As sales of physical discs (Blu-ray and DVD) decline, the idea of bonus features becomes less and less essential for new, mainstream films. There will always be a market for library titles with extensive retrospective commentaries and documentaries (see: Criterion, Scream Factory, etc), but for new films it's a dying trend. "Extra, Extra" is an attempt to encourage the studios not to give up on us disc champions, by mostly skipping over the film itself (which by now most have seen and you can find reviews for anywhere) and focusing on the bonus features they were kind enough to include. Viva la physical media!
I've been a fan of Quentin Tarantino since I was 12, and up through Jackie Brown (my personal favorite) I watched and rewatched his films (including the ones he just wrote) over and over throughout high school. But in 2007 I attended a revival screening of Pulp Fiction and realized that I had seen the film so many times that it lost some of its appeal; even though at that point it had been a good six or seven years since I last saw the film, it felt like I had just watched it the day before. Regardless of their individual quality, the thing that unites all of his films is their ability to surprise, for the narrative to go to unexpected places - and that's completely lost when you have them memorized.
So I decided to stop rewatching them; this was shortly after Death Proof (né Grindhouse) came out on Blu-ray and to this day the disc I bought - planning at the time to get to it soon - is still shrinkwrapped. As is Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained, and Hateful Eight - I bought them mainly for when the day comes that I've forgotten so much about them that "revisiting" will be more like seeing them for the first time (I'm probably about there for Death Proof, for the record). But I made an exception for Once Upon A Time In... Hollywood, because I got the disc for this Extra, Extra column and figured I should at least refresh my memory from my opening day experience, at which point I decided that I enjoyed it but that it was not one of my personal favorites from the filmmaker.
It's funny, I'd say the same about Death Proof and Hateful Eight, and the thing that all three of them have in common is Kurt Russell, an actor I adore. But for whatever reason, whenever he works with QT I walk away feeling... not disappointed, but certainly less enthused than I am for the majority of his others, which traditionally have me walking out declaring it one of his best (I find it nearly impossible to fully rank his filmography, other than to say his weakest film is still a B+ in my eyes). I would definitely need to revisit those to be able to articulate what it is that left me somewhat disconnected, but with OUATIH I know exactly what it is: the very lengthy movie has a few stretches that I find far less engaging than others. Leonardo DiCaprio is Oscar-worthy as Rick Dalton, no doubt about it, but whenever he's not with Brad Pitt's Cliff Booth, I can feel my interest waning a bit.
And there's nothing particularly bad or wrong about these scenes, it's just that I perk back up whenever it returns to Cliff or Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), making the film as a whole a less than perfect experience as his others usually offer. Perhaps it's my general lack of enthusiasm for the Western genre as a whole? Don't get me wrong, I like a few of them, but if I had to pick one genre to wipe away in order to save the others it'd be an easy choice, and I can guarantee that I would not have been a fan of Bounty Law if it existed, or Lancer if I was around in the late '60s when it aired. For my money, the film is at its best when it's focusing on Cliff, whose life isn't exactly glamorous but he seems comfortable within it, and Pitt is giving one of his best (and funniest) performances ever, which doesn't hurt. The Spahn Ranch sequence is perhaps the highlight of the entire film (and far scarier than Death Proof, QT's self-described horror film), and while we can debate all day about the implications of his Bruce Lee flashback, the punchline ("...fair enough.") gave me my favorite line of the year.
But even though I wasn't as compelled by the "Rick talks to his co-stars and struggles with his Lancer dialogue" scenes, I was never less than wowed by the painstaking detail that Tarantino and his crew delivered in bringing 1969 Hollywood back to life, and how gorgeous it looked thanks to Robert Richardson's photography. I could have easily watched a three hour documentary on the production design, but alas it's 2019 and I have to be happy with any bonus features at all, I guess. While there are five featurettes and a collection of deleted scenes - i.e. a respectable list of supplements for the back of the Blu-ray case to highlight - they're all brief, and will only take about an hour to get through in their entirety.
For what it's worth, "Restoring Hollywood – The Production Design of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood" runs longer than the other featurettes, at slightly under ten minutes (the rest hover around five, give or take), but it's still only able to scratch the surface of the extra mile the designers went to recreating that bygone era. Even things we don't really see, like the pamphlets in the windows the characters walk or drive by, are period-correct, leaving no stone unturned to properly turn back the clock fifty years. One funny detail they note is that Starbucks was more than happy to take down their signage in order to allow Robbie's character to walk past it on her way to the bookstore without having to resort to digital trickery (or a gigantic anachronism). Given QT's anti-digital stance when it comes to film, it shouldn't be too surprising that he opted for practical transformations as much as possible for his mostly on-location shooting spots, as opposed to using computers to pull off the trick. Even if you hated the movie, you'd be a fool to say it wasn't worthy of simply being handed the Oscar for production design.
