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New ‘Dogs’ DVD has bite to match bark

Brian Doxtader | Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Has it really been 15 years since “Reservoir Dogs” came along and introduced the world to the mad genius of writer/director Quentin Tarantino? The cooler-than-cool dialogue, the matching suits, the ear-slicing violence and the constant cultural references made Tarantino a hot commodity in Hollywood. Those elements laid the groundwork for his next picture, “Pulp Fiction.” Yet “Reservoir Dogs” remains a great film on its own merits, an involving and fast-paced heist movie with a freewheeling energy and desultory sense of detached cool.

The basic plot revolves around a diamond heist organized by Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney). Cabot hires a group of professional thieves, who are all given code names: the unstable Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen), the seasoned veteran Mr. White (Harvey Keitel), the rookie Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) and the consummate professional Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi). After the robbery – which is never shown on-screen – goes awry and Mr. Orange ends up with a bullet in his gut, the thieves assemble at the meeting point and try to determine which one of them is the rat.

“Reservoir Dogs” didn’t quite have the massive cultural impact of “Pulp Fiction,” but it came pretty close, though accusations that it ripped off the Hong Kong film “City on Fire” slightly hampered its reputation. Still, Tarantino’s sense of dialogue (much of which has little to do with the plot) and pacing drive “Reservoir Dogs” and are the main reasons it doesn’t feel outdated.

Artisan released a special edition to commemorate the 10th anniversary, and five years later, Lions Gate has released a 15th anniversary edition. This is something the studios can keep milking, with a new release of “Reservoir Dogs” every five years – fans will surely appreciate shelling out more money for bigger and better editions.

Actually, however, in this case there is ample reason to upgrade. The picture quality was one of the weakest points on Artisan’s release, with faded, washed-out colors. The image has been remastered on Lions Gate’s version and the difference is immediately noticeable. The colors are much more vibrant and the image looks much sharper. The audio is improved as well, with a 6.1 DTS-ES track (and a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX mix), which doesn’t sound a whole lot different than Artisan’s 5.1 DTS track – still, it’s an immersive mix that uses quite a bit of surround. “Reservoir Dogs” is a dialogue-heavy film, and the dialogue is clear and upfront.

This edition jettisons the worthless full screen version of the film in favor of some new special features, which include a documentary about the impact “Reservoir Dogs” has had, and some interesting featurettes on the characters. The commentary tracks are the same as on the 10-year anniversary edition, which means it’s snippets of Tarantino, and not an actual track he recorded specifically for the film.

“Reservoir Dogs” is released in some of the funkiest packaging to come around in a while. It comes in a tin case shaped like a gasoline barrel, with the DVDs themselves housed in a giant cardboard matchbox. Unfortunately, there’s no booklet to accompany the set, but the packaging is definitely unique.

It’s usually difficult to recommend upgrades on films, especially since it encourages studios to release multiple versions. In the case of “Reservoir Dogs,” however, the remastered picture and audio are enough to make this a worthwhile release of a groundbreaking picture.