WASHINGTON — Quentin Tarantino has a penchant for his own unique brand of violent revisionist history. We most recently noted this in his World War II love letter Inglourious Basterds. It now permeates the director’s nostalgic look at a changing 1960s Tinseltown, as infected by Charles Manson and his minions in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Rated R, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 132 minutes, $49.98).
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: The characters
Now available for ultra-high definition (UHD) home entertainment screens, the film’s interesting but drawn-out story covers washed-up Hollywood film star converted to television hack Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and machismo-dripping best buddy and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). As they come into our view, we first find them scrambling for paychecks as they live with uncertainty through the tumultuous days around the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Moviegoers learn early on that Dalton lives next to Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his girlfriend Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). As a result, viewer anxiety runs high. Anyone remembering that era can pretty much guess how this saga is going to play out.
Pop culture in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
As usual, per any of Mr. Tarantino’s fetish films — this is his ninth one so far, by the way — the production design is impeccable, literally dripping with the 1960s and its pop culture.
Stand back and appreciate the re-creation of the sign of Musso & Frank Grill (the oldest restaurant in Hollywood); Dalton driving a vintage yellow 1966 Cadillac Coup Deville; copies of Kid Colt, Outlaw and Sgt. Commando comics lying around Dalton’s trailer; real Playboy Bunnies at the Playboy mansion; Robert Goulet singing “MacArthur Park” on TV; viewing an actual bottle of original Vitalis hair tonic for men; and even adding the famed Coyote Grill where Tate had her last meal.
Even better: a scene where Tate visits a movie theater and watches herself playing a bumbling assistant to super spy Matt Helm (an aging Dean Martin) in the film “The Wrecking Crew.” That one totally hit the mark of my youth as I watched an era in transition.
Pop acting legends make an appearance
As usual, Tarantino also pulls in some pop acting legends, intertwining them in the film. Those real and fictional characters include Al Pacino as faux super agent Marvin Schwarz; Bruce Dern as George Spahn (owner of the ranch where the Manson family stayed); Damian Lewis as a dead-on Steve McQueen; Kurt Russell as faux stunt coordinator Randy Miller; Dakota Fanning as Squeaky Fromme; Nicholas Hammond (the 1970’s Amazing Spider-Man) as director Sam Wanamaker; and Luke Perry (in his last film) as cowboy actor Wayne Maunder.
And lest we forget: Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt turn in perhaps their finest, quirkiest and grittiest film performances to date, inhabiting their respective characters from start to finish.
Manson Family darkness intrudes
The director’s narrative palette in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood remains both lovable and laughable until we get to watch a reworking of the killing of innocents by the Manson idiots.
Then, the darkest mood of vintage Tarantino films rears its ugly head in the most incredibly satisfying way possible. Although it proves a bit disrespectful to the actual horrifying events.
All things considered, however, this is a movie that’s never boring. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood taps into many a memory for older viewers. These viewers will also appreciate the director’s colorful take on Los Angeles and his brutal retrospective on a grim part of American history.
4K in action
Sony offers a study in film grain in this release, thanks to Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson’s choices of shooting in 8mm, 16mm and 35mm film stock presented in everything from Super 8 to Panavision formatting.
The better-than-can-be-imagined result delivers a controlled but highly detailed image quality in UHD, created from a glorious 4K intermediate master format.
The quality ranges from a purposely beaten-up scene from a movie in the vein of The Great Escape, to black-and-white footage of TV Western “Bounty Law” to a perfectly created Pan Am 747 airliner in midflight that looks so real I felt as though I were riding in a plane right next to it.
Throughout, viewers also get daytime scenes spotlighted with sepia-tinged dashes of a sun-drenched Los Angeles, while they glimpse evenings filled with often-muted hues but crisp details. One such moment features the Polanski character driving a vintage 1962 MG TD roadster.
An optional commentary track from the director would have been a great addition to this disk. I am sure it would have been a nostalgic trip through 1960s Hollywood.
But alas, all viewers get in this release are five featurettes (roughly 35 minutes in total) that briefly cover the director’s vision, cinematography, vintage cars, production design and costuming. Each crew head gets interviewed, as well as Mr. Tarantino and many of the cast.
Additionally, 25 minutes’ worth of additional scenes includes a Red Apple cigarette commercial with Burt Reynolds (James Marsden); Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) talking to Paul Barabuta about needing a music agent; and Rick Dalton’s full “Hullabaloo” performance of the “Green Door.”
Owners who use the included code for access to the digital streaming release can also watch an extra, 8 minute-long featurette about the film with the director and principal cast exclusively through Apple’s iTunes movie service.
— Headline image: Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) performs on “Hullabaloo” in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
The film is now available on 4K Ultra HD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. (Fair use of SONY video still).
An earlier version of this story originally appeared in The Washington Times.