New Jack City Blu-ray Review
Crack King of New York
Scarface meets King of New York in Mario Van Peebles' crime drama New Jack City, which includes great early performances from Wesley Snipes and Ice T.Son of Blacksploitation founder Melvin Van Peebles, actor/director Mario Van Peebles has had quite an up and down career, picking up bit part roles in Clint Eastwood's Heartbreak Ridge and the poorly-received Jaws: The Revenge, before turning his hand to directing. His sophomore effort 1993's Posse, which he also starred in, made for a memorable and stylish black-led counterpoint to Young Guns, but neither that nor New Jack City, his impressive directorial debut, were successful enough to drive forward his career. It's a shame really because both showed great promise. For a debut, New Jack City is a sharply written, sprawling crime epic efficiently crammed into a more manageable 100 minute runtime, shot with some impressive directorial flair, and driven by a host of strong performances from its young cast.Sure, it may have since been dismissed as little more than a black-led riff on Scarface - which is referenced throughout - but Peebles' lyrical urban alternative more than distinguishes itself in its own right, portraying the rise of Wesley Snipes' kingpin Nino Brown, and the team of undercover cops working to take him down, headlined by Ice T, with support from The Breakfast Club's Judd Nelson. More comparable to Abel Ferrera's great, gritty King of New York, Peebles crafts a wonderfully atmospheric world, and elicits strong performances from his young cast. Snipes may be the least dimensional player (he's no Tony Montana, let alone Frank White), often painted as too singularly villainous, but he's still committed to the proceedings, and the familiar Scarface plotting is thankfully overshadowed by the tense exploits and moody style.
Picture QualityThe Warner Premium Collection - which is, effectively, the HMV Premium Collection in the UK, since they have an exclusivity deal - offers up impressive packaging, but not always impressive packages, in part because the titles released, whilst only now making their UK debut, are largely titles which have been available in the US for some time (often years) and, in the case of the older titles, haven't received any kind of upgrade.
New Jack City's UK release carries with it the same video as the 2012 US Blu-ray release, promoting the film with a 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen. Whilst no overt restoration work has been reported, it seems clear that this presentation, and indeed the original 2012 presentation, must have undergone some work to end up with a result that looks this good.
It may not be conventional demo material, but New Jack City has never looked better than this, and likely never will
Detail, for a film that's a quarter-century old and was shot on such a limited budget, is actually frequently quite impressive, lapping up skin textures, clothing nuances, and background flourishes which bring the urban environment to life. The colour scheme has plenty of vibrant, vivid tones - not least in Nino's suits - and strong black levels which only occasionally threaten to absorb some shadow detail. Daytime sequences obviously fare better, but there are some really very nice looking sequences in this piece, including an evening swimming pool sequence which looks excellent and doesn't suffer at all in the lower lighting. It may not be conventional demo material, and it may still have some flaws around the edges, but New Jack City has never looked better than this, and likely never will.
Sound QualityA solid, albeit unexceptional, audio offering
Similarly the accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is likely a holdover from the 2012 US release, but it's not quite as impressive, doing a by-the-numbers job with what feels like a glorified stereo mix, somewhat flatly delivering the elements with little weight, and not really doing justice to the frequent song tracks that populate and often define the score. Nevertheless, dialogue gets clear and coherent presentation across the frontal array, afforded priority over the mix, whilst gunshots at least liven up the proceedings, even if they are quite light and zippy (it doesn't help that they're using gang-favourite SMGs here, with only Ice T's Desert Eagle coming close to having any weight). The score - and songs - do manage to engage the surrounds and, overall, it's a solid, albeit unexceptional, offering.
ExtrasThe HMV-exclusive UK Region Free Blu-ray release of New Jack City offers the same comprehensive selection of extra features as the US predecessor, but promotes the whole release with a much more lavish overall package, including the Premium Collection's trademark artwork, hardened slipcover and art cards, complete with a DVD copy of the film and a digital code for UV download.
The same comprehensive extras as the US release and a much more lavish package
Headlined by a strong audio commentary from filmmaker Mario Van Peebles, which offers up some great background into the production, the drug problem in the US, the themes and the characters he wanted to bring to life, as well as his enthusiastic cast. The accompanying half-hour documentary, The Road to New Jack City is a worthy addition, bringing the cast in for contributions and looking back at the production. NJC: A Hip-Hop Classic spends twenty minutes looking at the music, Harlem World: A Walk Inside has Peebles and his daughter spend 10 minutes revisiting the film's locations where he talks about the scenes he shot in specific places. Van Peebles Parody has Peebles mock-responding to the insistence that this is just a rip-off of Scarface, and we also get a trio of Music Videos and a Trailer to round out the impressive package.
Blu-ray VerdictNew Jack City is sharply written, shot with flair, and driven by strong performances
Mario Van Peebles made a strong debut with New Jack City and whilst his career never really hit much of a stride (his best work was arguably the tribute Baadasssss! which was based on the troubled production of his father's own seminal debut Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song), he made some thematically interesting films (the politics in Panther; the unsung heroes of the West in Posse) and distinctively stylish features but few have come close to the impressiveness of his debut, let alone turned into classics.
Added to HMV's exclusive Premium Collection, this UK Region Free Blu-ray debut for the film is a mirror image of the 2012 US Region Free release - which boasted surprisingly strong video and solid audio, as well as a comprehensive set of extras - only this time it's in a prettier package. Obviously fans would have likely already picked that earlier edition up, but for those who haven't, this is a great set.
You can buy New Jack City on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.