Kill Bill on Blu-ray: If Hattori Hanzo Made Little Shiny Discs

"As you know, I'm quite keen on comic books." -- Bill


I've loved Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill -- his two-part homage to the splendid nonsense of hyper-stylized action movies -- ever since the first one came out in 2003. Now, if you know me and my typical movie-watching preferences, you wouldn't consider Kill Bill love a given. I've never been one easily inclined toward action movies that elevate style over substance.

But oh, what entertaining, movie-loving, deliriously referential style!

Each of the two Kill Bill films knows that you're watching a movie, and rather than try to hide that obvious fact -- as most movies do -- Tarantino relishes in it and asks us to join his fun. No other director brings out the best in Uma Thurman, who co-created her character, The Bride, with him. Together they -- along with an army of supporting players, art directors, music archivists, clever editors, and a hundred ghosts from vintage Asian martial arts thrillers, American and Italian westerns, blaxploitation, Manga, and other examples of genre-sampling -- made their tall tale of The Bride's quest for bloody, over-the-top, comically quotable, visually "oh, wow!" vengeance a story that be-bopped to the beat of my film-wonk heart. In ways both lucid and unpretentious, here's where Tarantino nails his credentials as film geekdom's own Charlie Parker, taking the old stuff he loves and riffing new life into it with his own show-offy, nobody-else-but élan.

Not to put too fine a point on it: In making the best film adaptation of a graphic novel that didn't require the graphic novel to exist first, Tarantino and company have given us a modern-age, humorously shaded Jacobean revenge tragedy that would have had Shakespeare himself saying "Oh hell yeah" while digging into his popcorn bag.

(And it says something that among Hollywood's best movies about the power and drive of maternal love are Kill Bill and Aliens. What exactly it says, I don't know, but there's a film school Master's thesis in there somewhere.)

So naturally I've had Kill Bill on home video since the first edition came out. These are among the films I slide into the slot when I need an easy pick-me-up, or after a crappy day at work, or when I'm just in the mood for the sort of simple pleasures that are familiar but that somehow never grow stale through familiarity.

This week they're available for the first time on Blu-ray. When Film.com announced these Blu-ray titles back in June, soon after I purchased my Blu-ray player, the obvious question for me was: Will they be worth an upgrade? Should I shell out again for movies I already have on DVD just to get increased quality in the image and sound?

To quote Lucy Liu's O-Ren Ishii: Silly rabbit.

Of course I did. And so far, at least, Buena Vista's Blu-ray editions are the Hattori Hanzo swords of Kill Bill on home video.

'Kill Bill Volume 2' blu-ray box artThe high-definition image (1080p, anamorphic 2.40:1) is so vivid it's almost tactile at times. Hues are vibrant and detail is superb, practically perfect right down to the popping bold colors in the House of Blue Leaves showdown sequence and the lines and shadows on David Carradine's weathered face.

The audio is every bit as fine and improved, especially the option of an uncompressed PCM track that wraps the film around your head with clarity, nuance, and some remarkable moments of directionality and detail. Also here are excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 options.

The only letdown is with the discs' extra features, and that's only if you already own the previous DVD editions. All of those early extras have been carried over to the Blu-ray edition, with no further "added value" material to lure you in. (I was hoping for instructions on the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart technique, but no go.) Still, if they're new to you the extras are a standard yet worthwhile bunch.

Each film comes with a short behind-the-scenes "making of" documentary with Tarantino and cast members chatting about the production, the films that inspired it, and so on. Vol. 1 adds a six-minute concert by the 5,6,7,8's and a gallery of Tarantino trailers. Vol. 2, a music video featuring director Robert Rodriguez at the Kill Bill Vol. 2 premiere, and an inconsequential deleted scene. (All the extras are presented in standard definition.)

Maybe later on we'll get some sort of "ultimate" "collector's" Deadly Viper Assassination Squad edition of Kill Bill on Blu-ray with new and more comprehensive extras. I'd dismember a squad of Crazy 88s for an interactive annotated guide to all the visual, aural, and other cinematic references bejeweling this pair of films.

But it hardly matters, really. These new Blu-ray editions are outstanding. That's "the Undisputed Truth." Twice as strong as sodium penethol, with none of the druggie after-effect. Oh, except for a slight wave of euphoria. Can you feel it? ...