Though the finished film bore little resemblance to Quentin Tarantino's original screenplay (which was presented to Stone, and then manicured to his liking), it's undeniable that Natural Born Killers has many Tarantino-esque trademarks: the violence, the swearing, the impeccable dialogue, the memorable characters. I recall staring at the screen, open-mouthed, unable to breathe. The blood! The visual stimuli! In a way, it was my cinematic awakening -- a realization that movies could tell stories on multiple levels. And despite its paranoia and unfiltered rage, underneath it all NBK is a sweet tale of romance in a world gone crazy. That, to me, was pure Tarantino, and from that day forward I knew that no other screenwriter or filmmaker on the planet could ever do what he does.
Just as young students of journalism try to emulate Hunter S. Thompson (and completely fail, every time), so too do young film students try to copy Tarantino. The particular styles of Thompson and Tarantino are so individual and so true (and so damn good), that it would be nearly impossible as an aspiring artist not to want to capture that magic. So there are attempts, even by semi-established filmmakers, to reach that pinnacle. The sad reality is, to put it bluntly, that no one can ever make movies like Tarantino. You can spot his movies a mile away, even from one scene, and you can identify traits from film to film, but no one even comes close to capturing the essence of his work.
So I became a connoisseur of his movies, circling back on Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs (remember, I was young, so I had yet to embrace these two classics), and I was totally enraptured by the weaving of the films' characters, and how taboo items like drugs, sex, swearing and violence intermingled with their daily lives. I'd grown up watching The Goonies, Stand By Me, Major League, and any number of grotesque horror films, so I was aware that there was a dark side to humanity, but it was Tarantino who illustrated that it can happen to you, or me, or to that straight-laced guy down the street. As horrific as certain elements of life are, they're all around us, often right under our noses.
As the years went by and as I grew older, Tarantino kept putting out more movies -- Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2, the Grindhouse double feature -- and I got just as excited for each new release. They're veritable smorgasbords for the film fan, his trademarks present in every offering. His consistently strong female characters (there's no time for pandering to feminine stereotypes here -- it's the women who most often kick ass in his movies, not the men) were, and continue to be, so refreshing in a world of rom-coms and male-dominated action films. Jackie Brown don't take no shit, the various women of Kill Bill absolutely destroy, and in Grindhouse, well, Cherry Darling's leg is a machine gun. I think that says it all.
Throughout the '90s and 2000s, Tarantino was known for his trademarks. The powerful female characters, the intricate and true-to-life dialogue and his amazing choice in music for soundtracks (c'mon, how many of us owned the Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Kill Bill soundtracks? I know I did). With 2009's Inglourious Basterds, he was taking a step in a new direction. This wasn't his usual crime/caper/martial arts movie -- this was an entirely different animal. Hell, this was a film about killing Nazis! With an A-list star like Brad Pitt at the helm, naysayers were quick to show their disdain (recall that John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson weren't exactly A-list in the early '90s; in fact, they probably owe a great deal of their ensuing success to Tarantino). These critics were silenced when the movie received rave reviews and multiple Oscar nominations (and a win for virtual unknown Christoph Waltz). Tarantino had successfully melded his post-modern ouevre with pseudo-factual historical events, a rare feat in cinema.
Up next is Django Unchained, set for release on Christmas Day. As with Basterds, Tarantino is taking on another contentious historical issue -- in this case, slavery. Again, he has major A-listers on board for the film, but there seems to be a lot less derision this time around. I have a feeling that filmgoers are going to experience that same exhilaration when slaveowners are killed/punished as when Nazis were exterminated in Basterds. A rush, to be sure, of the kind only Tarantino can provide.
Experience Tarantino all over again with the 'Tarantino XX' blu-ray box set, available on November 20.