Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is one of my favorite films of the year, and now it's also one of my favorite Blu-rays. Other than Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, which technically was released in theaters last year, there's no movie released to home video in 2009 that will more satisfyingly appreciate in its charms upon multiple viewings. Part of the reason for this, of course, is that Tarantino's movies are almost always a reservoir (no pun intended) of references, in-jokes and influences, many of which only "appear" once you've absorbed their characterizations and stories, and part of this is simply because most filmmakers are content to offer immediate gratification and fail to consider the possibility of true cinematic longevity.
But Basterds is different, surprisingly, on both counts: it's a Tarantinoesque postmodern pastiche, to be sure, and an instant charmer as well, but its emotional and intellectual value is not merely tied to the films and pop culture bullet points it references, nor to the clarity and speed of its ability to entertain. And the new Blu-ray offers, if nothing else, unlimited opportunities for folks to pore over the film's making, its meaning, and much more, providing a juxtaposition to the season's more conventional awards bait and a reminder that some – often, many - of the year's best films need not be released at the last minute in order to be (much less deserve to be) remembered.
Ordinarily a review of a film released on Blu-ray or DVD would be mostly redundant, especially in the case of one that I myself reviewed for the site. But Inglourious Basterds is the bottle of wine with the twist-off cap that somehow manages to taste better the longer you leave it in your mouth: Tarantino's dialogue gets richer and more complex with each viewing, the film's themes multiply, and the overall effect is more satisfying and intellectually enriching. It's a film about identity - creating one, maintaining one, and eventually trying to shed one; about acting, performance, imitation; and perhaps most of all, it's emblematic of our obsession with editing, revising and reimagining events as we want them to be rather than as they are or were.
Wish fulfillment, of course, is a major component of almost all moviemaking; that's why so many male protagonists get the girl, for goodness' sake. But for Tarantino himself, the film legitimizes his love for the cinema itself, almost literally prophesizing how the movies won WWII. Meanwhile, whether we share his affection for the flickering images of movie projectors, it's a gratifying and glorious portrait of the death many wish that Hitler could and maybe should have suffered. Because of the immediacy and connectivity of our world, experiences have become increasingly compartmentalized, deconstructed, and detached from reality, allowing us to recall or remember them in whatever way we wish, as opposed to how they may have happened.
But while that parking-lot confrontation over who had the space first is remembered as victimization rather than misunderstanding or culpability in order to relive ourselves of self-reflection or taking responsibility for our actions, Tarantino's revisionist history provides a catharsis for any lingering sense that not enough was done to stop him. Further, it serves as a sort of reassurance that a bad person – much less one of the worst in history – is eventually punished for his misdeeds, which in this film qualifies as a triumph for its protagonists.
The Blu-ray looks and sounds absolutely fantastic, although beware the sound mix if you have thin walls: the dialogue is set at a suitable level, but the eruptions of violence in the film – such as when Colonel Landa's men open fire on the Dreyfus family in the opening scene – are borderline deafening. Such was similarly the case with the disc for Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell, although that same muscular sound mix was present during the theatrical run of that film, so it's unclear whether the continuity is a coincidence or a byproduct of Universal Blu-rays, most of which typically have terrific audio presentation.
Unfortunately there's no commentary track, maintaining Tarantino's radio silence across all of the films which he directed. (He recorded a commentary for True Romance, which Tony Scott directed.) But otherwise the slate of extras is considerable, although there seems to be more attention given to the practicalities and the production of the film rather than its substance or meaning. There are three extended and alternate scenes, and while they highlight the terrific work of the foreign actors – who, with the exception of Christoph Waltz as Colonel Landa, have been largely overlooked – they don't offer a whole lot of extra content. In particular, these show Tarantino's process of paring down scenes too their essence in order to maximize their impact; and while such a distinction may seem nebulous to the writer-director's detractors or folks who think his dialogue is already too indulgent, there is a pretty clear shaping of these sequences that is important especially for audiences looking for deeper thematic and narrative structures in the film.
Additionally, there's a roundtable discussion with Tarantino, Brad Pitt, and film critic Elvis Mitchell, but I tuned out after Mitchell asked Pitt what it was like to work with a cast of international actors. (Respectfully, Mitchell's one of the best contemporary writers of film criticism, but the questions posed here are strictly EPK-worthy stuff.) Also, there's two segments with actor Rod Taylor, who played Winston Churchill in the film; one is about the Australian beer he and Tarantino shared over a conversation about movies, and the other was about Tarantino's efforts to enlist him as a member of the cast. Like the interviews between Tarantino and Enzo Castellari on Severin Films' DVD and Blu-ray for the original The Inglorious Bastards, this will appeal primarily to cinephiles and folks who know Taylor's work well (he starred in The Birds, among other films), but it's engaging and informative.
Nation's Pride is the name of the film within the film, and the disc also offers a standard-definition presentation of all of the footage shot by director Eli Roth. Whether or not it's meant to be, it's pretty funny – owing to its faithfulness to the obvious and overstated propaganda of Nazi-era war films – but what's less effective is a fake featurette where Roth as an imaginary director discusses his work. Because there isn't a lot of real information here – such as how many shots Roth was able to get in reportedly a very limited time period – this is silly at best, an unnecessary time-waster at worst.
Finally, there's a tour of the artwork that adorns the sets and locations in the film "hosted" by Elvis Mitchell, a "Hi Sally" featurette, and another featurette entitled "Quentin Tarantino's Camera Angel." The artwork tour is vaguely interesting but a gallery would have largely accomplished the same goals as Mitchell's tour; meanwhile, the "Hi Sally" featurette documents every greeting offered from members of the cast or crew to editor Sally Menke as the film was shot. And "Camera Angel" essentially compiles all of the slate boards from the different scenes in the film, where a female clapper loader would come up with names of filmmakers or relevant words to suit the numbers and letters on each slate.
Acknowledging that it may still be too soon to properly break down the film and find the essence of what it is saying not only about the filmmakers, but to them, my only minor disappointment with this set is that there is little in the way of analysis of the film as more than "another" Tarantino movie, otherwise leaving interpretation and deconstruction to armchair philosophers like yours truly. That said, I'm grateful to have the film on Blu-ray where I can let my imagination and attention run wild watching the terrific performances, examining the cinematography, and immersing myself in the film at my leisure in order to understand and appreciate it in the ways that I not only want but it deserves. Ultimately, Inglourious Basterds is not a great, but still a very good Blu-ray of a truly great film, not because it requires multiple viewings in order to enjoy or "get" it, but because when you want to get or enjoy it, it will always be right there.