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When it comes to early 70ís blaxploitation flicks, SHAFT ($25) is definitely the coolest of the cool. Now that there is a new SHAFT movie is coming to a theater near you (soon to be followed by a DVD player near you), Warner Home Video has wisely chosen to issue this recently acquired MGM title on DVD. Richard Roundtree stars John Shaft, a tough New York City private detective, who is always in the know and always in the middle of trouble. Take his latest case, Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn), Harlemís number one black crime lord, hires Shaft to get back his kidnapped daughter after the Mafia grabs her as a means of moving in on his territory. Sure the plot is simple, but SHAFT proves to be a quick, entertaining and action packed movie. Roundtree is coolness personified and his charismatic presence really carries the film. Not to be slighted, Isaac Hayes also helped to create the filmís mystique with the Academy Award winning theme song that he composed for SHAFT. The cast of SHAFT also includes Charles Cioffi, Christopher St. John, Gwenn Mitchell, Lawrence Pressman, Victor Arnold, Sherri Brewer, Rex Robbins, Camille Yarbrough and Margaret Warncke.

Warner Home Video offers SHAFT in both full screen and wide screen presentations on opposite sides of the DVD. The full screen version will do in a pinch, although the 16:9 enhanced wide screen presentation is far more cinematic. SHAFT is framed at its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, but the film element utilized for the transfer does show signs of its low budget origins. There are some markings on the print, noticeable film grain is present and the colors show the telltale signs of 70ís film stocks. Still, SHAFT looks pretty good and delivers a reasonably sharp, detailed image. Colors tend to favor earthen tones and are somewhat subdued. However, reds prove to be rather vibrant and are flawlessly reproduced on this DVD. Backs are well rendered and the level of shadow detail is decent for a 1971 release. Digital compression artifacts did not effect the presentation in any perceivable manner.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack gets the job done, but it isnít what anyone would call high fidelity. Frequency range has all the limitations of a thirty-year-old low budget film. Donít try to locate a bottom end; the soundtrack doesnít seem to have any significant bass. Because of this, the sound is a bit thin, with Isaac Hayesí music being the biggest loser. Dialogue is always intelligible, but the voices have an inconsistent quality. A French language soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and French subtitles.

The interactive menus are static, but do offer Isaac Hayesí complete SHAFT theme song underneath the main screen. This single inclusion is very cool and something that will appeal to SHAFT fans. By the way, the music actually sounds better on the menu screen than it does during the movie- go figure. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. The short behind-the-scenes documentary, Soul In Cinema: Filming Shaft On Location has been included on the DVD; as have theatrical trailers for all three of the original SHAFT movies, plus cast biographies/filmographies.

Despite the minor flaws in the presentation, I really enjoyed seeing SHAFT on DVD and think that fans will enjoy as well. Hopefully, SHAFT will open up the blaxploitation floodgates and more of these treasures will be released on DVD. Anybody for a double feature of BLACULA and SCREAM, BLACULA, SCREAM!? How about DVDs of COFFY, FOXY BROWN or BLACK CAESAR?




DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 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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