BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review

Shaft/Shaft’s Big Score/Shaft in Africa: The Warner Archive Collection (1971 - 1973) - Blu-ray Review

Shaft/Shaft’s Big Score/Shaft in Africa: The Warner Archive Collection

The “Brother Man from the Motherland” returns to settle yet another score!  Can you dig it?

Funked up by Isaac Hayes’ incredible score and theme, Richard Roundtree is back in action as Harlem P.I. John Shaft in this trio of signature blaxploitation offerings from directors Gordon Parks (Shaft, Shaft’s Big Score) and John Guillrman (Shaft in Africa).  Their influence upon America’s culture - whether it comes to fashion or music - cannot be overstated.  Shaft defied explanation.  It simply was a cinematic flagship which earmarked 1971 as the time when America was ready for some serious changes; no longer would all of cinema’s heroes be white.

"the testimonies and the purity of the passion in a lot of the sub-genre's output is downright poetry"


Black IS beautiful, man, and, as a result, so is a bulk of blaxploitation flicks.  Okay, so the racism and the hatred and the profiling which goes along with being black is not so beautiful.  But the testimonies and the purity of the passion in a lot of the sub-genre's output is downright poetry. 

And in 1971, this sub-genre of exploitation cinema was ready to take its anthem to the street.  Like Ossie DavisCotton Comes to Harlem before it, both ParksShaft and Melvin Van PeeblesSweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song had their sights set on the streets and portraying its black subjects in a manner that was both engaging and without a victim mindset.  Criterion has put Peebles back in the limelight with their blu-ray set and The Warner Archive tackles Gordon Parks with the Hollywood-financed Shaft films.  

While Criterion is busy prepping a 4K release of the original Shaft, with this release, fans get all three films released in the series.  First up is the original offering from 1971.  Shaft was released when the Black Power movement was beginning to rattle America and the film’s director, Parks, wanted to break some ground, too.  Thus, John Shaft (Roundtree in a career-defining role), was born to be badder than bad with the criminals and the ladies alike.   Shut your mouth!

After Shaft is recruited to rescue the kidnapped daughter of a Harlem mob boss (Moses Gunn) from Italian gangsters, he finds himself in the middle of a rapidly escalating uptown vs. downtown turf war.  In Shaft’s Big Score, also directed by Parks, Richard Roundtree is back as streetwise detective Shaft. Before Shaft can respond to an SOS from a friend, the friend is murdered. Now he has to find the killer and a large sum of money hidden by his friend before his death.  Not as flashy, but just as trashy, this sequel holds up quite well and has a lot of fun poking holes at Shaft's reputation.Shaft/Shaft’s Big Score/Shaft in Africa: The Warner Archive Collection

While not as groundbreaking as what came before, Shaft’s Big Score still has plenty of mojo kicking about in its innards, which is why it remains a pleasant surprise and leads viewers to Shaft in Africa, the final movie in the cinematic series.  As the marketing goes, you can "go ahead. Slug, drug, kidnap and leave John Shaft buck-naked in a sweltering hellhole. It's still no deal. If you want to recruit this tough-minded Manhattan detective for an overseas assignment, you'd better use a language he understands. One that offers a fat up-front fee."  See any issues yet with the set-up?  

Okay, so there's a drop-dead gorgeous accomplice (Vonetta McGee), too.  In the third film, Shaft poses as a slave and then goes after the leaders of an Africa-to-Europe slavery cartel and then, because he is a complicated man, mixes business with pleasure alongside a beautiful princess.  Okay, so Shaft in Africa is definitely the product of diminishing returns.  It is still violent and sexy, but Africa is just not the place for a character like Shaft to be and it shows time and time again.  Something feels off about the whole thing and maybe that's because only Roundtree is returning to the fold, everyone else - including the character's creator - has backed out.  Still, for completists, it's good to know it is included.

All three films are gritty.  They are also gripping, offering audiences strong performances from the main cast, and some kooky characters along the way.  The films packs moments of great action and offer up a lot cinematic fun and hold up quite well considering the date of their origins.  

And guess what?  Some of you still aren't ready for John Shaft.  Ya damn right.

4/5 beers

 

Shaft/Shaft’s Big Score/Shaft in Africa: The Warner Archive Collection

Blu-ray Details

Shaft / Shaft's Big Score / Shaft in Africa - Triple Feature

Home Video Distributor: Warner Bros
Available on Blu-ray
- May 21, 2019
Screen Formats: 1.85:1; 2.39:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, German SDH, Japanese, Spanish
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0; French: Dolby Digital 2.0; German: Dolby Digital 2.0; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; three-disc set
Region Encoding: Region-free playback

When Harlem P.I. John Shaft first appeared on the movie scene, he was a "shut your mouth" detective to reckon with, a fact underscored by Isaac Hayes' Oscar-winning* Best Original Song (1971). Richard Roundtree plays the hard-hitting, street-smart title role in these signature "blaxploitation" films, hunting for a kidnap victim in Shaft and seeking a friend's murderer in Shaft's Big Score! - mixing it up with mob thugs each time. Finally, there's Shaft in Africa ("He's the Brother Man in the Motherland," proclaimed ads), with our hero bringing down a slavery cartel. Shaft's the name. Excitement's the game!  And, thanks to the Warner Archive Collection, all three movies can be viewed in one blu-ray set.

Video:

Featuring a scan from the original 35mm negative, this release from Warner Bros. Archive Collection is a real badass treat.  The brand new 1.78:1 HD master is detailed and looks better than ever. Some shots, due to the era of the day, are fuzzier than others but the image is reasonably well defined with crisp contrasts and solid textures. Colors are solid, with reds being a standout. Blacks are, too.

Audio:

The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono for these three films might need a serious upgrade, but purists will be pleased with the sonic punches it packs.

Supplements:

Commentary:

Special Features:

Blu-ray Rating

  Movie 4/5 stars
  Video  3/5 stars
  Audio 3/5 stars
  Extras 0/5 stars

Composite Blu-ray Grade

2.5/5 stars

 

Art

Shaft/Shaft’s Big Score/Shaft in Africa: The Warner Archive Collection

 

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