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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/6/01

Baby Boy
Special Edition - 2001 (2001) - Columbia TriStar

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Baby Boy: Special Edition

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B-/B+

Specs and Features

130 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:28:58, in chapter 21), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with John Singleton, Cinemax "making of" featurette, 14 deleted/alternate scenes, 2 music videos, outtakes and bloopers reel, The Kiki & Boo Show, storyboard comparisons, theatrical trailers (for Baby Boy, Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice and Higher Learning), 7 television spots, filmographies, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English, (DD 5.1 and DD 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai, Closed Captioned

Baby Boy is the movie I've been waiting to see from John Singleton. His Boyz N the Hood is one of my favorite films, but nothing he's done since then has come close to the power in storytelling and relevance of material of that film. Poetic Justice was too full of stilted dialogue and inconsistent acting to be completely effective, and the pretentious caricatures in Higher Learning were such a distraction that I couldn't even pay attention to the story. Not that Singleton needs to be pigeonholed as a director, but Boyz N the Hood was one of those great movies that plays more like the first chapter of a novel than a complete work. Ten years later, with Baby Boy, he's taken a different look at the Los Angeles area, and come up with a film that is just as important as the film that made it possible.

Jody (Tyrese Gibson) is 20 years old. He lives at home with his mother, Juanita (A.J. Johnson), and has two children by two different young women. He has no job and no real motivation to change that. He's not a thug or a criminal, but he has not yet learned to take responsibility for his own life. The first time we see him, he's escorting his girlfriend Yvette (Tarija P. Henson, who is very good as the take-no-bull "baby mama") from the women's clinic where she's just had an abortion. She already has one son by Jody, and can barely raise that child on her full-time salary and the little support she gets from him. Jody also worries a great deal about his mother, and given her history of poor choices in boyfriends, he has reason for concern. When his mother brings home Melvin (Ving Rhames), her new boyfriend, Jody immediately sizes him up. He's an ex-con on edge and makes no bones about his disdain for Jody's lack of motivation. Jody sees a lot of his abusive father in Melvin and doesn't want to see the cycle repeated. In Melvin, Rhames creates a character of tremendous depth and unpredictability. Melvin is the source of much of Jody's frustration, because he sees through Jody's tough front. He recognizes that Jody is teetering on the verge of becoming the thing he least wants to be - a thug.

With Baby Boy, Singleton looks closely at the argument that African American men, more than other men in America, take little responsibility for their family. Jody is the embodiment of all these accusations, and Yvette's convict ex-boyfriend Rodney (Snoop Dogg) exaggerates the accusations to a further degree. In a way, Singleton concedes to that theory, but argues that African American men live in a society that doesn't encourage them to do otherwise. These things aren't a product of human nature and aren't inherent to any certain groups of people. Jody is surrounded by close friends and family members that tolerate his behaviors and a society that has instilled within him a belief that he won't live long enough to amount to anything. His mother casually suggests that he get a job, yet she doesn't discourage his aimlessness. Yvette knows he's cheating on her, but she gives him mixed messages about what she'll tolerate. Baby Boy also says a lot about the inability of a group of people to fully function and grow in a society of babies raising babies. What happens when your own development is stunted so you can't raise a child?

All of these are difficult issues, and Singleton doesn't shy away from them. He tackles them head on with insight and keen attention to detail. Baby Boy isn't quite as convincing a film as Boyz N the Hood, but it rivals its predecessor in a few areas. There's great strength in the film's characters. Each one of them is well rounded and believable. It's easy to empathize with them, even when they make the wrong choices. It's also a more stylized film. Singleton uses a lot more engaging camera angles this time out, and the film has a slight, amber-drenched look to it. These are all esthetically pleasing choices, that are never so showy that they draw attention only to themselves. They give a slightly more polished feel to a genre that often favors a gritty, harsh look. But more than any of these things, Baby Boy has more faith in humanity than Singleton's first film. Boyz N the Hood ended on a subdued, remorseful note, after we've seen the worst in humankind. Baby Boy sees the bad, but realizes that if we take more responsibility for our actions, things will be okay.

