shahbakht’s review published on Letterboxd:
This is my 4th watch since this came out. I didn't plan to watch it so frequently, despite loving it a lot, but there was always one reason or another that made me check it out. This time it was because I just read the novelization, so I wanted to see this while the book was fresh in my mind.
I think it is safe to say that this is one of the most expensive pieces of fan fiction ever produced. And I don't mean that in a disparaging way, and not in a way that Tarantino is taking a story or characters from a certain piece of fiction and giving them his own spin (like any regular person did with Harry Potter and had Hermione end up with Harry ... no? just me?); what I mean is that Tarantino is writing a fan fiction for the whole era of pop culture from that time, and that is very clear from the rather plotless nature of this.
Before reading the novelization, I fully expected Tarantino to go full "indulgent" mode and just randomly tell tales from that era, instead of sticking to his narrative, and that's exactly what he did: he goes on so many tangents about different movies, TV shows, actors, directors and producers that at times it feels like reading a non-fiction book (I would gladly read Tarantino's take on history of Hollywood a la You Must Remember This), but that is hardly a complaint: his passion is so infectious and carries over to the reader. I didn't mind these tangents at all, because I love that era, and am very much interested in the history of pop culture of the time. But I have to admit that they sometimes do feel a bit out of place, or rather shoe-horned in. That's not to say they are boring, or dry, quite the opposite, actually (Tarantino has managed to write an extremely propulsive novel, even if it is not as exciting as his movies), but they sometimes pedal the brake too hard in terms of narrative and feel like footnotes. That's my minor quibble.
The book plays like an extended cut of the movie: it adds a lot of stuff especially Cliff's backstory, the Lancer pilot (Tarantino basically goes through the whole premise of Lancer in a lot of detail), some of which I would have liked to see (Cliff's life before he met Rick, although the Cliff from the book is a much less likable character than what ended up on the screen, no less due to the immense charisma of Brad Pitt), some I am happy was not in the movie (the Manson stuff is my least favorite part of the movie, and by extension, the book).
The Sharon Tate stuff in the book is still very much just ... there. I feel like a story about 1960s Hollywood and its changing trends is an immensely interesting angle in itself and able to sustain itself, and it didn't need the "historical fiction" angle of Sharon Tate and the Manson family, even if by Tarantino's own admission, he wanted to disassociate Sharon from the tragedy that befell her, from the public's consciousness. That's a lofty ambition, I don't disagree, but I don't think he stuck the landing on that. Sharon feels like an afterthought, an appendage to the story.
All in all, I think I found the novelization a very pleasant read and wouldn't mind reading more novels from Tarantino. It's clear that his big influence is Elmore Leonard, even if he is not able to match the Dickens of Detroit in terms of style, verve, conciseness or sheer coolness, still the effort is worth an applause.
P.S. Still adore the movie, especially Pitt and DiCaprio's performance, and the soundtrack, which is just magic. Following are my favourite tracks from it:
1. Out of Time, by The Rolling Stones - so on the money.
2. Hush, by Deep Purple - in the last 5 years, this song has been used in 3 really good scenes. And it never gets old.
3. You Keep Me Hangin' On, by Vanilla Fudge - a song that was already immortalized by The Sopranos and Mad Men, used to great effect here as well.
4. California Dreamin', by Jose Feliciano - Chungking Express memories.
5. Bring a Little Lovin', by Los Bravos - just a great road song
6. Twelve Thirty, by The Mamas and the Papas - I had to have Michelle Phillips in there somewhere.