If I’m With You, Then I’m With You – True Romance (1993) 4K Ultra HD

As a young film student in 1993, I walked out of the theater ecstatic about Tony Scott’s True Romance. I went back to see it a couple more times, but couldn’t convince any of my friends to go with me. From the title, they all assumed it must be a sappy rom-com that would hold little interest for them. Most moviegoers apparently had the same confusion, leaving the picture a box office dud. Thankfully, time eventually vindicated my reaction, and the film went on to have a very long and successful life on home video. These days, it’s regarded as both a classic and perhaps the best thing Scott ever directed.

I got on-board with True Romance very early, as soon as I heard it had been scripted by Quentin Tarantino, the emerging auteur whose breakthrough debut Reservoir Dogs created a stir the year before. Unfortunately, outside of indie film cognoscenti, Tarantino wouldn’t become a household name until Pulp Fiction in late 1994, and neither studio Morgan Creek nor distributor Warner Bros. could find the right hook to sell this deliriously hot-blooded action-adventure yarn to wider audiences.

True Romance (1993) - Patricia Arquette & Christian Slater
Title:True Romance
Year of Release: 1993
Director: Tony Scott
Watched On: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Also Available On: Blu-ray
Various VOD rental and purchase platforms

The screenplay for True Romance was actually the first Tarantino completed and sold, before Reservoir Dogs went into production. Like almost everything he’s written, it’s a work of homage and pastiche, mashing together bits and pieces of his favorite movies with tons of metatextual references to comic books, TV shows, movie stars, rock & roll icons, and other pop culture touchstones he might consider meaningful.

Specifically, this is a lovers-on-the-run crime story in the vein of Bonnie and Clyde or Badlands. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette star as Clarence and Alabama, a pair of mixed-up kids who fall for each other hard and rush into a quickie marriage almost immediately after meeting. Reckless or misguided as it may seem, their passion for each other is too intense to deny. Wishing to clear the slate on their former lives and start over fresh, the two get into a spot of trouble and wind up on the lam, fleeing their home in Detroit for the promise of a new life in Los Angeles, the land of make-believe and reinvention. In doing so, they run afoul of mobsters, cops, and a scumbag movie producer, each of whom wants something different from them. Meanwhile, all Clarence and Alabama really want is one another.

Both Slater and Arquette are at their most charismatic and appealing here. Later Golden Globe (for both), Emmy and even Oscar wins (for Arquette) notwithstanding, in many fans’ estimation, True Romance remains the high water mark in both actors’ careers. Backing them up is a legendary supporting cast stacked with big-name talent: Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, Val Kilmer, Brad Pitt, and James Gandolfini among the highlights. Some have small roles or appear in the movie only briefly (Kilmer never even shows his face!), but every last one arrived on set excited to dig into the colorful characters or juicy dialogue that Tarantino’s script offered them.

As director, Tony Scott brings all of his action maestro chops to bear on this project, but True Romance has something most of his other movies don’t – genuine heart. The central characters feel fully realized, not just ciphers to be manipulated for the benefit of the plot, and their relationship is instantly believable and emotionally compelling.

After the stratospheric success of Top Gun, Scott hit a rocky patch for the next several years. Some of his films during this period were financially successful (Beverly Hills Cop II), some not at all (Revenge). All were panned by critics. Top Gun had been as well, of course, but any negative reviews for that movie were more than offset by the legacy it forged in the pop culture of the era – an achievement the director hadn’t been able to replicate again. Yet most critics (not all, but most) were very supportive of True Romance, which made its box office failure all the more painful.

