Malcolm X – Criterion UHD Blu-ray Review

5 Stars Spike Lee's grand biopic debuts on UHD Blu-ray
Malcolm X screenshot

Malcolm X. One of the more crucial filmmakers to emerge from the independent filmmaking scene of the 1980’s, Spike Lee has become one of the most important directors in American Cinema. His works are often thought provoking and touch upon tough subjects like race relations, politics, the modern day influence of the media in everyday life and issues within the black community; this was all started with the debut film She’s Gotta Have It (1986) and got launched into the stratosphere with Do the Right Thing (1989). Following Jungle Fever (1991), Lee took on one of his most ambitious and important projects of his career: a biopic on the life of civil rights activist Malcolm X. Previously released on DVD and Blu-ray by Warner Bros., Criterion has licensed the film for its UHD Blu-ray debut.

Malcolm X (1992)
Released: 18 Nov 1992
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 202 min
Director: Spike Lee
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Cast: Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Delroy Lindo
Writer(s): Arnold Perl, Spike Lee, Alex Haley
Plot: Biographical epic of the controversial and influential Black Nationalist leader, from his early life and career as a small-time gangster, to his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam.
IMDB rating: 7.7
MetaScore: 73

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: Criterion Collection
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 3 Hr. 21 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray
Case Type: Digipack
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 11/22/2022
MSRP: $49.95

The Production: 5/5

“We declare our right on this Earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this Earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.” – Malcolm X

In 1940’s Boston, Malcolm Little (Denzel Washington) is getting by in life by pulling off robberies with his friend Shorty (Spike Lee) and his lover Sophia (Kate Vernon). When the law catches up to them, Malcolm is sent to prison, but during his time incarcerated, he learns about the Nation of Islam and its leader, Elijah Muhammad (Al Freeman Jr.), and the seeds of Malcolm’s activism are planted. When he’s paroled in 1952, Malcolm Little is rechristened as Malcolm X and begins to preach the Nation of Islam’s message – which focused on separation rather than integration – to growing crowds. But as time goes by – which includes meeting his future wife Betty Shabazz (Angela Bassett) – Malcolm discovers the contradictions of the Nation of Islam – particularly Elijah’s own life contradicting the teachings of Islam and his own – and following JFK’s assassination in 1963, begins another change in his activism, one that would bring him to the brink of eternity.

One of the most seminal and crucial figures of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, Malcolm X has gotten a cinematic treatment worthy of his stature here. While a documentary was made by Arnold Perl in 1973 that focused on his life (and which the script was used as a template – along with the autobiography as told to Alex Haley – for this movie), Spike Lee went further here by showing the nuances and complexities of Malcolm that shows his evolution over the years leading up to his death. Though epic in scope (as evidenced by the nearly 3-and-a-half-hour runtime), it’s intricate in its detail, with superb production values coming from the likes of cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, costume designer Ruth E. Carter, production designer Wynn Thomas, composer Terence Blanchard and editor Barry Alexander Brown; bookending the film are Lee’s signature stylistic touches, notably evident in the credit sequence where footage of the beating of Rodney King at the hands of the LAPD officers is intercut with the American flag gradually burnt down to the shape of an X. However, the most amazing part of all of this is that Lee maintains a sure hand in his direction all the way, maintaining a compelling interest throughout while guiding his actors to powerful and intelligent performances all around. In the end, Malcolm X is not just one of Spike Lee’s best movies overall, but one of the best films of the 1990’s and one of the best movies ever made on one of the central – and significant – activists of the Civil Rights movement.

