Our review of Boyz n the Hood (Blu-ray), published August 1st, 2011, is also available.
Increase the peace.
From out of nowhere—well, actually southern California—came director John Singleton and his feature debut Boyz N The Hood. One of the first movies to accurately portray life in the Los Angeles ghetto, Boyz N The Hood became both a critical and financial success that garnered Oscar nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Director. Courtesy of Columbia comes a two-disc anniversary edition, though since it was released in 1991 I'm not too sure what the anniversary is (12 years?). No matter, for fans can finally get their hands on a definitive version of this now-classic African American drama.
Facts of the Case
Boyz N The Hood deals with the friendship between three friends growing up in South Central L.A., California. It starts in the 1970s as three friends, Tre, Doughboy, and Ricky, learn hard lessons on the mean streets of their hometown. It's in these very streets that drugs are sold, lives are taken, and dreams are crushed. The film then flash-forwards into the present (1991): Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr., As Good As It Gets) is an upstanding student who has a chance to go to college because his father, Furious (Lawrence Fishburne, The Matrix), has been a good and decent role model in his life. Across the street lives Ricky (Morris Chestnut, Half Past Dead), an ambitious jock who may also have a bright future ahead of him if he can score a high enough grade on the SATs. Finally there is Doughboy (Ice Cube, Barbershop), an unambitious drug dealer (and Ricky's brother) who finds himself teetering on the fringe of life and death. As the three boys discover who they are, all will be put to the test when tragedy strikes and breaks apart their worlds. It's just another day in the ghetto for the Boyz N The Hood.
I am not the intended target audience for Boyz N The Hood, yet I think it's a movie that will appeal to many people no matter what their nationality or demographic. Boyz N The Hood should be seen by everyone—like Schindler's List, it's a film about the death and destruction of a people. While in Germany we could point our fingers at the Nazis, in the ghettos and streets of America's cities we don't know who to point at. The upper class for not giving enough? The lower class for being too complacent? The cops? The drug dealers? You? Me? Director John Singleton doesn't try to give us any easy answers, except that we need to stop shooting one another and make an attempt at a peaceful existence.
I lived in Los Angeles for nearly four years yet never made the trek into South Central. I don't know what goes on there, or how bad the conditions are. I have been to Chicago's Caprini Green and seen how desolate things are—to live another day in that atmosphere is to witness a practical miracle. It is understandable why getting out of that atmosphere is more precious than gold and an education is the equivalent of a ticket to paradise. Singleton's Boyz N The Hood is a movie of raw power that is, at its core, a story about breaking loose of the shackles that confine us.
The film presents us with images and characters that leave indelible marks. Tre (played excellently by Oscar winner Cuba Gooding, Jr.) is a likable teen who knows that there is more to life than what he sees around him. Doughboy (also played by then-new comer Ice Cube), on the other hand, is the complete opposite of Tre. He sits on his mother's porch, drinking bottles of beer and never looking beyond what he sees happening in his front yard. This is where the film gathers its emotional heart—the characters and situations are complex and steeped in realism. By the end, we like these characters and want to see them move on to bigger and better things. It is rare for a movie to bring such a feeling to the viewer without coming off as corny or overly sentimental. Yet Singleton pulls it off with a screenplay that never paints the characters as one-dimensional.
The standouts in the film include Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Lawrence Fishburne as father and son—two characters who are really the center of the film. It's in this particular relationship that Singleton shows what a good male role model can do for a child. Though Furious has his faults, he is a kind and loving father who only wants what's best for Tre. Ice Cube, an actor who would go on to become an A-list star in such vehicles as the Friday series and Barbershop, finds just the right tone to make Doughboy both sympathetic and despicable—he is a man who will find himself stuck in the ghetto because he doesn't realize it takes him changing, not the world, if he is ever to move out of it. Other standouts include Oscar nominee Angela Bassett (What's Love Got To Do With It?) as Tre's mother, Nia Long (Big Momma's House) as Tre's girlfriend, and Morris Chestnut as the promising Ricky Baker.
There is an angry undercurrent running throughout Boyz N The Hood. It's a movie that should be seen, not only by those who can relate but also by those who cannot—the film is a wake up call to keep our families strong and our neighborhood streets clean. Highly recommended.
Boyz N The Hood is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a good looking transfer, though certainly not without its flaws. There is an alarming amount of grain and dirt in the transfer, making for a sometimes frustrating viewing. The image never jumps out at the viewer—it's flat and fairly bland. The colors are usually bright and well defined, though shadow detail seems to be lacking. The black levels are all solid and dark without any major gray tinting. Columbia has done a decent job with this picture, though I can't help thinking that it could have looked even better.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English, French, and Spanish. Ah, what a disappointment this sound mix ended up being—Boyz N The Hood is a movie that definitely could have used a 5.1 remix. What fans do get is a lackluster sound transfer that features a few directional effects (as when rap music is playing or choppers are flying by) and clearly heard dialogue, music, and effects. But oh what a soundtrack this could have been. Maybe on the next DVD edition Columbia will try even harder to produce a thorough sound mix (by that time we'll be using Dolby Digital 25.5 surround systems). Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Originally released in the early years of DVD, Boyz N The Hood has made a comeback with in a nicely packaged two-disc edition from Columbia. Here's a rundown of what's been included on this disc:
Commentary Track by Director/Writer John Singleton: This is a very nice commentary filled with tons of information about the production, the casting, the story (much of the screenplay was based on Singleton's own experiences), and the film's infamous opening in theaters. Singleton is a candid and intelligent man and dishes out many tidbits on the film. I enjoyed the way Singleton injected light humor into his comments, but never veered away from any of the realities of the filmmaking process or what it was like to work with this particular subject matter. Those who really enjoyed the film will find this commentary track both enlightening and educational.
Friendly Fire: The Making of an Urban Legend: This is a great 40-minute retrospective documentary that features interviews with all of the major players, including director Singleton, producer Steve Nicolaides, actors Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, and many other major players who worked in the film. Much of this retrospective deals with the production that took place on the streets of Los Angeles, what hurdles Singleton had to overcome getting the film made, its Oscar nominations, and the reactions and violence during the film's opening. I think this is definitely one of the better retrospectives around and is well worth the time of anyone who enjoyed the film.
Deleted Scenes: Only two scenes are included here, one between Tre and his mother and a second that involves Furious and Doughboy arguing. Neither scene is in very good shape, though considering the source materials and low budget shoot these are a nice glimpse for fans of what ended up on the cutting room floor.
Finally there are two music videos, "Growin' Up in the Hood" by Compton's Most Wanted and "Just Ask Me To" by Tevin Campbell, each presented in full frame and with Dolby 2.0 soundtracks, as well as eight theatrical trailers (including Boyz N The Hood, Poetic Justice, Blue Streak, and others).
Boyz N The Hood is a movie of great significance in the African American community and the realm of black cinema (I can't wait for the day when we don't even have to call it "black cinema"). Putting all of that aside, the film is just plain good, an entertaining and thought provoking look at life on the streets of the ghetto. Columbia has done a very good job with this package, even if the video components aren't as good as they should be.
Boyz N The Hood's power can't be denied—worth at the very least a single viewing. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Director John Singleton
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