Pulp Fiction Criterion Laserdisc

Unboxed: Pulp Fiction Criterion Laserdisc

Once upon a time, in New York to be precise, Quentin Tarantino had a movie join the Criterion Collection… just one, though, and only on the Laserdisc format.

Tarantino’s first movie, Reservoir Dogs, made him an instant indie darling. His second, Pulp Fiction, catapulted him into the strata of A-List filmmakers. A blockbuster smash and an Oscar nominee in seven categories (of which it won for Best Original Screenplay), the movie was positively a cultural phenomenon. For years afterward, every aspiring young filmmaker wanted to be Quentin Tarantino.

As a former video store clerk and an unabashed movie nerd, Tarantino was a big fan of the Laserdisc format in its heyday. In home video terms, there was no greater honor for a director than to have a movie enshrined in the Criterion Collection with a deluxe LD box set. As such, he was thrilled to work with the company on Pulp Fiction.

The movie had already gotten a basic Laserdisc release through Miramax Home Entertainment in late 1995. The Criterion edition followed in June 1996, at a whopping list price of $124.99. Encoded in CAV format with only a half-hour of video per side, the 154-minute feature was spread to six sides across three discs. Supervised by Tarantino, the Criterion release had a THX certified video transfer (at a time when that meant something) and a Dolby Digital AC-3 5.1 soundtrack, which was still pretty new and novel. Tarantino also curated a selection of bonus features for the set, including deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, and a lengthy Charlie Rose interview. However, he chose not to record an audio commentary, even though that was expected of him. (Most of this content eventually made its way to the Blu-ray from Lionsgate as well.)

In physical terms, the Criterion edition is not quite as elaborate as some of the deluxe Laserdiscs from Disney and the like. The discs are stored in a simple box with cover art chosen by Tarantino.

Pulp Fiction Criterion Laserdisc Box Front

Pulp Fiction Criterion Laserdisc Box Back

The front and back halves of the box open on a hinge. Inside are four Laserdiscs (one for supplements in CLV format) and an insert booklet containing an essay by New York Times film critic Janet Maslin. If you click on any of these photos to enlarge, you should be able to read the text.

Pulp Fiction Criterion Laserdisc Box Contents

Pulp Fiction Criterion Laserdisc Booklet Front

Pulp Fiction Criterion Laserdisc Booklet Interior

Pulp Fiction Criterion Laserdisc Booklet Back

Pulp Fiction is the only Tarantino movie to date to get a Criterion release, and it only exists on LD. By the time the DVD revolution hit, the Hollywood studios became much more reluctant to license their prestige properties to Criterion, preferring to keep them all in-house.

The Japanese Laserdisc

As a special bonus, at the time I pulled the Criterion box off my shelf, I discovered that I also still owned another LD edition of Pulp Fiction that I’d forgotten about.

As you can imagine, the desire among fans and LD collectors to own a copy of a hot title like Pulp Fiction was very high. A full seven months before Miramax put out its first LD release (and over a year before Criterion), the movie appeared on the format in Japan from a label called Amuse Video. Copies were heavily imported in the United States and could be found on the shelves of most LD retailers, including Tower Records.

The Japanese release was a simple CLV edition split to three disc sides, with only a few trailers for bonus content. The video transfer had non-removable Japanese subtitles on screen, but positioned entirely in the lower letterbox bar where they were fairly easy to ignore. The soundtrack was encoded in PCM 2.0 surround. Although Criterion bettered it later, this was more than sufficient to satisfy the needs of impatient fans.

The Japanese LD remains a nice collectible for its handsome gatefold jacket. (Those creases on the front cover are part of the artwork design.) I imagine that it should be pretty appealing to vinyl music collectors as well.

Pulp Fiction Japanese Laserdisc Front

Pulp Fiction Japanese Laserdisc Front & Back

Pulp Fiction Japanese Laserdisc Gatefold Interior


  1. Matt K

    Thanks for posting this! I remember renting this from Sight and Sound in Waltham back in the 8th grade… and I can still feel the heartbreak I experienced when it was time to return it one week later. IIRC, didn’t Tarantino add in a couple of fades to accommodate for the many, many side breaks due to CAV? Making this, perhaps, the one-and-only time a film was modified for a Criterion release?

    • Josh Zyber

      I loved Sight and Sound! Miss that place a lot. Tower Records and Laser Craze on Newbury Street were my main go-tos for Laserdiscs because they were closer to me.

      I believe you are correct about Tarantino adding fades-to-black at the side breaks. However, that’s far from the only time a movie was modified for a Criterion release. Criterion’s policy is to present the movie however the filmmaker wants. A number of their releases are Director’s Cuts (the Final Cut of Gilliam’s Brazil was created exclusively for Criterion) or have other changes. The worst of those was Vittorio Storaro insisting that The Last Emperor be cropped from its original 2.35:1 to 2.0:1.

  2. Chris B

    I’ve always liked the movie but never LOVED it like so many other people I know. I actually prefer RDs for rewatchibity.

    124 dollars for a single movie?! Holy hell!

      • Julian

        Yup. I often think I’m born too late for various cool things (movies, movies, fashion, food), but I’m glad I only started collecting LaserDiscs in 2005 (my father gave me $ 500 to blow for my 21st birthday). Most single releases cost me $4 ($35-$40 back in the day), and box sets were no more than $20 (‘Star Wars Definitive Collection’ did set me back $75, but still a steal compared to the $250 Josh mentioned).

        In more recent years, LaserDisc has seen a surge in popularity on the second-hand collector’s market, so the $4 days are gone. As it happens, a store in Antwerp (Belgium) just started selling a new huge lot from a Japanese lady the day before yesterday, and they ask $15 for single discs, and $35 for box sets.

        My most expensive disc was ‘Sleepy Hollow’, the last American disc ever (together with ‘Bringing Out The Dead’). That one cost me $125, excluding shipping costs from America.

          • John

            Still have my sealed copies of the Sleepy Hollow and Bringing Out The Dead Laserdiscs. 🙂 Always wanted the Criterion Pulp Fiction but can never find one at a reasonable enough price. 🙁

  3. Dave M.

    I loved the Laserdisc days! I had a couple of those big sets: Aliens, the Star Wars Definitive Collection, Lawrence of Arabia. Its so funny reading about the CAV discs. I’d forgotten all about those. Lawrence was about 8 sides, and my Pioneer player didn’t have the automatic flip-so it was getting up and flipping it eight times to watch it lol.

    Those were great times!

  4. Jonathan

    Love Pulp Fiction. Never owned a laserdisc edition of it but had two versions on DVD, one copy I found at a flea market I believe it was the two disc collector’s edition with the black slipcase showing Uma Thurman on the front and another copy I had that I saw and picked up from Walmart. Great post, thanks for sharing.

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