Release Date: June 26, 2007
Film Rating: /
Starring: Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji P. Henson, Paula Jai Parker, Elise Neal with D.J. Qualls and Ludacris with Isaac Hayes
Produced by: John Singleton and Stephanie Allain
Written and Directed by: Craig Brewer
”It’s hard out here for a pimp
When he’s trying to get the money for the rent...”
Hustle & Flow is Craig Brewer’s award-winning film from 2005, which centers itself on the hip-hop performance dreams of a Memphis pimp played by Terrence Howard. The low-budget production has received a lot of attention due to the depth of the performances and the assured scripting and direction by Brewer. The film has won major awards at Sundance, as well as an Academy award for the featured rap “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”. Seen today, the film still has a solid impact on the viewer. The performances by Howard and the rest of the cast, particularly Paula Jai Parker and Ludacris, are all convincing and raw. The film feels steeped in the grittier side of Memphis – which makes sense, given that it was filmed entirely on location in that city. And the music completes the package, with a series of hip-hop songs built into the soundtrack, some of which are witnessed in the process of being created by Howard’s character. There’s a lot of heart on display here, and despite the lurid atmosphere, the film winningly presents an underdog story with a simultaneously rousing and ironic conclusion.
The film has previously been released on standard DVD in January 2006. In the last week, it has been released on both HD formats. The Blu-Ray release includes a new 1080p transfer of the film, all the special features from the SD release, and several additions to the package. These additions include audition and rehearsal videos, HD trailers, an alternative acoustic version of the Oscar-winning song, and a pair of scene extensions.
VIDEO QUALITY: 3 ½ /5 ½
Hustle & Flow is presented in a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer of a print that includes a startling amount of fine grain. While there is a rich array of colors and a fair amount of detail revealed by the high definition picture, the grain has a major impact. Among other things, the grain flattens the depth of many images, particularly the close-up shots. (For a clear example of this, look at the closeup of Taryn Manning at 59:09) A lot of this can be attributed to the film having been shot on 16 mm film, and the rest of it stems from the low budget nature of the production. As we've seen before, a high definition transfer of a grainy print shows a higher resolution of grain, and in this case, it makes the grain that much more noticeable. I watched this disc on a 40 inch screen, and much of the movie was practically buzzing. On a larger screen, I believe the grain will have a much greater effect.
AUDIO QUALITY: 4/5
Hustle & Flow is presented in English, French and Spanish in a satisfying 640k 5.1 surround mix. The hip hop music throughout the film comes through all the channels with a bass line in the subwoofer. There are many directional effects and voices throughout. This is the sort of mix that really makes the home theatre speakers come to life.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 4/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of Hustle & Flow presents all the special features from the standard definition release, with several new additions. Almost all of the special features are presented in 480p without any anamorphic encoding, and in the current release, new features have been added to make the experience richer.
Commentary with Craig Brewer – The Blu-Ray release includes Brewer’s commentary from the earlier standard definition DVD. The talk still holds up as informative and thorough. Brewer clearly has a lot of ground to cover here, and he’s just as clearly delighted to be able to share the information about all aspects of the film and the music behind it. As with his commentary for Black Snake Moan, this is a solid piece of work. Much of the discussion has to do with the project’s evolution from a single encounter Brewer had with an actual pimp in Memphis. Brewer talks about how this went from the single image of the pimp and the girl in the car to a series of monologues for the pimp to a plot about the pimp going through the same life crisis Brewer experienced when his own father died.
Behind the Hustle (27:19) (480p full frame) – The original four featurettes from the standard definition DVD are included here, starting with this overview of the making of the film. Interviews with the entire cast and creative staff are intercut with the usual film footage and on-set footage. There’s some great stuff about the training of Terrence Howard in hip hop delivery by Three 6 Mafia. The picture that emerges here is that of a very low budget film that was effectively put together by the good will of everyone involved with the project.
