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Natural Born Killers (Shout! Factory) UHD/Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • Natural Born Killers (Shout! Factory) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: September 26th, 2023.
    Director: Oliver Stone
    Cast: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore
    Year: 1995
    Purchase From Amazon

    Natural Born Killers – Movie Review:

    From one extreme to the other, Stone followed up the mellow Heaven & Earth with this bastardized adaptation of a Quentin Tarantino script. Natural Born Killers follows a mass murdering delivery boy named Mickey Knox (played by Woody Harrelson in a role about as far removed from his stint on Cheers as you can get) who falls in love his customer's daughter, Mallory (Juliette Lewis).

    After they fall for each other, Mickey kills her sexually abusive father (the late Rodney Dangerfield in his sleaziest performance ever!) and her mother (Edie McClurg) and whisks her off on a whirlwind trip across the country, killing almost everyone they come into contact with though always leaving one person alive report back to the media. This enables them to become media superstars as their images are plastered all over the television, newspapers, magazines, and radio.

    A Geraldo-style investigative reporter Wayne Gale (Robert Downy Jr.) decides to boost his ratings by interviewing them in prison once they're apprehended. The cop in charge, Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore), has plans of his own however and things take a turn for the worse. A prison riot ensues and Mickey and Mallory take Gale hostage and use him as leverage against the warden (Tommy Lee Jones at his most manic) and as a tool for their ultimate media feeding frenzy.

    Some say the film is an exercise in style over substance with its rapid cutting (there are rumored to be over three thousand edits in the film), nearly subliminal images and use of mixed media but Natural Born Killers functions quite well as a black satire on 'serial killer culture' and how the American press embraces such atrocities and disasters. Case in point, Wayne Gale's tendency to sensationalize and exploit the events portrayed in the film all in order to achieve higher ratings with no regard for human life. While the movie consistently bashes you over the head with its message (calling it heavy handed would seem to be an understatement), it is never less than sheer entertainment even when it's preaching at you. Stone lets loose with both barrels in an ultra-violent exercise in satirical excess.

    The film also benefits from some excellent performances, with Woody Harrelson really stealing the show. Imagine catching this one in the theater and seeing the kindly bartender from Cheers killing his way across the country, tripping on hallucinogenic drugs and having rough, surly sex! This was very definitely a career changing film for Harrelson who has gone on to tackle some challenging roles, the most obvious example being his lead performance in The People Vs. Larry Flynt. Juliet Lewis is a little too over the top in some scenes and borders on the obnoxious but in the context of this already over the top film, her efforts seem to fit. Tommy Lee Jones is fantastic as the prison warden, frothing at the mouth and spitting his way through the riot scene chewing as much scenery as he can get his nicotine stained teeth through. Throw in some sleazy performances from Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Sizemore and you've got a very solid lead cast who handle the material very well.

    Warner Brothers released the theatrical cut of the film on Blu-ray back in 2008 and in 2009 returned to the well with the unrated director's cut of the film. This version runs approximately four minutes longer than its theatrical counterpart and features a fair bit more violence and carnage. As such, it's a much stronger (and in many ways more effective) picture. This three disc set from Shout! Factory does right by fans and includes the director’s cut on UHD and a Blu-ray disc a d the theatrical cut on a second Blu-ray disc.

    Natural Born Killers – UHD Review:

    The HEVC encoded 2160p transfer, framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and featuring HDR10 and Dolby Vision enhancement, is taken from a new 2023 4k scan of the original 35mm negative. Picture quality is strong, with the transfer offering vibrant colors and nice, deep black levels. Skin tones look nice and natural and the level of detail on display is frequently very impressive, though as this is essentially a mixed media presentation in so many ways, you have to expect picture quality to shift around a little bit depending on what is actually on screen at the time (which is, to be fair, completely deliberate on the part of Stone and company and all part of the experience). There are noticeable issues with any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression problems and this offers a really strong upgrade over previous Blu-ray editions.

    English audio options are provided in 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and 2.0 Stereo options with optional subtitles provided in English SDH only. Audio quality is really strong, with the film’s aggressive sound mix taking full advantage of the 5.1 setup, spreading out the soundtrack, score and effects work into the rear channels very effectively. Bass response is tight and frequently pretty bombastic, bringing gun shots and chaos to life but never overpowering dialogue. The mix is clean, clear and properly balanced throughout and it sounds excellent.

