Updated: Mar 31, 2020
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Hollywood · 1969
(1) Leonardo DiCaprio stars as fading TV actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth played by Brad Pitt. (2) Australian actress Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate who exits the famed Bruin Theater in the Westwood section of L.A. after watching “The Wrecking Crew,” which she co-stars with Dean Martin.
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“ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Restoring Hollywood – The Production Design featurette
QUENTIN TARANTINO nailed it.
His opus to Hollywood transports you into the sights and sounds of 1969. “It’s fascinating that he’s chosen ’69, because it really was the year in transition between the old Hollywood and the birth of the new Hollywood,” says actor Nicholas Hammond during one of the featurettes, who plays B-movie director Sam Wanamaker. Strangely, Tarantino’s tale completely ignores the flashpoints of the year before, when America was splitting at its seams after the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Bobby Kennedy, as well as the escalation of the Vietnam War.
This tale takes its time, at two hours and forty minutes, exploring the lives of fading TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double and buddy Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. It’s sort of a “day in the life,” over four days – two in February, and on August 8th and 9th. Tarantino was obviously inspired by the relationships between real-life actors/stuntmen Steve McQueen and Bud Ekins, and Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham. The fictional Dalton’s career is on the decline after his TV Western “Bounty Law” is canceled and big roles in action movies are starting to dry up. In one big-budget World War II, thriller Dalton plays a character similar to Clint Eastwood’s in “Where Eagles Dare” (1968), in which Dalton uses a flamethrower to incinerate a number of Nazi officers in classic Tarantino style.
Due to several brushes with the law, Dalton's had his driver’s license revoked, and Booth is now his full-time driver, gofer and drinking buddy. After a long day, they watch Dalton’s latest guest appearance on ABC’s Sunday night “The F.B.I.” Playing heavies on TV is all Dalton can expect at this point in his career, except for a possible gig in Europe doing spaghetti westerns to help pay the mortgage on his lavish Hollywood Hills home. His new next-door neighbors happen to be a famous newlywed couple: actress Sharon Tate, played by Australian actress Margot Robbie, and director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha).
Dalton has a lunch meeting with agent Francesca Cappucci played by Al Pacino. (2&3) Flashback moments from Dalton’s TV series “Bounty Law” and the WWII action thriller “The 14 Fists of McClusky” using an M2 Flamethrower. (4) Booth arrives at the Van Nuys Drive-In where his trailer is parked behind the theater. (5) Dalton relaxes in his pool rehearsing lines for the next day acting job.
Booth reminds Dalton to be ready at 7 a.m. sharp for his next pick up, then speeds off in his Karmann Ghia, home to his trailer and his lovable pit-bull. Booth drives Dalton around Hollywood in the actor’s Cadillac, with AM radio blasting hits by Deep Purple, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Simon and Garfunkel, The Box Tops, Los Bravos, José Feliciano’ and Neil Diamond. The Cadillac is the same one used in Tarantino’s first major film, Reservoir Dogs” (1992).
Booth’s storyline is the most interesting: He’s an ex-war hero with plenty of battle scars, visible when he takes his shirt off to fix the TV antenna on Dalton’s roof. He wears jeans and t-shirts like a model for Levis, but his stunt man career took a nosedive after he threw movie star/martial arts expert Bruce Lee into a costume designer’s car, making a massive dent. The designer is married to stunt coordinator Randy Miller (Kurt Russell) and she demands he fire Booth. She hasn’t liked the guy since his wife died mysteriously during a boating trip. She, and others, believe Booth got away with murder, an obvious reference to Robert Wagner, and his wife Natalie Wood’s strange death off Catalina Island.
Booth is also on a collision course with Charlie Manson’s “family,” after he gives a ride to Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), one of Manson’s hippie girls. Booth drives her back to the family’s compound, an old western movie ranch outside of L.A., owned by nearly blind George Spahn (Bruce Dern). Scenes for Dalton’s “Bounty Law” had been filmed at the ranch and Booth knew George and is determined to see if the old man is okay. Squeaky Fromme (Dakota Fanning) and Tex Watson (Austin Butler) try to prevent Booth from seeing Spahn. Squeaky, Tex and several other family-members show up on Cielo Drive one night in front of Dalton's home, and it’s there that Tarantino alters the history of the Manson Family murders, with his signature style of a Hollywood ending.
Critics and moviegoers have been praising the film since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May. The plaudits continued when it arrived at the multiplexes the last weekend in July. It's up for five Golden Globes Awards (the show airs on NBC Sunday evening), for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy; Tarantino for Best Director and Screenplay; DiCaprio for Best Actor; and Pitt for Best Supporting Role. The American Film Institute also selected it as the Movie of the Year and the National Board of Review awarded Tarantino Best Director and Pitt Best Supporting Actor, and chose the film as one of the top ten of the year.
