Perhaps if Quentin Tarantino wrote my high school European History textbook, I would have paid more attention. Come to think of it, it’s really just too bad history didn’t unfold as Tarantino imagined it. Well, I’m way beyond high school now, and as pathetic as it might sound, I can make any film feel as real as I want it to. Thanks to an extremely effective story combined with the pristine viewing experience offered by Blu-ray technology, my hope to make Inglourious Basterds feel as real as ever was a very simple task.
When Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) was young, she witnessed the brutal murder of her family at the hands of the Nazis' most feared officer, Col. Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz). Years later, she’s approached by a young Nazi solider, Pvt. Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl), who happens to be the star of the latest propaganda flick, Nation’s Pride. He insists on having the premiere of the film at Shosanna’s theater, never suspecting she is actually a Jewish woman plotting vengeance. With all of the highest-placed Nazi officials expected to attend, she sees this as an unlikely opportunity to topple the Third Reich...and to get her revenge.
Meanwhile, Lt. Aldo Rain (Brad Pitt) is assembling a troop of American soldiers he dubs The Basterds. The Basterds ruthlessly scour the woods of France for Nazi soldiers, not just killing them, but taking their scalps. Aldo and his troops are thrilled with their notorious reputation and their achievements, but they’re looking to kill on a much grander scale. With the help of famous actress Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), The Basterds plan to wreak havoc on the Third Reich at the premiere of Nation’s Pride.
Forget Wolverine, Night Owl, or any other superheroes that graced the big screen this year; Lt. Aldo Rain is my hero. On that note, forget Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers; Hans Landa is the most terrifying bad guy of the year. Inglourious Basterds is the way we all wish the events of WWII played out. Minus an extremely suspenseful opening scene, there’s no maltreatment by the Nazis. Any torture is from the hands -- or, in some cases, the bats -- of The Basterds, which allows the audience to completely overlook the brutality and revel in Nazi destruction. Being a fantastical retelling of a historical travesty definitely entices you to root for The Basterds throughout the film, but Inglourious Basterds would never have been able to instill such a strong sense of support had it not been for the superb script, mesmerizing cinematography, and excellent cast.
Everyone and everything in Inglourious Basterds serves its purpose. Every ounce of dialogue supports the story into further emotional engagement. There are no superfluous lines, which keeps the story moving at the perfect pacing, allowing you to forget that the movie clocks in at over two and a half hours. Working in conjunction with powerful cinematography, the script comes across as compelling, nerve-wracking, and humorous, all at the same time.
It’s not easy to get an audience to completely disregard the truth of such infamous events and become immersed in a fictitious retelling, but writer/director Quentin Tarantino gets the job done seamlessly. Another difficult barrier to overcome is having an actor of Pitt’s caliber shed his star status and vanish into a character. Pitt does a superb job of putting the enormous collection of tabloid photos and previous films behind him, putting on a convincing performance as the man with the plan. Pitt stands out but never outshines his lesser-known costars. Even the lowliest of The Basterds give the group its unique and utterly enthralling dynamic. Kruger and Laurent balance the testosterone-driven Basterds with a pair of strong yet endearing heroines. As for the film’s antagonist, Waltz puts on a spectacular performance as Landa, one that I hope will at least earn him an Oscar nod if not a win.
But nothing would have come together if not for the ingenious directing and writing of Tarantino. The dialogue is sharp, the imagery mesmerizing (particularly one of the final scenes), and both come together to create an engaging and wildly entertaining film. There is no way you’ll finish watching Inglourious Basterds without wanting to be a Basterd yourself.
My advice is to take a brief break after watching Inglourious Basterds before moving on to the bonus material. Once you’ve completely absorbed the film, get excited, because there are tons of special features to enjoy.
First up are the deleted/extended scenes. There are three in total, two extended scenes and one alternate scene. The best of the lot is the first, an extended version of the scene during which Shosanna reluctantly sits down with Zoller, Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth), and Francesca Mondino (Julie Dreyfus) to work out the plan to host the Nation’s Pride premiere at Shosanna’s theater. This really could have been worthy of making the final cut, since it provides further insight into Goebbels and his ideals. The second scene just adds a little to the game played in the underground bar, and the third shows the start of Nation’s Pride on premiere night. Next up is the piece I was most looking forward to seeing, Nation’s Pride in its entirety. It’s mockingly hilarious and very well directed by Eli Roth.
