Book Review: ‘Django Unchained’ by Quentin Tarantino (adapted by Reginald Hudlin)

DjangoSingleQuentin Tarantino has never been shy about sharing the scripts for his films (unless, that is, it happens too early in the process). They are usually published right before or after the movie comes out, and I’ve bought them all. So when 2012’s Django Unchained came and went without a script in sight, I was a little bummed – until I realized Tarantino was taking a cool new route this time by turning his first draft over to DC Comics and their Vertigo imprint to adapt.

That seven issue series, adapted from Tarantino’s first draft script by Django Unchained producer Reginald Hudlin, is now out in a handsome hardcover edition that collects the entire series along with a cover gallery and a nice forward by Tarantino himself. As you’d expect, there are some major differences in what is on the page versus what ended up on film, and getting the opportunity to see those differences  is a major reason to pick this volume up.

After reading this, I can say that I’m glad the film came out as it did, as I think the majority of the changes that came in later drafts of the script were for the better. I’m going to talk about a couple of those changes in detail, so you might want to take a walk if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

The aftermath of Schultz shooting Calvin Candie is much more chaotic on screen than depicted here, and the finale that sees Django return to Candyland to rescue Hildi and avenge his friend’s death also got better after this first pass. In particular, Django’s last exchange with Stephen is much more satisfying in the finished film than what Tarantino first put on paper.

On the other hand, there’s a major sequence featured in the comic that didn’t make it to the film that I wish we had seen – that which shows exactly how Calvin came to acquire Hildi in the first place. It’s not that the character of Calvin Candie wasn’t already well established as complete piece of human garbage, but the idea that Hildi actually had some semblance of a good life – as good as it could be for her at that time and in those circumstances, anyway – before Calvin swindled her away makes you root for her, and for Django, even more.

Hudlin does a good job of adapting the material, retaining that characteristic Tarantino dialogue that’s such a trademark of his work. Unfortunately, the artwork is wildly uneven; the early chapters are strong, but some of the sequences at the end are muddy and unappealing. There are several artists credited – R.M. Guera, Jason Latour, Denys Cowan, Danijel Zezelj and John Floyd – but without any kind of chapter breaks or clear crediting in the book, it’s hard to know who to praise and who to blame.

Tarantino completists will want this for sure, but it stands on its own as a rollicking good revenge story. Yes, it’s filled with some of the most despicable people, actions and language you can imagine, but there is a visceral thrill in seeing these characters get their comeuppance.

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