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Inglourious Basterds Blu-ray Review

by Scott A. September 09, 2010
Inglourious Basterds Blu-ray

Inglourious Basterds Blu-ray

Studio Name: Universal (The Weinstein Company)
MPAA Rating:
Disc/Transfer Information: 1080p High Definition Widescreen 2.40:1; Region 1 (U.S.)
Tested Audio Track:
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring Cast: Brad Pitt, Eli Roth


Imagine this hair-raising scenario, if you will, for a moment…you’re sitting at home, attempting to block out in the most effective way possible the background droning of your wife and perhaps your 18 year-old daughter who’s bitching about not being able to wear a dress that barely covers her now-developed derriere to the prom.  You're sitting in your favorite chair, taking in the news before perhaps retiring to your home theater to pop in The Dark Knight for the 200-thousandth time. Then you hear it – it’s the voice of an announcer exclaiming the one and only Q. Tarantino has made a film about fighting Nazis in war-ravaged France, circa WWII…and then you hear the unmistakable voice of Brad Pitt attempting to force a strange accent of the leader of a rogue band of Jewish super soldiers so thick it makes Liam Neeson seem like he deserves an Oscar for being Zeus in Clash of the Titans.  What is this all about, you ask yourself, reaching for the volume control of your HDTV…a Tarantino film about Nazis? Who’s coming back to run ‘em down in a burned-out stunt car…Kurt Russell? No, no…that was Death Proof…what then? And Brad Pitt is in this??!!

Say what you will about Tarantino’s controversial and heavy-handed attempt at re-imagining Inglourious Basterds, on paper, it sure sounded like a winner – who but the nutty Tarantino could inject the dollops of off-the-wall humor and parody decided upon to make this project work? Utilizing his slightly odd, almost Grindhouse-like style fusing graphic horror with demented comedy of sorts, Tarantino’s version of the almost forgotten Basterds seemed like nothing but promise. Being of the Jewish faith myself, I for one sure looked forward to it.   I mean, here we have Brad Pitt leading a bunch of bent-on-revenge Nazi hunters and killers amidst the horrors of World War II, looking to torture their victims belonging to the SS hierarchy in unusual ways, one in particular involving indie horror director Eli Roth himself doing a cameo and brandishing a baseball bat to club the Nazi officers’ brains out. But to be honest, the final product – regardless of all the hoopla and buzz swirling around and about this film – wasn’t that memorable. Most of the run time is spent trying to read quick-moving subtitles as we watch German officers talking French, German and other dialects and it was simply distracting, making a slow-moving pace. Further, for all the talk of a “brutal World War II Tarantino shocker with humor stuffed in the middle for good measure,” there really wasn’t all that much gore or graphic violence – but I’ll get to all that.

The premise here is that Pitt runs a rogue outfit in the midst of Nazi-occupied France during World War II known as the “Basterds,” who seek out and prey on any SS soldier or swastika-brandishing German officer they can get their hands on. This premise, while appearing entertaining on the surface, never really gets to, as I see it, develop itself properly, as the story begins with a kind of “Jewish Justice League” flair amongst these guys (almost like, say, Hebrew Hammer meets a Tarantino version of Saving Private Ryan) but then slowly gets very dry as it limps on, taking us through sleep-inducing conversations amongst the foreign-language speaking characters. Pitt’s performance as the Nazi-hating leader of the Basterds is very entertaining in many places, notably when he describes to their would-be victims what they’re going to do to them if they don’t comply. But by the end of the film, this performance just loses steam.

This re-telling of the original Basterds opens with a gang of Nazi “jewhunters” which surround and then enter a farmer’s house in Nazi occupied France. The film is broken up into “chapters,” whereby a new chapter is announced onscreen as the script is divided and plays out – the first chapter introduces us to this bearded farmer who is hiding a family of Jews beneath his floorboards when the Nazis arrive to interrogate him. A standoff of sorts occurs between the man and the SS lead “hunter” and Tarantino builds the thick tension here nicely. Finally getting the man to break down and admit the family is beneath his floor, the Nazi officer has the floorboards chewed up by machine gun fire, killing all presumably except for one young girl who manages to escape into the French fields. Years later, this girl grows up to own a movie theater in Nazi-occupied France and all characters involved in the story begin to come together.