The roundtable with Pitt and Tarantino is moderated by former New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell. There’s nothing too revealing, but the banter between Pitt and Tarantino is pretty entertaining. They bring up some interesting points, namely Tarantino’s legacy with such a precious piece of work and how Pitt’s character is the only one who doesn’t change from the beginning of the film to the end, but the most intriguing portion is their recollection of a screening of the movie in Germany. To their surprise, rather than inflict shame upon the audience, the German audience actually enjoyed this WWII movie. The sole element of this feature that might lead some to push the skip button is Tarantino’s frequent guffaws and typical enthusiastic outbursts.
Then we go back to Nation’s Pride in a featurette. It’s a typical making-of-the-movie segment, but with hilarious, sarcastic commentary, the funniest of which comes from the Nation’s Pride director, Roth, and Groth as Goebbels. It doesn’t provide much insight into what was actually required to make the film within the film, but not to worry; that comes later. In “The Original Inglorious Bastards” -- yes, that’s spelled with an "a" and not an "e" -- we get a look at the original film from which Tarantino devised the title. A portion is devoted to the original’s director, Enzo G. Castellari, and his cameo in Tarantino’s film. Another original IG vet, the film’s star Bo Svenson, has a cameo in Nation’s Pride. The featurette wraps with the Inglourious Bastards trailer.
Next on the menu are two segments with Rod Taylor. In the first and longer of the two, Taylor explains how he ended up getting the role of Winston Churchill, which is a fairly interesting story. The interview is basically factual except for some QT praising and a certainly unintentional laugh during which Taylor proclaims he shot his scene with three men on the set and holds up just two fingers with his hand. The second piece is called “Rod Taylor on Victoria Bitter.” Taylor tells of how Tarantino brought him some of his favorite, difficult-to-find beer, Victoria Bitter, which segues into talk about Tarantino’s disregard for time and passion for making movies.
Short and sweet is the best description for the next two. While neither provides any insight into the film, both are cute and wildly enjoyable. “Quentin Tarantino’s Camera Angles” showcases the film’s clapboard girl’s ability to come up with vulgar and amusing phrases as if the scene’s classification is an acronym. “Hi Sally” is made up of a slew of Hi Sallys, messages from the cast and crew to the film’s editor, Sally Menke.
Call me uncultured, but I find the next featurette to be the most tiresome. For anyone interested in the posters strategically placed around the set, the poster-gallery tour narrated by Elvis Mitchell will be a treat. The imagery that likely went unnoticed by most was all selected with purpose and has an extensive historical background. I found a couple of the tidbits fascinating, particularly the one about Lillian Harvey, but in general, the featurette made me feel like I was sitting in an art history lecture. Now the “Killin’ Nazis Trivia Challenge” is more my speed. It’s exactly what the title proclaims, a trivia game. You go through six rounds, each with 10 questions, and the end your performance is rated.
Wrapping up the special-features selection is a poster gallery and trailers. Most of the posters included are the same ones that popped up all over the Internet, on bus stops and on billboards, but there are some strikingly different Japanese posters that’ll certainly catch your eye. The same goes for the trailers. There’s the teaser, the domestic trailer, the international trailer, and some Japanese trailers.
Finally, the Blu-ray exclusive elements. There’s My Scenes Bookmarking, the Universal News Ticker, D-Box compatibility, Pocket Blu Interactivity (allows the viewer to use his or her iPod or iPhone as a remote control, keyboard, and hub for extra content), and BD-Live functionality, but clearly, the best of the bunch is the stellar audio and video quality. Between the crisp sound and vivid imagery, Inglourious Basterds excels on Blu-ray. Even after catching the film twice in theaters, I was disappointed to know that unless I become rich and famous and can purchase my own theater, I will never see the film grace the big screen again. But now that I own Inglourious Basterds on Blu-ray, that no longer matters. The film is far superior on Blu-ray, with everything down to the tiniest of hairs visible.
Inglourious Basterds on Blu-ray is all-around fantastic. The movie is brilliant and deserves to be seen in the clarity offered by a Blu-ray disc. On top of that, the bonus material is bountiful and almost entirely worthy of watching. There’s nothing else left to say except, “That’s a bingo!”