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Almost thirty years later, Shaft remains one bad mutha… even if the new spin on SHAFT ($30) forgoes all the grittiness of the original blaxplotation flick starring Richard Roundtree. Samuel L. Jackson portrays the new John Shaft, who just happens to be the nephew of the black private dick played Roundtree back in 1971. Jackson proves that he is very much the man throughout the course of the movie and is no way overshadowed by Roundtree, who even appears in a couple of scenes in the new flick as Uncle John. However, unlike his private detective uncle, the next generation John Shaft carries a badge and works undercover on the New York City police department.

The plot of SHAFT finds the title character investigating a homicide of a young black man outside a fashionable New York City bar. The prime suspect turns out to be Walter Wade, Jr. (Christian Bale), a smarmy rich white boy, who figures he can get away with murder because of his father's money and the fact that the victim is black. Although Shaft hauls Wade's ass off to jail, the court allows him out on bail, after which he promptly leaves the country. After a few years, Wade returns to the U.S., and as you might expect, Shaft is waiting for him at the airport with a set of handcuffs. However, with the help of Peoples Hernandez (Jeffrey Wright), his new drug dealing friend from jail, Wade decides to get rid of the only witness that can tie him to the murder.

For the most part, the plot of SHAFT remains in standard action movie territory, however the solid performance of Jackson and Wright make it into something more. Director/co-writer John Singleton has created a very slick and appealing movie that is certain to appeal to genre fans. However, as I enjoyed the new SHAFT, I would have like it more if the story had been a little less conventional. Perhaps if there is a sequel, they could team Jackson with Roundtree and do something with an international flavor like SHAFT IN AFRICA. The cast of SHAFT also features Vanessa Williams, Busta Rhymes, Dan Hedaya, Toni Collette, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Josef Sommer, Lynne Thigpen, Philip Bosco, Pat Hingle, Lee Tergesen and Daniel von Bargen.

Paramount Home Entertainment has done an absolutely first rate job of transcribing SHAFT to DVD. SHAFT is framed at 2.35:1 and the DVD features the anamorphic enhancement for playback on 16:9 displays. Like any big budget Hollywood movie coming off of theatrical release, SHAFT looks fantastic. The clean, crisp image is brimming with detail and depth, which gives the presentation a very film like quality. Colors are strongly saturated, yet never appear artificial or pumped up. Flesh tones retain a natural balance under various lighting conditions. None of the hues exhibit any chromatic distortion, nor do the more intensely saturated colors show any signs of bleeding. Blacks are right on the money and the glossy nighttime cinematography displays an impressive depth of shadow detail. The film element use for the transfer is flawless, which pretty much describes the transfer as well. Digital compression artifacts are not a concern on this smartly authored dual layer DVD.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack kicks some serious booty, especial during the high intensity action moments. Hearing Isaac Hayes' re-recording of his original SHAFT theme song blasting through my system in it’s full 5.1 channel splendor is the highlight of the track for me, but I'm partial to that funky song. The forward soundstage has excellent channel separation, with effective panning of sound effects that creates an open sounding sonic environment. Split surround sound effects are well deployed during key moments of the film, although this track doesn't feature a continuous bombardment from the rear channels, as one would find in some other recent action releases. Dialogue reproduction is precise and fully intelligible. The bass channel provides explosive reinforcement to the film's numerous gunshots. A French Dolby Surround soundtrack has also been encoded onto the DVD, as have English subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound all serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features as well as the disc's supplements. SHAFT features almost 15 minutes worth of cast and crew interviews, which talk about both the old and the new films. Still The Man: The Making of Shaft is a production featurette that runs slightly more than 15 minutes. The featurette is an entertaining PR piece that lacks the depth of a genuine look behind-the-scenes. The DVD also includes a theatrical trailer, plus two music videos. R Kelly's video for Bad Man is fine, but Isaac Hayes proves that he's still the man too with the video to his updated Theme from Shaft.

SHAFT is solid action flick and Samuel L. Jackson is the ideal choice to play the updated character for a new generation. Paramount's DVD looks and sounds great, so don't deny that SHAFT fan inside of you.





DVD reviews are Copyright © 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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