(1) Sharon Tate dances during a party at the Playboy Mansion. (2) Booth drops Dalton off at the studio backlot. (3) After a playful fight between Booth and Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), costume designer Janet Miller (Zoë Bell) demands Booth be fired after throwing Lee into her car causing a massive dent. (4&5) Dalton on the "Lancer" TV set, as guest hippie-looking gunslinger Caleb. Dalton seems to have lost his acting mojo and gets some advice from co-star James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant).
During the five featurettes, Tarantino says once he finished the script he wanted to let it “marinate for a little bit,” before he circulated it among his closest friends. Three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Bob Richardson (“The Aviator,” “JFK,” “Hugo”) was one of the first to see it. Tarantino placed Richardson at the dining room table, while he nervously looked on from the living room. “He watched me for the entire read,” said Richardson, who was taking notes. “I got an immediate feeling of how this was going to flow.” The two have worked together since “Kill Bill” (2003). Richardson considers it a privilege shooting on traditional film stock and believes this is Tarantino’s most emotional film.
Tarantino grew up in the L.A. area and says, “It’s lucky that I can remember what it was like when I was six and seven in a town as big as Hollywood, and as iconic as Hollywood, and then to actually recreate it.” He hired Barbara Ling, who also grew up in L.A., as production designer. She recreated ‘60s L.A. for Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.” She describes how they shut down four straight blocks on Hollywood Blvd. and redid all of the storefronts to replicate the look of 1969.
The director also filmed at the historic Bruin Theater in the Westwood section, where Sharon Tate takes time out for a matinee showing of “The Wrecking Crew,” in which she co-stars with Dean Martin. It’s one of the film’s more tender moments, as she gets inside for free, after convincing the theater manager she’s the REAL Sharon Tate. With her bare feet up on the seat in front of her, watching herself and mimicking her lines, the scene is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
“It’s almost like a coming home story for him. Everything that he’s learned and his ability to put yourself in a time period, while creating a very Tarantino-esque fairly tale for Hollywood.” – Leonardo DiCaprio, actor
Another featurette highlights the cars used in the production, including 1959 Ford Galaxie, driven by Tex Watson to the Manson murders on Cielo Drive. The car crew found the actual vehicle, which is now owned by a collector, and ended up paying $1,000 to photograph it and replicate its rust and dents. Tarantino declined the use of the real automobile, since he felt it would be too eerie for his cast. Extras also include 25-minutes of deleted scenes.
(1) Tarantino's camera lingers on the face of Sharon Tate in a dream-like state as she takes an afternoon drive. (2) Sharon stumbles upon “The Wrecking Crew,” showing at the Bruin Theater and has her picture taken by the ticket booth girl. (3) Booth gives Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), one of Manson’s hippie girls a ride back to their family’s compound, an old western movie ranch outside of L.A. (4) Once at the ranch Booth demands to see the owner George Spahn (Bruce Dern) but faces resistance from Squeaky Fromme (Dakota Fanning) and Tex Watson (Austin Butler).
Sony Pictures and Tarantino ensured the original 35mm camera negative (2.39:1 aspect ratio) would be scanned and mastered in 4K for a rich movie experience. Old school anamorphic lenses were mounted mostly on Panavision cameras, and the TV show scenes were filmed on Super 8 and 16mm. Warm tones dominate the wider color palette, while the highlights are brighter and controlled, and shadows and night scenes bathed in deep blacks, and with shadow detail provided by the expansive HDR10 (physical disc) and Dolby Vision (digital).
The added 4K resolution reveals a nice washing of natural film grain, while the wide shots from the Spahn Ranch are quite striking, as Richardson’s camera tracks Tex Watson riding a horse. Facial close-ups are refined and natural, while the overall sharpness is several major clicks up over the HD version.
No Dolby Atmos track, but the DTS-HD Master eight-channel soundtrack is quite good from the front-heavy dialogue-driven story, and its straight forward AM radio and TV show broadcasts. The rear surrounds provide a nice balance of spatial environment sounds.
Tarantino assembled an astonishing cast of characters and actors, from his stars DiCaprio, Pitt, and Robbie; to a supporting cast that includes Luke Perry, Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Austin Butler, Lena Dunham and Lorenza Izzo. The Hollywood International Film Festival selected “Once Upon a Time” as the film with the Best Ensemble Cast. We should expect plenty more awards to come its way in the coming weeks.
—Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Booth and Dalton watch a TV show. (2) Dalton confronts Tex Watson when their old Ford rolls up with a noisy muffler. (3) Dalton pulls the old M2 Flamethrower out of the shed to fight off the home invaders. (4) After the night of violence, the guys wave goodbye as the ambulance pulls away taking Booth to the hospital.
PRODUCTION DESIGN FEATURETTE