February 3, 2017

Retro-view: Natural Born Killers

One of the advantages of living within a reasonable driving distance of an Alamo Drafthouse theater is that it gives me access to seeing older films in a theater on a big screen. In many cases this also means being able to see a 35mm print, which is becoming harder and harder to do. For a movie lover, such as myself, the big screen is the best way to see a movie, even if it is one you’ve seen many times over. The latest example of this is Natural Born Killers, a movie I originally saw in theaters as a homework assignment way back in 1994. Let me say that it was a great seeing it in a theater again.

I’ve always been a fan of this film, but I have to admit to not having taken the time to actually watch it in a long time. Because of this, the screening made the film feel very fresh, while I remember a lot of it, watching it revealed a lot of things I did not remember. On top of that, seeing something on the big screen after numerous small screen viewings still offers up something new. The larger format lets you see more details and little things you may not notice on a television.

In any case, Natural Born Killers holds up beautifully so many years down the line. The film is as weird and over the top as it ever was. Controversial upon its initial release, the film was thought to glorify violence and murder, where it really is a satire on the appeal of such things and the media treatment of those who commit the acts, elevating them in status and making pop culture icons out of them. Something tells me that it would be no less controversial had it been released today. With that said, it looks phenomenal and is no less in its effectiveness.

At the center of the story is the lovers on the run couple of Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis). They are an unhinged couple who become enamored with their own celebrity as they carry out a massive murder spree. It doesn’t help that those trying to catch, imprison, and report on them (Tom Sizemore, Tommy Lee Jones, and Robert Downey Jr., respectively) all have their own ulterior motives. It is truly watching these disparate personalities reveal themselves over the course of them film.

Natural Born Killers is a fascinating film. It is not just the over the top violence and personalities, but it is the look of the movie as a whole. Patched together from a variety of formats. Black and white, technicolor, 35mm, 16mm, video, and more are all represented in this crazy, ADD-addled movie presentation. It is one of the more surreal cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. It is an experience that deserves the big screen. It does not demand or even require that you like it, but it will command your attention.

I have to say it was pretty glorious seeing this on the big screen again, for the first time since 1994. It stands up as my favorite Oliver Stone film, of those that I have seen. It does not hurt that the story (and much of the dialogue) came from the pen of Quentin Tarantino, it is certainly dripping with his sensibilities. On top of this it is fascinating to read about what went on over the course of its inception and production, from serious injuries, to the cast (imagine Michael Madsen and Tori Amos instead of Harrelson and Lewis), casting of actual felons for the prison riot, this movie has a fascinating story that goes well beyond the screen (read about it here).

My best recommendation is to see the film, if you haven’t, revisit it if it’s been awhile, and see it in a theater if you can. Natural Born Killers is one crazy film that has earned its reputation is not to be forgotten. I am glad I got to revisit it on the big screen from a rather nice looking 35mm print.

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