Warner Bros. | 1994 | 122 mins. | Not rated

Notorious for its violent content, Natural Born Killers became one of the most controversial films ever made, when it was released in 1994. Directed by Oliver Stone (whose never shied away from controversy), and based on a story by a young Quentin Tarantino, Stone has always contended that the film is a satire on how serial killers are adored by the media for their horrific actions. At the time, Stone was coming of a string of box office and critical successes, including Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July and J.F.K., so perhaps he felt infallible. Whatever his intentions were, Stone ended up creating a film that put his entire body of work under the microscope and forced him to defend his moral character.

Natural Born KillersThough many have said Natural Born Killers stands as one of the best films of the ‘90’s, no matter which cut I see, I come away feeling like it’s a one note movie. As a satire on the media’s infatuation with violence and murderers, Stone’s opus hits all the right notes; the only problem is, it repeatedly hammers home the same point until the audience is bludgeoned into senselessness. The oft psychedelic-like visuals seem aimed at a generation of young people weaned on MTV and video games.

The film sets it ultraviolent tone from the first frame. Things begin in a in a roadside café in the New Mexico desert; Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) and his wife Mallory (Juliette Lewis), murder several people before a single word of dialogue is spoken. The imagery switches between a bright Technicolor and grainy black and white. Once the carnage is over, Mickey and Mallory jump into their hotrod convertible and leave the scene behind them. This all happens before the opening credits roll. When the opening titles do arrive, the couple is drenched in blood. We see the duo murdering, stealing, raping, maiming, making love, and murdering some more for the rest of the film.

After the café massacre, viewers are given a flashback of Mallory’s difficult home life. We see Mallory’s father Ed (Rodney Dangerfield, in a disturbing role that involves sexual abuse and misogyny) and her mother (Edie McClurg) is simply neglectful. The flashback is portrayed as a 1950s-type sitcom with a canned laugh track, the “audience” laughing hardest when Mallory is subjected to lewd comments and hints of molestation by her father. When Mickey arrives, he instantly falls in love with Mallory. Sometime later, Mickey returns to Mallory’s house and they kill her parents. They leave the house to the sound of rapturous applause from the ‘audience.’

Their first order of business is marriage, which consists of sharing dime-store rings, slashing each other’s palms on a high bridge and holding hands over the water far below. Things continue with lots of tumult, murder, blood and rage. We witness the point blank shooting of a police officer and a Native American chief (Russell Means). At one point the duo is surrounded as they rob a department store. The scene is shot using a green filter that’s positively nauseating. Mickey and Mallory are taken into custody by detective Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore), who seems obsessed with Mallory. Meanwhile, the duo’s entire saga has been sensationalized by crime reporter Wayne Gale (Robert Downey Jr.), who turns the pair into cult heroes. He gets the idea to interview Mickey in prison. Warden Dwight McClusky (Tommy Lee Jones), isn’t too keen on Gale’s plans. Scagnetti has his own plans to visit Mallory in solitary confinement during the interview. It all heads toward a showdown where Stone tries to blur the lines between media and murder, law and lawlessness. Every viewer will likely have a different opinion as to whether Oliver Stone met his objective or not.

This “Director’s Cut” of the film adds four minutes of footage to the theatrical film that was released on Blu-ray last year. I didn’t think the additional scenes added a lot to the overall story; frankly, it seemed like just an extension of the gore and debauchery already on film. However, for fans of Natural Born Killers and students of film, it’s great to finally see the film released the way Oliver Stone intended.

Though Natural Born Killers is presented in 1080p, in terms of video quality, the film is one of the more difficult Blu-rays on the market to evaluate. Stone used everything from grainy black-and-white through blurry, early color television to crystal-clear photographic reproduction, in the film (with some green filters thrown in for good measure); while Warner Bros. undoubtedly reproduced the film the best they could with their high-definition, 1.85:1 ratio, there’s likely little they could do to make this a true reference quality disc. The discs accompanying booklet says that Stone shot the movie with 35mm, 16mm, and 8mm film, plus a video camera. As a result, who can really tell if any resulting softness or lack of detail is from the transfer or the filming process? Regardless, there’s no question that Natural Born Killers looks better on Blu-ray than any of its standard definition counterparts.

Sporting a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, the surround field is immersive with ample use of rear channels and heavy use of LFE. Dialogue, solidly anchored in the center channel, sounds thin at times and is lacking the usual treble. Neither does the soundtrack music, which ranges from Dr. Dre’s “The Day the Niggaz Took Over” to Patsy Kline’s “My Baby’s Back in My Arms” to Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra’s “Batonga In Batongaville” to Leonard Cohen’s “Waiting for the Miracle” to Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have”. This eclectic assortment of music is well engineered. Unfortunately the same could not be said of the dialogue in some scenes shot on 8 mm. The weak midrange appears dead, muddled and stuck to the speaker. The bass is poorly defined and over-aggressive for gunshots, car engines and action scenes.

Natural Born Killers: The Director’s Cut
has the following special features. While a majority of these have been ported over from previous releases, there is a new introduction by Oliver Stone and a new featurette, NBK Revolution: How Would It All Go Down Today.

A New Introduction by Oliver Stone: Not much here; he basically says how pleased he is that the film is finally available to be seen the way he intended.
Audio Commentary with Oliver Stone: Stone always seems more than ready for his commentaries. There’s no problem with silences here, as Stone explains away all the criticisms directed at the film and explains things as he sees them. Beyond that, he discusses nearly every aspect of the film; the casting, screenplay, filming and more.
NBK Evolution: How Would It All Go Down Today (HD 22:10): This new documentary begins as a look back at the film, with interviews with Stone, Harrelson and Lewis, and then turns into a look at how today’s technology would play a part in the film. Would Mickey and Mallory be Twittering their crimes? Included are interviews with execs from Facebook, Google, Youtube, and Twitter, along with Joey Buttafuoco, Tila Tequila, and A Current Affair’s Steve Dunleavy, the model for Robert Downey Jr.’s character.
Chaos Rising (26:05): Covers the controversy surrounding the film and features interviews with the cast defending it. While there is some behind-the-scenes footage, this feels like little more than a promotional tool.
Additional Scenes with Optional Commentary by Oliver Stone: These scenes feature Ashley Judd, Steven Wright and Denis Leary (of the additional scenes, Leary’s rant is the best).
Alternate Ending (3:30): Personally, I like the one that was used in the film much better, but you decide.
Oliver Stone on Charlie Rose (11:38): The affable Rose brings up a quote from Stone’s ex-wife that gets things rolling right from the start.
Trailer (HD 1:48) Original theatrical trailer.
44 Page Booklet: Though this is not a Digi-book edition, the book that was included in last years Digi-book release is included inside the standard Blu-ray case. It includes cast bios, an essay on the film, Stone’s director’s note and a new message from Stone about this “Uncut” version.

[xrrgroup][xrr label=”Video:” rating=”3.0/5″ group=”s1″ ] [xrr label=”Audio:” rating=”3.5/5″ group=”s1″] [xrr label=”Extras:” rating=”3.0/5″ group=”s1″] [xrr label=”Film Value:” rating=”3.5/5″ group=”s1″] [/xrrgroup]