Considering that he’s a cinematic purist who enjoys final cut no matter the budget, it’s tempting to assume that Quentin Tarantino wouldn’t be a fan of augmenting his films after they come out; he seems like the kind of guy who’d think the picture is the picture, and that each frame goes directly into the canon once it’s beamed out of the projection booth. But as Tarantino fans well know by now, that has never really been the case with him.
“Kill Bill” was katana-sliced in half, precipitating an ongoing debate as to whether or not it’s one film or two. “Death Proof” was presented both as the second part of “Grindhouse,” and also as a self-contained experience (where it was somehow much easier to appreciate). “Inglourious Basterds” was cut down after Cannes, making it easy to dismiss the film’s big premiere as a glorified test screening, but Tarantino — in the most unexpected move of them all — later went back into the editing room years after the theatrical release of “The Hateful Eight” in order to pad the epic Western into a Netflix miniseries. His decision to collaborate with the streaming giant remains one of film history’s biggest recent plot twists, even after the idea has been floated that he might do it again with “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (which, it’s worth noting, was first conceived as a novel).
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While it remains to be seen how Tarantino might use Netflix to flesh out his dreamscape vision of 1969 Los Angeles, he couldn’t even wait for it to leave theaters before he went back and gave it a fresh polish. This weekend sees the “extended cut” of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” debuting on 1,000 screens across the country, and while nothing about this new edition has any effect on the adventures of fading Western star Rick Dalton, his longtime stuntman Cliff Booth, or “The Wrecking Crew” star Sharon Tate, this cut provides some fun additional context for the world around them. It’s nothing that significantly adds to the experience or can’t wait to be watched on the Blu-ray, but the bonus footage that now bookends the film is a swell incentive for anyone looking for an excuse to revisit one of the year’s best films on the big screen.
Here’s a quick overview of what the extended cut has to offer — if you want to enjoy the surprises for yourself, set your expectations to their mildest level and stop reading here.
The most important thing to note about the new footage is that none of it is actually in the film itself. The extended cut opens with two commercials that have been made to look like they might have aired on TV in 1969; each of the ads comes before the Sony logo that kicks off the film, and each of the ads is isolated by its own ultra-modern copyright slide (Tarantino must have shot this stuff, but you get the distinct impression that he didn’t personally supervise this amiable cash-grab). The first is for Red Apple cigarettes, a cute nod to the fictional brand that pops up throughout Tarantino’s body of work. Two square-looking actors stare into the camera, one after the other, as a narrator asks them if they “want to take a bite of a red apple.” The third person up is a young black woman with an afro, and she responds to the question by whipping out a cigarette and lighting it up with a smile.
Then comes a moment that some people have been waiting for since they didn’t get to see it in theaters this summer: James Marsden appears as a young Burt Reynolds during his TV cowboy days (it’s easier to appreciate than it is to believe), and lights up a Red Apple on the set of one thing or another. It’s a nice tip of the cap to the late actor, as Reynolds starred in Sergio Corbucci’s “Navajo Joe,” which paved the way for Rick Dalton to make a career comeback with the spaghetti western “Nebraska Jim.” Who knows, maybe Rick is one “Deliverance” away from getting to hate Paul Thomas Anderson one day?
The next ad is for Old Chattanooga beer, and it’s just spectacularly uneventful. Still, even that second TV spot helps set the tone for the film to come, as it attunes you to appreciate how “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is wallpapered in commercials from start to finish. Not only does Tarantino weave a rich tapestry of period-appropriate radio ads into the film’s soundscape, but Sharon catches a few trailers before her screening, the Manson girls are constantly framed against bus stop ads that contrast them against the mainstream, and the neon signs that light up half of Hollywood are given their own romantic montage as things shift into gear for the grand finale. It’s the full evolution of an idea that Tarantino has been kicking around since at least “Reservoir Dogs.” He’s always used ads as the texture of American time, but here they’re also tinged with nostalgia and endowed with the bittersweet promise of a better life — they represent the faded beauty of Rick’s world, and the unfulfilled promise of his dreams. L.A. is a town built on aspiration, even (or especially) when it makes you feel like everyone else has already gotten what they wanted.
The other batch of new footage comes after the credits, Marvel-style. The first and most exciting bit is an extended look at the pilot of “Lancer,” another TV western in which Rick memorably played the villain. In this long and very silly little bonus, we see the Lancer brothers (Timothy Olyphant and the late, great Luke Perry) arrive in town on a stagecoach, the latter dressed in an incredible light blue suit and top hat. There’s a lot of cheesy banter between them, as it seems they’ve just learned that they’re related. Little Mirabella Lancer (Julia Butters as Trudi Fraser) is, of course, the smartest one in the family, and she has some fun laughing at her new siblings before leading them off for a meeting with dad. It ends with flamboyant director Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond) calling cut as he rides a crane into the shot and praises Trudi for a perfect take, effectively returning the compliment she pays to Rick in the film. It feels like Tarantino messing around with an entire shooting day worth of Sony’s money, and leaves this “extended cut” gamble feeling like the studio’s way of trying to get it back.
Finally, the presentation ends with some footage that patrons of Tarantino’s New Beverly theater got to see over the summer. We’re treated to a longer version of the “Bounty Law” clip from the beginning of the film, as Michael Madsen’s Sheriff Hackett exchanges some flinty dialogue with our hero Jake Cahill. When that’s over, Jake rides his horse across town as we learn that this week’s episode of “Bounty Law” was brought to us by Red Apple and Twinkies.
Is that enough to justify another trip to the multiplex? On its own, probably not — if that’s all you’re in for, you might as well wait for home video or whatever Tarantino decides to cook up on Netflix. But the bevy of commercials that now bookend “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” help blur the line between reality and dreams even more than before, cementing the golden age of Hollywood (and Tarantino’s take on it) as a place that ultimately belongs to both and neither all at once.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: The Extended Cut” is now playing in theaters.
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