Meanwhile, Pitt and his gang of Nazi hunters have tracked down and captured a high-ranking SS officer in the forest, where they demand he give up positions of his men in the areas beyond. When he refuses, Pitt comically introduces to the indifferent Nazi officer to “The Bear Jew” played by indie horror director Eli Roth (who was responsible for the shockers Hostel and Cabin Fever). Roth seemingly buffed himself up a bit for this role, as he comes rocketing out of a cave, brandishing a baseball bat.   Apparently, “The Bear Jew” goes around bashing Nazi heads in with this bat at his own will. The premise was funny and effective if Tarantino would have stayed with it – but again, like Pitt’s character, I don’t believe Roth was able to thoroughly explore the impact this character had on the narrative. Still, when the Nazi officer continues to be insubordinate, Roth takes the bat and dishes out a beating to the guy’s head that needs to be witnessed to be believed – however, again, this was the extent really of the graphic violence Tarantino is so widely known for in indie film circles.

As the story goes on, things go from mildly entertaining after that “Nazi beat down” sequence to dull and downright confusing at certain points; we meet the French girl that’s all grown up now after she escaped the clutches of the Nazis early on and who now owns her aunt and uncle’s theater in Paris, and she meets a Nazi actor that plans the premiere of a Nazi propaganda war film at the theater through falling for her. Meanwhile, there is the sub-plot involving the Basterds meeting up with an undercover agent working with them to take down Hitler; the sexy spy pretends to be a German actress who flirts with other members of the drunken SS hierarchy at beer halls and pubs, but these sequences get tedious and drawn out with all the subtitle activity that dominates the entire film. As the agent tries not to blow her cover, her associates do just that one night at one of these pubs, and a gunfight ensues between a high ranking SS captain and the undercover agents appearing as German soldiers. The girl, pretending to be a sexy actress. Pitt and the Basterds eventually save her life, although before removing the bullet from her leg, they concoct a scheme to bring down Hitler at the premiere of this film at the French girl’s theater. Got all that?

As that story develops, the owner of the theater concocts a plot with her black projectionist at the theater to kill all the Nazis that will be in attendance for the film premiere. Apparently, they devise a scheme whereby they will splice film together which incorporates a girl laughing and announcing the death of the Germans at the hands of the Jew, and then run that clip in the middle of the premiere film, while they both burn the theater down, thus killing Hitler in attendance and all the other SS executives. If this isn’t random enough, in comes Pitt and the Basterds pretending to be Italian actors escorting the sexy agent pretending to be a German actress to the premiere – and they also have a plan for getting rid of Hitler and the SS through dynamite charges strapped to legs. But remember that SS agent that identified the Jewish family living below the French farm in the opening scene of the film? He is also in attendance of the premiere – and he sniffs out Pitt, the Basterds and the undercover sex kitten for who they really are.

One of the biggest problems with Tarantino’s Basterds was Hitler himself – unlike the characterization of this historical butcher in Valkyrie, the version here is a mockery of the dictator, an almost laughable caricature of the actual figure that was laughable at best. I realize that’s what Tarantino was going for here – that is, making a complete mockery of Adolf and portraying him as a bumbling buffoon, but something about the portrayal was just terribly off and uninteresting to me. Not only did this not look anything remotely resembling Hitler, the characterization in general was just odd.

And so this brings us to the ultimate problems which coat Inglourious Basterds…where it starts off with a bang, building thick, creepy suspense in the French farmhouse opening sequence and then appearing very promising with the “Jewish superheroes” theme when Roth bashes the Nazi officer’s head in with the bat, something just goes South from there – we never really see that much more Basterds vigilante action, nor do we see Pitt and the gang all that much until the end theater bombing sequence. The middle section of the two-and-a-half-hour picture is spent witnessing conversations – all in subtitles – between the Nazi officer/actor that courts the theater owner French girl and other random subtitle-driven sequences that weren’t even mildly entertaining to me. Of course, this all leads to the climactic showdown of all these characters in the Nazi-attended film premiere, where the SS troops and executives are trapped amidst a blazing theater interior and Roth and another Basterd shred some Nazis up with machine gun fire within the halls of the theater – all great fun. But it simply couldn’t save a midsection which came before it that was unfortunately riddled with boredom and a geriatric pace that kept this from being a memorable Tarantino effort.

I applaud what he was trying to do here – I just wasn’t that entertained by the final product.

Universal, I have said all along since the format’s launch, has been the proponent of excellently-encoded Blu-ray transfers, regardless of genre, and with Inglourious Basterds they’ve done it again. From the opening French farmhouse sequence which is dripping with detail and clarity to the noise-less dark interior shots that often wreak havoc with an encode (just ask Stacey Spears and Joe Kane), this was one clean looking transfer. Encoded as a 2.40:1 widescreen image, I couldn’t detect many, if any at all, defects in Basterds’ 1080p transfer on this disc – some sequences came off appearing a bit flat and DVD-like in certain random spots, but I suspect this was completely artist and Tarantino-intended given the time period of the story.

