'Shaft' ***
DVD Review (2000)

The Work = ***
One of the more interesting movements in 70s cinema is the so called blaxploitation movement. Characterized by a wave of often low budget films staring black actors and made for black audiences, these movies may have lacked the $$$ of big Hollywood but many made up for it in heart. Probably the most famous movie of that era was 'Shaft' (or 'Superfly' but for the sake of my review I’ll pretend it is definitely 'Shaft'.) It’s one of those movies that when someone wants an example of the genre, I can say 'Shaft' and the person will go: “Oh.”

That instant recognition is probably what lead to a big studio making a big budget remake of 'Shaft' in 2000. Going to see it in the theater was a fun experience as I recall. I remember seeing it with a close friend of mine and we got there a little late. The place was packed and the audience was locked into the movie; cheering at parts, yelling at others, and applauding when Shaft did something cool. All told it was a pretty fun little viewing.

Now after having watched the film for the first time in five years for this review, I can say my feelings are mixed. 'Shaft' is not a bad film, it is just an ok one. What is a bummer about it is watching the film it seemed as if a really great one was hidden somewhere in the material. I think what it needed was either to A) be grittier like a Michael Mann movie (such as 'Heat',) or B) more over the top like say Michael Bay’s 'Bad Boys II'. If the film had gone in either direction it could have been one intense movie. As it stands it feels sort of, how do you say? Watered down?

Hell, even compared to the original 'Shaft' it seems a bit on the tame side. The original was not the most extreme movie but it did have Shaft acting as a sex machine and it seemed a bit bloodier despite having a lower body count. Part of the reason for the remake’s somewhat tame nature may be do to it being a major studio project. In fact, I recall reading about numerous problems during production and I have read that the cut of the film that was released was not the one preferred by it’s director, John Singleton. (On the features of the DVD there are clips from scenes cut from the film, most notably a confrontation towards the end of the film between Shaft and the films yuppie villain, Walter Wade, Jr.)

So the film is watered down but it is not a total loss. Some sequences work well and Samuel L Jackson talks the talk and walks the walk as Detective John Shaft. Vanessa Williams is a real surprise as Officer Carmen Vasquez. She has a quiet authority and plays probably the most “real” police officer in the film. The underrated soon to be 'Batman', Christian Bale plays a great villain that you want to see go down. The equally underrated Jeffrey Wright plays a low rent gangster Peoples, who provides some of the best moments in the film.

Richard Roundtree pops up as Uncle John Shaft. It’s a neat cameo but it made me wish he was given a real part instead. The thing is, the man’s still got it and he could have done with a meatier role. He really should be staring in some sort of crime drama tv series or film.

So, the film is not what it could have been. Somewhere in it is a killer crime drama flic’ but this isn’t it. Scenes and performances rise above the film but as a whole it still a fairly mediocre picture. That does not make it bad though and you may just find it an entertaining diversion.

DVD = ***

The Look
Well, it gets a decent transfer at least. 'Shaft' is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen. The picture looked good and crisp to my eye with no overtly visible digital artifacts.

The Sound
Well 'Shaft' gets a pretty decent 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. To my ear some of the gun shots and other effects sounded a bit muted on the base end of things. It may just be the films mix but I am not sure. Other than that the mix sounded pretty good.

The Bonus
So we get two featurettes, two music videos, English subtitles and 5.1 English and French tracks. John Singleton has recorded commentary tracks before and supposedly his absence here is because of his displeasure with the way the film turned out. I don’t know how true that is but he is missed here as the featurettes are pretty much fluff. There are some good bits of information here and there but not enough to make it worthwhile. Richard Roundtree comes off very well and it definitely makes me think the guy needs to be in more cinema. He has a wonderful charm about him. Vanessa Williams comes off well too, sounding intelligent and making me realize she too needs to be in more. I cannot believe there are no deleted scenes included on the disk. It would not seem so glaring were there not cut scenes shown in the featurettes. This is not unheard of for Paramount I am sorry to say. Their release of the Mel Gibson vehicle 'Payback' not only uses a still form a cut scene for the film’s poster and cover but has some of the cut footage in the trailer.

All together = ***
'Shaft' should be released in a director’s preferred version. I don’t know if that will give the film the teeth it needs to be a stronger flic’ but it would still be nice to see a cut that the director likes. I enjoyed it for the performances and some of the sequences enough to recommend it at least as a rental. Fans of crime dramas or fans of the cast and/ or crew may enjoy it more. Come on Paramount, release a director’s cut!


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