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MGM Studios DVD presents
Kalifornia (1993)

"I'll never know why Early Grayce became a killer. I don't know why any of them do. When I looked into his eyes I felt nothing...nothing. That day I learned that any one of us is capable of taking another human life. But I also learned that there is a difference between us and them. It's in feeling remorse...dealing with guilt...confronting your conscience. Early never did."
- Brian Kessler (David Duchovny)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: August 15, 2000

Stars: Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis
Other Stars: David Duchovny, Michelle Forbes
Director: Dominic Sena

MPAA Rating: R for (violence, language, brief nudity, brutality)
Run Time: 01h:57m:09s
Release Date: August 15, 2000
UPC: 027616851550
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AC+B D+

DVD Review

Kalifornia stars David Duchovny as Brian Kessler, a struggling writer working on a book about serial killers with his photographer girlfriend Carrie Laughlin (Michelle Forbes.) About to embark on a cross-country tour of murder sites, Kessler places a "ride share" ad seeking someone to split gas costs and driving effort. The ad is answered by good ol' boy Early Grayce (Brad Pitt), seeking the good life in sunny CA with his girlfriend Adele Corners (Juliette Lewis.) When it emerges that Grayce killed his landlord just before leaving town and has been conducting a murder spree on the road, his travelling companions find themselves in serious danger.

Dominic Sena's film is a fascinating study of the "serial killer" mentality—his camera explores the simultaneous attraction and repulsion of the subject, with beautiful widescreen outdoor vistas contrasted with the grimy, brutal Grayce. Tim Metcalfe's script is straightforward and refreshing—it documents the nature of Grayce's pathology but does not claim to explain it. The film is violent but not outrageously graphic—its horror comes not from Grayce's actions per se but from his casual, completely unfeeling attitude about them.

Kalifornia would not work half as well without its strong, finely tuned performances. Brad Pitt is amazing as Grayce, half-mad and easily upset; Pitt gives him a friendly exterior with a subtle, underlying tone of cold calculation that's unnerving and tremendously effective. Juliette Lewis is also terrific as the uneducated, childlike Adele, whose happy enthusiasm is balanced by touching pain whenever she runs into the walls of her existence. David Duchovny plays the same character he always plays, but he's effective here with a detached, scholarly air that frames the story nicely, and Michelle Forbes allows her character's private fears to slowly seep through her outward sophistication.

This DVD release uses seamless branching to include both the R-rated and Unrated versions of Kalifornia, but the differences between the versions are fairly minor. The Unrated cut runs less than a minute longer, with no plot alterations—the camera simply dwells more explicitly on a few moments that are truncated in the "R" cut.

Kalifornia is a bold, daring film that addresses discomforting facts about serial murder—it never suggests that Early Grayce could have been helped or somehow "prevented," and it offers no movie-of-the-week platitudes to soothe its audience's fears. Its illusions function in the service of a larger truth—artful but honest, it's a fascinating film that lets us look into dark corners of the human psyche.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: MGM presents Kalifornia in its original 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with a 1.33:1 full-frame pan-and-scan transfer on the flipside. This is the same non-anamorphic single-layer transfer featured on the earlier Polygram release of this title, and it's of middling technical quality, with slightly light black level, visible edge enhancement and artifacting on thin lines. Detail and color are generally good, but time has passed since this DVD was mastered and it looks a bit dated today. The pan-and-scan side looks similar to the widescreen version aside from significant composition damage and some detail loss suffered in the full-frame conversion.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Kalifornia retains its theatrical Dolby Stereo surround soundtrack, converted to Dolby Digital 2.0 for this DVD release. It's a reasonably enveloping audio experience, with some left-right panning effects, atmospheric surround usage and some dramatic low-level bass. On the downside, Carter Burwell's score isn't particularly crisp and dialogue is sometimes a bit quieter than it should be. The film would have benefited from a "beefier" soundtrack, but it works well enough as presented.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Alpha
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Kalifornia is graced with a mere handful of extras. The film features 21 picture-menu chapter stops for both the Rated and Unrated versions, English and French soundtracks, and Spanish subtitles. The DVD interface is annoying in that once the Rated or Unrated version is selected in "Play Film" or "Scene Selections" mode, the menus stick to that version exclusively—I had to stop and restart the disc to change versions, though that's probably more of a "reviewer issue" than a real-world problem. The DVD case includes a 4-page "collectible booklet" containing some info on the making of the film—the thoroughly average on-disc supplements include:

Theatrical Trailer:

The film's conventional theatrical trailer is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with DD 2.0 monophonic sound.


A promotional short that's about 50% trailer, with a few sound bites from the director and cast members; designed to sell the film, it provides little real documentation.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Kalifornia is a dark, thoughtful, suspenseful drama with a genuinely scary lead performance by Brad Pitt. MGM's recycled DVD presentation is watchable, if not state-of-the-art, and includes both the Rated and Unrated versions of the film. Recommended.


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