DVD Review: Natural Born Killers Director's Cut Returns

It's been 15 years since Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers exploded on the scene in a frenzy of controversy and kinetic editing. Noted for the 155 edits the MPAA forced upon it to tone down its violence, this game-changing film proved to be one of the greatest satires of its decade, rivaling films like Network with its satiric evisceration of the media and uncanny portrayal of where television news was headed. Based (loosely some would say) upon a screenplay by young filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, the film captured headlines both during and long after its release.

The story of two mass murders on the lam from the law, the film focuses upon the people and media obsessed with their violent acts and growing legend. A harsh look at the sleazy tabloid journalism of the day, Stone took Tarantino's script and layered it with his own biting satire about his growing anger with the systematic destruction of reliable, tasteful, disconnected news. To make the film, Stone assembled some of the most bats*** crazy actors he could find, and after a mushroom-fueled hallucinogenic drive through the desert, set about making one of the most frenetic, gleefully insane films of the era. Fortunately for Stone, it was one of the smartest films of the era as well. Stone used offensive ultra-violence to highlight growing problems in the media and as a result created a firestorm within that same media.

Well, now the film returns on DVD and Blu-ray in the Director's Cut format. What is effectively a repackaging of the original 1996 VHS Director's Cut release, the film sports all of the same special features with a few added bells and whistles. The chief reason to own this disc is for the completely restored Director's Cut, which puts back all 155 cuts forced by the MPAA to get the "R" rating. This creates a seamless film in which all the music cues fire correctly. Stone set out to make a film tied to its music -- with cues from Nine Inch Nails, Leonard Cohen, L7, Bob Dylan, and Patsy Cline, produced as a whole by Trent Reznor -- and did just that. Seeing the film in its restored format drives that point home as the lyrical nature of it is allowed to take root and infect you with its lingering, brooding melodies.

But despite cries of violence, the truth is that the MPAA was mostly bothered by the chaotic nature of the film. Pioneering a number of experimental techniques, Stone shows off various cuts, camera angles, and tricks and set ups that have been borrowed, emulated, and downright stolen over the 15 years since its initial release. Watching this film again demonstrates just how influential this film was on film that followed, but it also seems a little tame by today's standards. After the spate of torture films earlier this decade, shots like a severed finger falling on the floor and bloody shotgun wounds seem downright ordinary. However, the film is as chaotic and disturbing as ever.

Included are all the original special features which, while 15 years old, are no less interesting. Quite the contrary; watching all of these talented (and crazed) artists talking about such an incendiary film is riveting. There's a moment in which Woody Harrelson (of all people) refers to himself as the sanest person in the film and you realize ... he's right. Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, and a drug-addled Robert Downey Jr. appear in the special features as well, as crazy as ever. In fact, Downey Jr. steals the show, appearing in the interview clearly tweaking on something while nervously playing with a heroin spoon DURING THE FREAKING INTERVIEW. And they just let him keep doing it. Seeing that is worth the price of the disc alone -- but it should be noted that it is only really funny because he has since cleaned up.

Also present are a number of deleted scenes, including Tarantino's thematically superior alternate ending, a Denis Leary rant, an Ashley Judd sequence, and a terrible but really kind of awesome sequence starring none other than wrestlers-turned-actors the Barbarian Brothers. In addition, there is an incredible new documentary about the theme of the film and the result of tabloid journalism with a number of news, cinema, online, and pop culture icons -- really fascinating stuff that fleshes out where Stone was taking the film. The Blu-ray edition comes with a 44-page color booklet loaded with production photos and factoids. Well worth picking up, this is one of the classic, must-own Director's Cuts for any fan of Stone, Tarantino, or the film itself.

Natural Born Killers is available now on Blu-ray and 2-Disc Special Edition DVD from Warner Home Video.