By Any Means Necessary (14:39) (480p full frame) – This standard definition featurette elaborates on the low-budget conditions of the production. As nobody would agree to finance the movie, John Singleton went out of pocket on his own to make the movie. Singleton, Stephanie Allain and Craig Brewer all discuss the situation from their various perspectives. As an added bonus of having the producer/financer on the set all the time, Brewer mentions having Singleton tell him to go the additional takes when it was needed, even when the overtime was going to cost him more money.
Creatin’ Crunk (13:41) (480p full frame) – The third featurette from the original DVD release focuses on the music assembled by Scott Bomar. Bomar notes that he pulled together several of the musicians who worked with Isaac Hayes on Shaft back in the day. There are several interviews with the musicians and some footage of them at work, as well as some interview material with Isaac Hayes himself.
Memphis Hometown Premiere (4:52) (480p full frame) – The final featurette from the original DVD shows footage of the premiere of the film in Memphis in January 2005. Most of this consists of red-carpet interview clips with everyone. Near the beginning, there is a little footage of the mayors naming the day in the honor of Craig Brewer and the movie. Brewer is clearly very happy to be recognized by his chosen hometown.
6 Promotional Spots (13:37) (480p Full Frame) – The final holdover from the original DVD release is a series of promotional pieces that were clearly filmed during the production. It’s usually just a cutaway here or there and then a quick trailer clip. The picture quality isn’t that great, but the content can be a lot of fun, particularly Anthony Anderson and D.J. Qualls arguing over the origin of the word “crunk.”
Paula Jai Parker audition (2:46) (480p Full Frame) – The first bonus feature added to the Blu-ray is a video segment of Paula Jai Parker’s audition for the part of Lex, using the scene of her final fight with Terrence Howard’s character. The point here is to show the amount of raw energy she brought to her audition to get the part. In the Behind the Hustle featurette, Craig Brewer has already discussed this audition and shown us a clip of it. Here we get to see this scene in all its raw glory – BEFORE Brewer cast her or put it on film.
Ludacris and Terrence Howard Rehearsal (2:22) (480p Full Frame) – Here is another standard definition shot-on-video featurette, now focusing on the blocking rehearsal of the meeting of Terrance Howard with Ludacris’ “Skinny Black” at the bar. There isn’t a lot going on here, and the clip ends just as the scene is starting to get interesting.
Extended Scenes (5:31 Total) (480p Full Frame) – Two scenes from the film are extended with video footage of the cast read-through of additional dialogue. The only advantage to this over simply including the full shooting script as a readable text is that we can hear the actors saying the new dialogue.
”It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” – Acoustic Version (3:14 Total) (480p Full Frame) – Here we have the best of the bonus features, for my money. The earlier featurette Creatin’ Crunk starts with a brief clip of actor Jeff Pope singing the first verse of a “99 Bottles of Beer” singalong version of the movie’s signature song. For this extra, we are presented with the complete performance of the song in the production’s catering tent, with Craig Brewer, John Singleton, Stephanie Allain and Taryn Manning notably singing along with the choruses. The scary part is that the song kinda works as a singalong! Of course, not all the lyrics really fit, but it’s really endearing to watch Pope try to force them all to fit...
2 Theatrical Trailers (2:31 and 2:32) (1080p MPEG-2) – The final addition to the extra features is a pair of theatrical trailers for the film, both presented in 1080p MPEG-2 transfers. Each starts with a different focus, but winds up in the same place. The picture and sound quality on both trailers is about the same as the feature itself – meaning that they’re pretty grainy.
Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French and Spanish for the film itself as well as for the special features. The usual Blu-Ray pop-up menu is accessible during the film.
IN THE END...
Hustle & Flow is a solid film which sounds great on Blu-ray but which has a noticeably grainy picture. The movie is strong enough to keep the viewer’s attention regardless of that, which is a testament to the direction of Craig Brewer and the performances of the cast. The Blu-ray disc is also graced with several extras not found on the standard definition release, the best of which is the above-mentioned drinking song rendition of the film’s biggest hip hop moment.
July 2, 2007.