    Extras are spread across the three discs in the set as follows:

    Disc One – Director’s Cut UHD:

    The only extra on the first disc is an archival commentary from Oliver Stone. Those who have heard Stone's commentaries in the past will know that the guy is never at a loss for words and often able to offer plenty of keen introspection into his work and his creative process. With this movie in particular, being as hyper active as it is, Stone's dissection of the film is quite fascinating. He talks not only about making the picture, casting it, shooting it and the like but also about some of the controversy that blew up around it during its release, problems with censorship, and the general politics of movie making in America. He's quite blunt and upfront about his thoughts on the movie and about the film's message and importance and as usual, he makes for a great speaker.

    Disc Two – Director’s Cut Blu-ray:

    The second disc includes that same commentary as well as quite a few other extras, starting with a new interview with co-editor Hank Corwin titled On Dawn's Highway Bleeding running twelve minutes. This covers how he came to work with another editor named Brian Berdan on the film after being made the lead editor on the film and not really knowing what he was doing, staying straight while everyone around them was out of their mind, wanting there to be some psychological background to the movie and incorporating all of the archival footage into the movie that we see for that reason, what Stone was like to work with, memories of cutting specific scenes, learning how to cut scenes while on the job, thoughts on some of the characters and how he feels about the movie and its message all these years later.

    Also new to this release is an interview with producer Clayton Townsend titled the Scream Of The Butterfly that runs twelve minutes. In this piece, Townsend speaks about how he came to work with Stone on the project, the idea of exploring America's infatuation with news and reality TV and how hero worship could stem from this, the influence of Jim Morrison's work with The Doors and Stone's exploration of that affected Natural Born Killers, his initial thoughts on the first draft of the script, road tripping through parts of America to get all of the ideas flowing for the movie, thoughts on the characters and the casting, trying to shoot the riot sequence with real prisoners, memories of shooting specific scenes and the controversy that surrounded the movie when it was released.

    A Bloody Pail Of Nitro interviews special makeup effects artist Gordon J. Smith. This eleven minute piece sees Smith talk about how he came to work with Stone and how they hit it off, learning a lot from Stone about what 'film is' and how it can be more than just a medium for entertainment, knowing that both the public and the industry would judge every frame of the movie, how great the crew was to work with on the movie, thoughts on how the movie was received, creating some of the really over the top set pieces that he was required to work on, using real rattlesnakes on set and the effect of constant stimulation on the public and Stone’s wanting to disgust audiences with the movie.

    Wilderness Of Pain interviews cinematographer Robert Richardson running twenty-four minutes. He talks here about how he got the job on the movie and how nervous he was to first meet with Stone, what Stone required of him during the shoot, wanting to be fearless while working on the movie in order to stand by Stone and his vision for the movie, the state of mind he was in while working on the movie, his thoughts on Tarantino's script and the changes that were made to it, some of the techniques that were used to create the specific look of the movie, duplicating scenes on different formats to get that look, shooting the prison riot scene, how certain scenes were shot and how he felt about seeing the movie once it was finished.

    Disc two also includes a four minute archival video introduction from Oliver Stone.

    Disc Three – Theatrical Cut Blu-ray:

    The third disc in the set includes yet more archival extras, starting with starting with Natural Born Killers: Method In The Madness, a sixteen minute piece that interviews Stone, Corwin and technical advisor Dale Dye about their work on the movie, the themes that the film explores, the distinct look of the movie and getting their ideas up on the screen.

    The second featurette is the twenty-two minute NBK Evolution, and it's an interesting look at the influence that the film seems to have had on current filmmaking and pop culture in general. Stone, Harrelson and Lewis all pop up here and offer some insightful thoughts on how and why this has come to be.

    Up next is Chaos Rising, a twenty-six minute piece that serves as a fairly general documentary on the making of the movie. All of the principal cast and crewmembers pop up here and offer up their thoughts on the picture, its legacy, its controversy and its message and offer up some refreshingly frank commentary on the picture. This is a pretty intelligent piece with a fair bit more going for it than your standard 'making of' PR piece.

    Also included are some deleted scenes (six in total running twenty-one minutes and with an introduction from Stone), an alternate ending (with introduction from Stone), and a theatrical trailer.

    It’s also worth pointing out that the first pressing of this release comes with a slipcover but that the Charlie Rose interview segment that was on the Warner Brothers Blu-ray releases of both cuts of the movie has not been carried over to this edition.

    Natural Born Killers - The Final Word:

    Natural Born Killers holds up well - it's entertaining, exciting, and it pushes a few buttons that deserve to be pushed. It's hard not to see it as excessive, but at least there's a point to it and it's impressive in its scope and its effect. The UHD release from Shout! Factory is a really strong one, presenting the superior Director’s Cut in an excellent 4k presentation alongside both cuts of the film on Blu-ray and a host of solid extra features.

    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Natural Born Killers Blu-ray screen caps!

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