February 10, 1995 in Seven

Lots Of Blood May Have Shortened Screen Life Of `Natural Born Killers’

By The Spokesman-Review
 

We’re standing in line to buy movie tickets. Snippets of conversation drift by in the late-fall breeze.

“Did you see `Pulp Fiction’?” a voice asks.

“Oh, God,” someone answers. “That was the most violent movie I’ve ever seen.”

Clearly, I think, it’s time for a reality check.

Let’s run down the essentials: The kill count in “Pulp Fiction” is seven, and one of the deaths is accidental. The incidents are portrayed, not exploited. Director Quentin Tarantino does not indulge in slow motion, nor does he revel in graphic replays from 17 angles.

One of the deaths, indeed, is portrayed twice. But it is merely an example of filmmaking technique, a means of disrupting time to emphasize narrative.

Tarantino’s intent is commentary, not titillation. His weapon, audacious both in theme and style, is humor.

Some viewers clearly find that attitude difficult to digest. What then, I have to ask, might they think of Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers”?

Stone’s movie, which will be released on video Tuesday, caused a bit of comment when it debuted Aug. 26 in some 1,500 theaters nationwide. While the film was grossing more than $27 million over its first two weeks of release, critics either were drooling over Stone’s visual mastery (I was one) or jeering at its nihilistic messaging.

Some publications said both at the same time. The New Yorker, for example, described “Natural Born Killers” as “a fever dream about the culture of violence in America.”

And while the film’s visual power may not play as well on the small screen, there remain sequences that are unlike anything you’ve ever before seen.

Example: The sitcom parody, featuring Rodney Dangerfield as a child-abuser, which contradicts the hulking comedian’s sense of menace by using a typical television laugh track.

Example: The opening massacre, in which Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis), slaughter all but one customer of a roadside cafe - in slo-mo and with graphic replays from 17 angles.

Example: The climactic prison break, in which lives are snuffed out like so many cheap birthday candles.

It’s interesting, considering how much attention it initially earned, how little enduring effect “Natural Born Killers” has had. It made few Top 10 lists and has been mentioned not at all as a contender in the upcoming Oscar ceremonies (March 27). Its overall theatrical gross topped out at about $50 million (while “Pulp Fiction” is at $74 million and still rising).

Maybe that’s for the good. Maybe we’ve spent enough time exploring the inner reaches of Oliver Stone’s demented psyche.

The point I’m concerned with here is that there is violence and there is violence. Tarantino may explore one, but Stone wallows in the other.

The following are reviews of upcoming video releases:

“Natural Born Killers”

*** 1/2

From the imaginative mind that brought us “JFK” and “The Doors,” this Oliver Stone film plays like a regurgitation of the director’s subconscious. On the surface, it is a study of two mass murderers, Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory (Juliette Lewis), who blaze their way across the country and into contemporary myth.

But the literal storyline is merely a forum for Stone to do two things: one, to flex his cinematic muscles by filling the screen with every kind of visual image imaginable, and some you’ve likely never imagined at all; two, based on a Quentin Tarantino script (but rewritten by Stone and two others), it is the director’s attempt to capture (and, presumably, comment on) the madness of a society filled with “Hard Copy”-type values, a society peopled by leering TV broadcasters and viewers anxious to line a freeway and cheer on a cultural icon’s flight from prosecution.Rated R.

In the Army Now

* 1/2

MTV’s resident surfer-dude Pauly Shore is an acquired taste. But even if you like him, you may have trouble with this attempt by his handlers to transform him into a genuine grownup human being. For one thing, despite the presences of Shore and talented comedian David Alan Grier (“In Living Color”), it just isn’t whacky enough. Secondly, some of us just don’t see the humor in Gulf War-type battle scenes. Rated PG.

MEMO: This is a sidebar that appeared with this story: What’s new to view New this weekend: “Blankman” (Columbia TriStar), “The Color of Night” (Buena Vista), “Corrina, Corrina” (New Line), “Little Giants” (Warner). Available Tuesday: “In the Army Now” (Buena Vista), “The Little Rascals” (MCA/Universal), “Natural Born Killers” (Warner), “The Next Karate Kid” (Columbia TriStar). Available Wednesday: “The Scout” (Fox).

This is a sidebar that appeared with this story: What’s new to view New this weekend: “Blankman” (Columbia TriStar), “The Color of Night” (Buena Vista), “Corrina, Corrina” (New Line), “Little Giants” (Warner). Available Tuesday: “In the Army Now” (Buena Vista), “The Little Rascals” (MCA/Universal), “Natural Born Killers” (Warner), “The Next Karate Kid” (Columbia TriStar). Available Wednesday: “The Scout” (Fox).


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