As many times as I’ve watched the film, I must admit that, over time, I’ve grown less enamored with Tarantino’s glee in making his characters spew racial and homophobic epithets. Some of them I’m still able to rationalize away as neceessary to the characters or story. (Gary Oldman’s pimp named Drexl, for example, is supposed to be a cartoonish and offensive buffoon.) But in rewatching his other early movies, it’s pretty clear that Tarantino himself enjoys using such language just to be provocative, and I don’t have as much patience for that as I used to. I also find the brutality that James Gandolfini’s character inflicts upon Alabama excessive and needlessly sadistic. I understand the point of the scene, but I think Scott could have made it without wallowing in the details so much.

Those issues aside, I still adore True Romance almost as much as the first time I saw it. The film is stylish, exciting, frequently hilarious, and yes even romantic in its own twisted way.

True Romance (1993) - Brad Pitt

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

During True Romance‘s original theatrical release in 1993, Tony Scott had to trim several scenes of graphic violence in order to secure an R rating from the MPAA. While that 118-minute cut was released on VHS, Scott also prepared a 121-minute Unrated Director’s Cut for both that format and Laserdisc in 1994. The Director’s Cut later became the default home video version of the movie on DVD and Blu-ray. In fact, aside from some airings on cable, the theatrical cut didn’t see the light of day again until recently.

In 2021, Arrow Video licensed the title for a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray released in both the UK and United States. A remastered standard Blu-ray was also included in the package. Both discs offer the choice of watching either the theatrical cut or the Director’s Cut via seamless branching.

Tony Scott’s predilection for shooting in smoke-filled interiors with grainy film stock and color filters often makes transferring his movies to home video a challenge. Back in 2009, Warner Bros. released True Romance on a Blu-ray that was serviceable but not exactly stunning. Looking back on it, that disc is fairly soft, likely transferred from film elements a few generations away from the negative and smoothed over with a little bit of Digital Noise Reduction. I’ve certainly seen worse on the format, but hoped for better.

Arrow’s transfer notes claim that the new video master was based on a 4K scan of the original camera negative. I’d love to say that the result is a revelation, but realistically it’s only a small (if welcome) improvement. The movie still looks rather soft and hazy, and never exhibits anything that approaches 4K worth of detail. In all, what it looks like is a slightly better Blu-ray, though still mediocre for 4K UHD. Whether that’s a fault of the original photography, the video transfer, and/or a little of both, I can’t be certain.

True Romance (1993) Blu-ray Comparison - Warner Bros.True Romance (1993) Blu-ray Comparison - Arrow Video

On the plus side, the 2.35:1 image (no, not 2.39:1 or 2.40:1) is a little sharper, clearer, and less dim than the prior Blu-ray. Film grain is also better resolved, to the point that a lot of scenes are quite grainy. However, contrast still looks flat, and the HDR grade doesn’t appear to have any highlights that extend beyond Standard Dynamic Range.

The movie’s soundtrack is provided in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or 2.0 options that sound more similar than not. After comparing a few scenes, I defaulted to the 5.1 version. Music is quite loud and enveloping, and frequently wraps to the rear speakers, but the surround channels are otherwise subdued. Audio is a little bright in general, with very disappointing dynamic range. Gunshots throughout the film have virtually no bass hit at all, which can be distracting when watching a character blasting away with a shotgun that you’d expect to make your chest thump. I cued up a few scenes on the Warner Blu-ray and found much the same result, so this may be endemic to the original mix.

Arrow’s extras start with a couple of booklet essays by critics Kim Morgan and Nicholas Clement. On disc, three audio commentaries (by Tony Scott, Quentin Tarantino, and stars Slater & Arquette, respectively) are recycled from the Warner disc, along with other selected-scenes commentaries and some deleted scenes. New to Arrow are a fourth commentary by critic Tim Lucas, plus a handful of interviews, a vintage EPK piece, trailers, and image galleries.

I’m not especially fond of the cartoonish artwork on either the keepcase or SteelBook editions, but picked the SteelBook as the lesser of two evils.

True Romance (1993) 4K Ultra HD SteelBook


Note: All screenshots on this page were taken from the standard Blu-ray edition of the film and are used for illustration purposes only.

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