"Quentin Tarantino’s Love Letter to Hollywood" covers some of that "recreating 1969" element to it, but it's more of a general take on the vibe he was going for across the board. He lived in LA at the time the movie was set (he was six at the time) and made the movie as a thank you to the town that shaped him during his most formative years, and the interviews with the cast and crew that are sprinkled throughout the piece seem to suggest his love for the city at that time was infectious to those who never got to see it for themselves (Pitt's as old as QT but didn't move to LA until the mid-80s, LA native DiCaprio wasn't born until 1974, and Robbie wasn't born until 1990, in Australia to boot). As he no longer offers audio commentaries, this piece is pretty much the only time on the disc you really get to hear from the man (he notes that it was essential that the old pros in the cast, like Russell and Bruce Dern, signed off on the authenticity of his memories).
However, his influence is all over "Bob Richardson – For the Love of Film", as he is one of the last major directors who champion and still use 35mm film. Richardson himself shoots digitally for directors, so he loves coming back to work for Tarantino (this is their fifth film together, or sixth if you count Kill Bill as two) because he knows he'll be able to use film again. The talk is of course a bit technical and dry if you're the type who doesn't even notice what something was shot on, but for those who side with them as champions of shooting on film, you'll appreciate the brief highlighting of their work and how you can't just shoot on something because you like how it looks - for example, since Tarantino wanted to utilize zooms, 65mm (which they used for Hateful Eight) wasn't a viable format because those cameras do not do it properly.
Another group that doesn't get their own supplement all that often are the picture car coordinators, making "Shop Talk – The Cars of 1969" possibly the most interesting of the five pieces. Given that it's a period piece, the team has to naturally make sure that all of the vehicles used in the film are correct for its 1969 setting, i.e. no Pintos. But they also have to consider the characters themselves; one detail they note is that Rick's car is from 1966, which makes sense for the character as he is not exactly on the top of the A-list anymore during the film's events and thus can't be affording brand new cars. I always like when they focus on one of the less heralded departments for these things; even at only five minutes it's vastly more interesting and informative than a thirty minute "here's how we used CGI to change the backgrounds" type of piece you've seen on a billion DVDs. Likewise, "The Fashion of 1969" focuses on the costume designers and how they used photographs and associates of the real-life characters (including Tate's sister Debra) to make sure they were all "correct" as well. Debra even lent the production some of Sharon's actual jewelry for Robbie to wear, which is nice since she hasn't always been supportive of films about her sister's final days.
Of course, the most exciting thing for casual fans will be the deleted scenes collection, though I'd advise them to temper their expectations. You're not going to see Tim Roth here, and if there was any more to James Marsden's performance as Burt Reynolds than a quick bit in a Red Apple cigarette ad, you won't see that either. In fact most of the footage is just extended performances of things we only saw briefly in the film, such as Rick's Bounty Law episode with Michael Madsen, and his full song on the Hullabaloo show. Then there's another complete, Rick-free scene from the Lancer show that helps clarify the relationships between its central characters (and gives you more Luke Perry and Tim Olyphant, so there's something). Ultimately, there are only two traditional deleted scenes, one of which is an epic single take conversation between Rick and Sam Wanamaker (Nicholas Hammond) discussing his Lancer character prior to shooting the scene with Olyphant that he keeps flubbing. The other is another bit with Charles Manson, talking to the home owner (who clearly can't stand him) for a bit in a scene that would have taken place immediately after Manson talked to Jay Sebring, inquiring about Terry Melcher. Both are good scenes, but it makes sense to remove them - neither are necessary in a film that's already long (plus, for the latter, I love how minimal a presence Manson is in the finished film). And the others were probably never intended to be included in their entirety anyway, and certainly won't hint at any story threads that may have been diminished or discarded along the way.
For the die-hard fans, I should note that there is also a collector's edition version (pictured above) that comes with a mini-Mad magazine (with a Bounty Law parody), a poster for one of Rick's "Eye-talian" movies, and a 45 of "Bring A Little Lovin", the catchy Los Bravos song that's featured in the film and was in most of the trailers (the trailer itself is not included among the bonus features, alas), which makes up for the somewhat underwhelming bonus features, albeit at an extra cost of course. For those who aren't interested in that extravagance, the standard Blu-ray (or 4K, which has all of the same features plus the increased image quality of course) will do you just fine. The bonus features may not take as long to go through as you might have hoped, and we know there are far more deleted scenes than offered here, but it's a solid enough package for a film that seems to inspire multiple viewings (I personally know people who have seen it theatrically more than ten times), especially since those filks might never notice anything besides the feature anyway.