This was a tough one to really analyze; in typical Universal (and apparently every other studio) fashion, an English DTS-HD Master Audio mix was onboard in a 5.1 array preparation, and although engaging when it needed to be, nothing really jumped out at me about this track. I had to make the overall master volume level higher than I normally listen at with Blu-rays (or DVDs for that matter) as much of the dialogue driven parts were slightly low in output and impact – now, I know this means absolutely nothing, relatively speaking, as my system is light years different sound wise from his and yours and hers based on the different rooms and settings we all have, but I needed to express my specific experiences with the audio track. When the action heats up, the Master Audio mix comes alive in a startling way – notable was the basement beer hall sequence when the female agent and her companions are discovered by the smooth-talking SS officer. When all of them whip out pistols and aim them at one another’s private areas – specifically the testicles – and then the gunfire erupts, this track rips into sonic mayhem that was quite satisfying. Bullets fly everywhere, around the soundstage from the front to the rear, with a lucid, effortless quality while LFE support comes in tasteful waves accompanying the relentless rat-tat-tatting of the machine guns. Likewise, the theater assault scene at the end displays similar explosive activity, as machine gun fire, the roaring and licking aggressiveness of a raging fire and the final massive dynamite exploding sequence combine to make one heck of a dynamic punch.

This is a tough one – in some respects, this was a memorable effort by Tarantino to re-invent the nearly forgotten Basterds (they don’t really like to call it a “remake”) and select Pitt performances as the nearly-psycho leader of the Nazi hunting band were thoroughly smile-inducing – not to mention the cocky, hammy performance by Eli Roth as “The Bear Jew.” But all in all, I think this just fell flat – I can’t see myself really returning to watch this regularly, as the way the midsection simply limps and drags on for what seems like eternity, assisted by rapidly moving subtitles that get exhausting to keep up with after awhile. Don’t get me wrong – I like Das Boot as much as the next red blooded, red meat eatin’ American male, but something didn’t do it for me here.

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Recent Forum Posts:

BoredSysAdmin posts on September 17, 2010 07:26
ChillSinger, post: 752026
Tarantino's world-war 2 effort is a very mixed bag: although it is a cinematographic tour-de-force and wonderfully polished in its technical execution, the nihilistic story feels like a waste of some great performances by the star-studded cast, Christopher Waltz and Diane Kruger being particularly excellent as Hans Landa and Bridget von Hammersmark. Although the violence may shock and the slick scenes may briefly hold the attention, ultimately this is as soulless and empty as Deathproof, and less likable in many ways. Pulp Fiction it is not.

Couldn't say this better myself
ChillSinger posts on September 17, 2010 06:24
Tarantino's world-war 2 effort is a very mixed bag: although it is a cinematographic tour-de-force and wonderfully polished in its technical execution, the nihilistic story feels like a waste of some great performances by the star-studded cast, Christopher Waltz and Diane Kruger being particularly excellent as Hans Landa and Bridget von Hammersmark. Although the violence may shock and the slick scenes may briefly hold the attention, ultimately this is as soulless and empty as Deathproof, and less likable in many ways. Pulp Fiction it is not.
BoredSysAdmin posts on September 15, 2010 08:48
BSA, your support of that assertion is a surprise but so be it.

WTF??? What do I have to do with anything??? All I trying to do is to help Pearl to gain Positive rep back.

Imo he wrote good, strong movie review, which was chosen to be featured on the main site and I in my view it deserves recognition for this fact itself (Most of AH forums posters, even some very active ones, never did that much) - so I was trying to help Pearl to get back into green rep.

It had nothing to do with calling anyone a Bigot or supporting that. Please keep me out of religious arguments and any fall-out related to these…
Alex2507 posts on September 15, 2010 08:43
Rickster71, post: 751264
… granted things get a little sophomoric around here …

Don't use words I don't understand or I'll hammer you with neg rep.

PC, don't change your story on me. You said the quote was harsh and laced with bigotry. That's the same as saying that I am harsh and bigoted. Now you've picked another quote to rail about and I already explained that I thought the name Della Salla didn't sound Jewish. The quote wasn't all in capitols and calling me a douche bag is just going to get you in trouble. It's the kind of trouble that crying great big alligator tears in PM's isn't going to help you with.

Stop peeking at my posts! It nullifies the Ignore Function!
Rickster71 posts on September 15, 2010 07:15
PearlcorderS701, post: 750703
I wasn't “taking it” anywhere…I was just asking because the quote sounded a bit harsh and kind of laced with bigotry.

I see you have fewer than 700 posts; I say that because that may be why you're unfamiliar with the lighthearted ribbing we do here. You may be unfamiliar with some of the personalities, and the constant joking that some of us do.
Also the icon system; when a member uses this icon: “ ” He is kidding around; granted things get a little sophomoric around here, though it's all in fun.
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