Baby Boy finds its way to DVD in the original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. One of Columbia's strengths is their work in the transfer process of newer films. Baby Boy is a fine example of this. For starters, the source print they've used is absolutely brilliant. You'll find no dust, hairline scratches or any other evidence of mistreatment. Color reproduction and black levels reveal great detail, and really aid in providing a sense of depth to the picture. The color palette is a bit muted, the film favoring a slightly amber tone in some scenes and bluer hues in others. This is an intentional choice on the part of the director, and it looks just fine on DVD. The only drawback I was able to pinpoint is a handful of instances of compression artifacting. Outside of this, I have no complaints picture-wise.

I was disappointed with the 5.1 mix, however. There's nothing inherently wrong with it, it's just not a very active mix. By and large, most of the movement in the track is across the front section of the sound field. The rear speakers come into play mainly during the music track, but even then they're not used to complete effectiveness. It's not until the film's final act that you'll hear any movement across the discreet channels to create a sense of space. Still, the .1 LFE channel is pretty lively and supports the mix nicely when necessary. The track gets the job done, but just barely. If you prefer, there's also a 2.0 surround track and an assortment of foreign language subtitles.

This is another of Columbia's new special editions, and they've given us a nice, if typical, set of features. Front and center on the extras is the running audio commentary by the director. Singleton is incredibly soft-spoken, but pleasant to listen to. In his commentary, he discusses not only his choices as a filmmaker, but also the inspiration for the film. He talks quite a bit about the look of the film and some of the choices made by the cinematographer. You'll also get an earful on the choices in casting. It's definitely worth a listen. The Cinemax featurette (which runs a brief 14 minutes) is the standard "go see this movie" type of promo. It's not quite on the level of EPK stuff, so you will see a few good things in it. The Kiki & Boo Show segment is a stand-alone version of a television program shown in the background during a scene in the film. It's a mock cable access show, and Kiki and Boo discuss the ups and downs of sex. It's definitely on the blue side, but they packed a few raunchy laughs into the 7-minute piece. You'll also find no less than 14 deleted or extended scenes on the disc. Most of these were wisely left out of the film (at 130 minutes, it runs a little long), but there are a few worth watching in there. There's another scene between Melvin and Jody, and an additional scene that sheds more light on the nature of Jody and his mother's relationship with his deceased brother. The blooper reel is also entertaining, and is noteworthy for its sex scene bloopers. I'm sure you've always heard that sex scenes on film are awkward to shoot. Watch these and find out why.

If any of the features is a letdown, it's the storyboard comparison. Running about 5 minutes in length, it details 3 scenes and how closely they related to the final product. The problem is, they picked some of the weaker scenes in the film to dissect. Skim through it once if you like, but you'll want to pass on repeated viewings, I'm sure. Columbia was also good enough to give us 2 music videos. The title track by Snoop Dogg (whose appearance in the film is largely over-hyped and actually quite small) and Tyrese is a good song, and the video features several members of the cast. Baby Mama by Three 6 Mafia featuring La Chat is a ghetto fabulous take on courtroom-based television programs. The video itself gave me a chuckle, but the song is forgettable. The remaining features are basic disc-filler fare: 7 television spots, 4 trailers (for Baby Boy and the other three Singleton films in Columbia's collection) and filmographies. All in all, a respectable effort from Columbia.

Baby Boy finds its way to DVD a mere 3 months after it opened in theatres. It opened to mostly good reviews, but for one reason or another, it didn't click with audiences. Still, I think it's fair to say that if you liked Boyz N the Hood, you'll want to check this one out. In the end, it suffers some from a little overindulgence, but its social relevance is intact and the cast carries the movie. So... a great film, a sparkly DVD picture and worthy extras. Give the disc a go.

Dan Kelly
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