound showcase material.
Also available are French and Spanish 5.1 DTS Surround tracks.
Optional subtitles are available in English for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, French, and Spanish.
The movie is also D-Box enabled for those with the D-Box Motion System.
How to Use This Disc
Watch the movie then check out all six minutes of Nation's Pride and its companion piece, The Making of Nation's Pride.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.