Shaft Blu-ray Review
"Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?"
Shaft presaged the whole 70s Blaxploitation movement, with an iconic Richard Roundtree kicking ass to the beat of Isaac Hayes memorable tune.Director Gordon Parks' adaptation of writer Ernest Tidyman's screenplay based on his own novel (Tidyman wrote a whole series, many of which were never adapted, and some of which are still being released in book/comic form) is a surprisingly low budget, straightforward affair that doesn't appear anywhere near as flashy and funky as it's theme song would have you believe, instead riding high not only on Hayes' lyrics but also on the swagger and sheer screen presence of Richard Roundtree, an underrated star. Roundtree made the role his own and would play it three times in three consecutive years, and even do a series of more restrained TV movies.Whilst Shaft's Big Score boasted a bigger budget (worth watching just for the automatic shotgun vs. helicopter scene) and Shaft in Africa went wild with the setting, it's Shaft that's best remembered even if it's the roughest around the edges. The story, involving a kidnapping starting a gang war, is familiar territory for noir-style PI flicks (don't all PI tales involve kidnapping?) but the notion of a gun-toting black PI, hanging with the Panthers, standing up to mobsters, and holding his own against white cops, whilst bedding every woman in sight, was something new. Yes, it was rough around the edges but this was the start of something special.
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.
Thankfully Warner's 2012 US Region Free Blu-ray release of Shaft was pretty impressive, affording the 70s classic a very good presentation which, whilst not a full remaster job, still delivered the film better than ever before, and it's that same 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition presentation, framed in the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen, that makes it to this UK Region Free Blu-ray release.
This release of Shaft is certainly the best shape the film's ever been seen in
For AV fans who complain about grain on Ultra HD Blu-ray releases, films like Shaft would likely give them a heart attack if they ever landed on the format. The more faithful and authentic the rendering of this film, the more likely you're going to find a swathe of grain pervading the visuals. Beneath this heavy, textured grain is a refined and suitably filmic image that boasts surprisingly strong detail for a production that's going to be celebrating its half-Century in a few years' time. Skin textures and clothing weaves (Shaft's polo-neck sweater, three-quarter leather coat combo looks better than ever) are noteworthy, as are the haircuts, and the 70s environments are fantastically brought to life here, in all their seedy glory. The colour scheme has some strong tones in it, irrespective of - or perhaps because of - the styles of the period, whilst black levels remain pretty deep, with little loss of shadow detail. Indeed if you can get past the grainy look it's a very good video presentation indeed, and certainly the best shape the film's ever been seen in.
Sound QualityThe UK release also delivers the same DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono track that the earlier 2012 US release boasted, which is an expectedly funky offering defined by its seminal title track.
A reserved but faithful presentation of this iconic soundtrack
Just as expectedly the limitations of a mono track leave a lot to be desired in terms of the soundscape that's crafted here, which is authentic and arguably faithful towards the original style of the piece, but also indicative of its low budget origins and the restrictions imposed upon the production. Dialogue remains clearly and coherently delivered, and firmly prioritised, whilst effects are inherently dated, seldom ringing out with the kind of LFE wallop when it comes to the infrequent gunfire (more exciting in that defining closing assault, but fairly restrained otherwise), and offering only a few nominal atmospheric flourishes in the form of car engine noises and street and police station bustle. The score is easily the best element here, and it's a reserved but faithful presentation of this iconic soundtrack.
ExtrasThe HMV-exclusive UK Region Free Blu-ray release of Shaft offers the same excellent selection of extra features as the US predecessor - including a whole extra film - promoting this new 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 excellent selection of bonus features as the US predecessor, including a whole extra film
The main behind the scenes feature is a 10 minute Documentary Soul in Cinema: Filming Shaft on Location, which has Parks working with Roundtree on crafting the character, offering up some on-set footage and even a brief look at the soundtrack with Hayes. There are also trailers for the three Shaft feature films.
The big news for fans comes in the form of Shaft: The Killing, the 1973 TV movie which was 'episode 2' in the series that was rushed into production as soon as the feature films had been shot (Shaft in Africa was only released that year). Although it's not quite movie length, it's longer than a conventional TV series episode, running at 74 minutes and looking at the further exploits of the iconic PI, as he gets embroiled in a case involving one of his (many) ex-girlfriends who is under the thumb of an abusive pimp. Although far from as gritty as the movies, it's great to see more from Roundtree as Shaft, and hopefully this addition - which is understandably SD - will encourage fans to hunt down the set, even if it's only available on Region 1 DVD at the moment.
Blu-ray VerdictThis film was the start of something special
Added to HMV's exclusive Premium Collection, Shaft's UK Region Free Blu-ray debut is a mirror image of the US Region Free release from 2012, only in a prettier package. The film has never looked and sounded this good and there's a decent set of features to go with the nice packaging, including a whole extra film (which many Shaft fans may never have seen). Obviously those same fans would have likely already picked up the earlier US release of this 70s classic, but for those who haven't, this is a must-have release and, perhaps if popular enough, one day we'll get to see the sequels hit Blu-ray too, and maybe even the TV show as well.
You can buy Shaft on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £14.99
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