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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/9/00

Malcolm X
1992 (2000) - Warner Bros.

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Films of Spike Lee on DVD

Malcolm X Film Ratings: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/D

Specs and Features

201 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered, (layer switch at 1:40:14, in chapter 27), Snapper case packaging, cast and crew bios, awards listing, film-themed menu screens with animation and sound, scene access (52 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

The epic story of Malcolm X, and his rise from lost youth to gifted leader, is told by director Spike Lee in high style. Lee won the project after proclaiming that no white director could possibly tell the story of such an individualist black man, and after seeing his vision, I'd have to agree. He made his point and proceeded to give us a film that is probably one of his best. Most critics would have shaved about an hour off the thing (and I would have dropped the "I'm Malcolm X" mess at the end). But again, Lee wanted to make a point in the length as well as with the film. The point: Scorsese and Oliver Stone weren't the only directors at Warner that could clock in with a film over 2 hours and 45 minutes long.

Denzel Washington plays Malcolm Little, a young man with fire in his eyes. He constantly gets turned around until he lands squarely on the wrong side of the tracks. Wallowing in everything he'd later stand against (being drugs, crime and sex with white women), he eventually finds himself in prison where he comes face to face with the Nation of Islam. Looking for a shred of light to grasp onto, Malcolm becomes a Muslim and changes his name to Malcolm X (dropping the surname Little, because it was given to him by the slave owners in his family's past). Malcolm begins to change into a great leader and eventually bumps into internal power struggles at the Nation of Islam, that cause him to leave eventually question his safety (and that of his family) in the world. His concern was real. Malcolm X was in fact assassinated in 1965, an action that left a gaping hole in the world.

Lee's film is a great chronicle. The first hour is a creative dance of style and color. Washington and the camera are both very playful, and the film has a lot of fun while we explore Malcolm's past. The middle portion is about Malcolm's rise in the Nation, and here all of the colors are more subtle -- Earth tones with heavy use of blacks and tans. The last portion of the film, dealing with Malcolm's redemption, spiritual learning and betrayal, harken back to the first hour, and Lee struts his stuff with Washington bathed in warm colors again. All of this is well represented on DVD, in wonderful anamorphic widescreen video and a fully-reconstructed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack.

But I would have liked to have more on this disc in the way of extras, especially a Spike Lee commentary and a trailer. Don't get me wrong... it's nice to have the whole chronicle on one disc (and on one side). But I would have given up that luxury to get some special edition material. Of all the Lee films, this is the one with the most history, and to hear Lee discuss it would have been nice.

As it stands, this is still a great DVD and it's definitely worthy of being in your collection. Warner really did a great job with the production quality of this disc. And given that this is a film I've waited a long time to own on DVD, I'm glad they were as tender with it as they were. I still can't help wishing they'd given us more extras, but beggars can't be choosers.

Todd Doogan
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The Films of Spike Lee on DVD

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