Sometimes even the biggest names in cinema can get it wrong. When uber-producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein – the chaps responsible for such mega-hits as Sin City, Chicago, Cold Mountain, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill – decided to team up with best buddy directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to create the ultimate cool, experimental cult movie, few would have predicted an impending commercial disaster. Though Rodriguez and Tarantino may not be to everyone’s taste, they each have a vast and loyal fanbase – a smash hit seemed all but inevitable.
Unfortunately, as Tarantino’s fans found out to their cost with Kill Bill, though old Quentin may be able to deliver the goods in terms of smart dialogue and cinematic style, he’s not exactly good at restraint.
The original plan was for the Tarantino/Rodriguez team-up to be two 1970s exploitation-style films played back-to-back like old cinema programmes, complete with fake trailers and adverts. An interesting idea in theory – but in practice Grindhouse, as the double-bill was dubbed, swiftly spiralled out of control. With a running time of three hours and twenty minutes, though the various parts may have had just the right levels of style to become instant favourites with the target fanbase, the movie was simply too long for enough people to bother sitting through. Three months after its release, Grindhouse had taken only $25 million at the US box office, despite having cost more than double that to make.
So, just as happened to Tarantino’s Kill Bill – also originally intended as one long film – Grindhouse has now been split in two, with the original movie’s second, Tarantino-directed feature being the first to be released. For international audiences, it looks rather like Grindhouse will be a DVD-only experience for the hardcore fans.
However, while purists may despair at the loss of their chance to see a film that was designed to be a recreation of the ultimate old-school cinematic experience, what this does mean is that we get a chance to see a freshly extended and re-edited version of Tarantino’s half of the film, now extended by an extra 20 minutes from its original Grindhouse running time.
Starring B-movie veteran Kurt Russell as a violently psychotic stuntman with a killer car and fetish for high-speed ÅgaccidentsÅh involving pretty teenage girls, Death Proof’s exercise in style over plot is unlikely to be to everyone’s tastes. Even for fans of Tarantino’s earlier, movie-reference-packed films, the in-jokes are going to be obscure, the anachronistic, deliberately poor-quality feel occasionally a bit much.
But if you’re a fan of the kind of low-budget 1970s action movies of which Death Proof is a pastiche – and especially if you have fond memories of Russell in the likes of The Thing, Escape from New York or Big Trouble in Little China – then the addition of a bonus 20 minutes on top of Grindhouse’s original cut is going to seem like a dream come true. As long, of course, as the full version of Grindhouse gets an outing at some point on this side of the Atlantic, so we don’t miss out.