wogma rating: Beg or borrow, but do watch (?)
Quentin Tarantino returns with Django Unchained and pretty much delivers what was promised. In Django, violence always looks cool and tongue is always firmly in-cheek, as some fine actors play out a politically incorrect, talk-heavy but no less bloody ‘Spaghetti Southern’, if you will. Though not for everyone, Django Unchained is a film that will doubtlessly entertain many.Read more
Here’s the thing; just like how the release of a new Quentin Tarantino movie is an event, the DVD of a Quentin Tarantino film is a collectible, no matter what. That’s why it surprises me when DVDs of his films are always designed and packed just like any other.
No matter, because Django Unchained is a great film to have in your DVD collection. The pack contains just the one DVD, which has both the film as well as the special features on it.
The main special feature is titled ‘Remembering J. Michael Riva: The Production Design of Django Unchained’, a 12 minute piece that looks back fondly at the film’s production designer, who died while the film was being shot. Though a nice piece in itself, it disappoints slightly because it’s strange to talk about a film’s production design and not have the director and cinematographer make even a cursory appearance to talk about it.
The other two items in the list of special features are promos for a Quentin Tarantino Blu-Ray pack of 8 films and for the OST of Django Unchained, respectively. Nothing much to shout about, but the promo of the QT Blu-Ray pack excites you with the promise of having over 5 hours of never-before-seen footage. Other features on the DVD include the options of having Hindi, Tamil & Telugu subtitles.
Like every Tarantino film, Django Unchained gets better with each viewing as well. So, really, cinephiles just absolutely must have a copy of this one either way.
At the outset, I must confess that I am the biggest Tarantino-phile that you’ll meet. I’ve watched every one of his films more times than I can count and I have marveled, laughed, ogled and dropped my jaw at his films more times than most people have even said his name. In short, I’d like to believe that I am to Quentin Tarantino what Joss Whedon is to comic books. Or there and thereabouts.
Needless to say, Django Unchained has been the film I’ve waited for the most, for about two years now. When I finally watched the film on the big screen, it delivered exactly what it promised – cheeky, irreverent, violent, indulgent fun that you might either love or abhor, but you just can’t ignore.
Set in the American Deep South a few years before the Civil War, Dr. King Schultz is a German dentist-turned-bounty-hunter, who is on the lookout for a slave named Django who, he believes, can point him into three of his targets. What begins as a business relationship between a former slave and bounty hunter then turns into a joint hunt for Django’s wife, who he was separated from when they were sold.
While Django Unchained certainly isn’t Tarantino’s best film to date – it isn’t nearly as outlandishly entertaining as Inglourious Basterds or as narratively clever as Pulp Fiction - there is still a whole lot of fun to be had with it. Politically incorrect as always (the dangerous ‘N’ word is used even more than the ‘F’ word), with unapologetically gory violence in abundance (but my, how beautifully the gun battles have been choreographed!) and zany characters that will charm you irrespective of which side of the moral spectrum they stand, Tarantino writes and directs what is essentially a Western (or a Southern, as he likes to call it) with flourish.
Unmistakably though, Django Unchained does struggle sometimes as a film; one of the big reasons for this, I suspect, is the fact his long-time collaborator and editor, Sally Menke, passed away in 2010. Menke edited every one of his films from Reservoir Dogs to Inglourious Basterds, perhaps making her the person who understood Tarantino the director, and more importantly, Tarantino the writer more than anyone. Django has been edited by her erstwhile assistant Fred Raskin, but he doesn’t nearly seem to show the kind of understanding of Tarantino’s style that Menke did.
Something that I sorely missed was that one great, long, slowly unpeeling conversation piece that gently builds nerve-wracking tension until it reaches a nail-biting crescendo, before exploding into what is usually violent climax. This, I’m sure, has as much to do with the editing as the writing.
Strangely enough, stripping away its genre exterior, the satirical take on slavery and usual Tarantino-isms, the film is also partly something that he has never really made so far, a love story. That perhaps, is also one of the reasons why Django Unchained may disappoint some; perhaps love stories aren’t his thing to begin with. Also, at 2 hours and 45 minutes, there will surely be those who’ll find the runtime a tad too long.
Then of course, there are his usual liberties, those taken with as much conscious effort as the bits of genius. So even a nighttime scene in the midst of a dense forest is lit fairly high key, the source of light becoming a question mark if you pause to ponder over it. Another frequent Tarantino collaborator, cinematographer Robert Richardson (who, incidentally, also frequently collaborates with Martin Scorsese) lights Django Unchained creating some truly gorgeous frames out of the most mundane visuals. He also uses exaggerated zooms often; something fastidiously avoided by most filmmakers, because it often looks amateurish. In Tarantino’s & Richardson’s hands, however, they only do what they were intended to do – draw instant attention to characters, expressions and situations.
Django Unchained, then, becomes fun primarily because of the characters and the cast that essays them. Jamie Foxx as Django is superb. Watch his character gradually change from being a confused slave to a confident free man, as he gets used to the idea of no longer being bonded.
Tarantino seems to have made a habit out of writing Christoph Waltz into Academy Award-winning roles, and with good reason. He is expectedly excellent as the articulate and immaculate German former-dentist, Dr. Schultz. Samuel Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio have largely been ignored at the awards season this year, and I fail to understand why. Separated only by skin colour but one no less devious than the other, their characters bring a new spin to ‘negative’, and the two perform immensely well. They were, for me, the pick of the cast.
What separates Tarantino from most other filmmakers isn’t the fact that he is a fine screenwriter as well as a director. Each of these facets of his cinematic craft has a distinct voice, which explains why he confidently puts out the completed scripts of his films online well before they are released and why those scripts invariably make for great reads without later ruining the experience of watching the film; his films, after all, exist in an entirely different universe altogether - an elevated movie universe with its own rules. And therein lies my big concern with Django Unchained.
Tarantino has so far made two kinds of movies – his ‘real’ movies like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and his exaggerated-universe ones like Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds. One can imagine the latter two to be movies that exist in the universe of the characters from the former two. Thus, one can imagine Larry Dimmick from Reservoir Dogs going to watch a WWII flick called Inglourious Basterds in the cinemas. Django Unchained, while tilting slightly towards the latter category, isn’t an obvious outright fit there, if you try to explore it further. Thus, even though I maintain that Django Unchained is mostly a delight, when compared with the sheer audacity of some of his earlier filmography, the ‘de’ is often silent.
This article is by guest author Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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