Given one of the best roles of his career, Denzel Washington gives a tour de force performance as Malcolm X; despite being passed over for the Best Actor Oscar (in favor of Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman), he would eventually earn the award – the second Oscar win of his career following Glory (1989) – for playing the corrupt Alonzo Harris in Training Day (2001). Right on the cusp of her breakthrough – and Oscar nominated – performance as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It the year after this movie’s release, Angela Bassett casts an equally unforgettable impression as Betty Shabazz; recently, she’s won a Golden Globe for her performance in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – and is currently up for an Best Supporting Actress Oscar as of this review’s publishing – and can be seen on TV as LAPD Sgt. Athena Grant-Nash in 9-1-1. Also attracting praise was Al Freeman Jr. for his portrayal of Elijah Muhammad while Delroy Lindo garnered notice as well for playing West Indian Archie, the Harlem gangster who brings Malcolm under his wing during his criminal days. Rounding out the ensemble cast here are the director as Shorty, Albert Hall as the convict Baines (who mentors and steers Malcolm to converting to Islam), Theresa Randle as a young Malcolm’s love interest, Kate Vernon as Sophia, Debi Mazar as Sophia’s friend Peg, Lonette McKee as Malcolm’s mother, Tommy Hollis as Malcolm’s father, Christopher Plummer as the prison chaplain, Giancarlo Esposito as Talmadge X Hayer, Roger Guenveur Smith as the criminal caterer Rudy, David Patrick Kelly as Malcolm’s elementary school teacher, Karen Allen as a social worker and Peter Boyle as a NYPD captain; notable uncredited appearances include political activists Bobby Seale and Rev. Al Sharpton as street preachers, civil rights attorney William Kunstler as a judge, Nelson Mandela – soon to be President of South Africa following the movie’s release – as a Soweto school teacher, Vincent D’Onofrio as a witness to the JFK assassination, director John Sayles as an FBI agent on Malcolm’s tail, John David Washington – later to headline Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (2018) – as a Harlem elementary school student, Lee regular Nicholas Turturro as a Boston police officer and Ossie Davis reading the eulogy he delivered at Malcolm’s funeral for the voiceover narration in the film’s final sequence.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new 4K transfer from the original 35mm camera negative under the supervision of cinematographer Ernest Dickerson; on the UHD Blu-ray, the film is presented in Dolby Vision HDR while the first Blu-ray disc presents the movie in SDR. Film grain, color palette and fine details appear to be faithfully represented with only minor cases of scratches, tears and dirt present. Overall, this release is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video and surpasses all previous releases on DVD and Blu-ray.

Audio: 5/5

The original 5.1 surround soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release on both UHD Blu-ray and Blu-ray discs. Dialogue, sound mix and Terence Blanchard’s music score are all presented faithfully with only minimal cases of distortion, fluttering, clicking, crackling, popping or hissing present. This release likely represents the best the movie will ever sound on home video.

Special Features: 5/5

On both UHD Blu-ray and Blu-ray disc 1

2005 commentary by director Spike Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, film editor Barry Alexander Brown and costume designer Ruth E. Carter – Originally recorded for the 2005 2-disc Special Edition DVD release, Lee, Dickerson, Brown and Carter reflect on the making of the movie through each aspect of the production.

Blu-ray Disc 2

Telling Our Stories (25:49) – Filmed for this release, Spike Lee and author Barry Michael Cooper reflect on the film and its impact 30 years later.

Interview with actor Delroy Lindo (16:42) – In this new interview, Lindo talks about his collaboration with Lee and his memories on working on the movie.

Interview with composer Terence Blanchard (18:43) – Blanchard talks about his collaboration with Lee starting with Mo’ Better Blues, his work on this movie as well as later Spike Lee Joints.

By Any Means Necessary: The Making of Malcolm X (30:27) – This retrospective featurette from 2005 looks back at the making of the movie from conception and some production troubles to its release and reception; narrated by James Earl Jones and featuring interviews with Lee, Dickerson, Brown, Carter, Blanchard, actors Denzel Washington and Ossie Davis, producers Preston Holmes and Jon Kilik, casting director Robi Reed, production designer Wynn Thomas, former Warner Bros. executive Lucy Fisher, Martin Scorsese, Rev. Al Sharpton (who has a brief role in the movie), an archival interview with producer Marvin Worth and Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz.

Malcolm X (1972) (1:31:41) – Arnold Perl’s Oscar-nominated documentary on the life of Malcolm X, also narrated by James Earl Jones and featuring archival footage, newsreels and excerpts of Malcolm X’s speeches.

Deleted Scenes (20:41) – 9 scenes cut from the film can be played separately or all together with each deleted scene introduced by Lee; carried over from the 2005 DVD and subsequent 2012 Blu-ray release.

Theatrical Trailer (2:49)

Booklet feat. an essay by Barry Michael Cooper, excerpts by Lee and Washington from the 1992 book By Any Means Necessary & Ossie Davis’ 1965 eulogy for Malcolm X

Overall: 5/5

Garnering significant critical praise from critics upon first release, Malcolm X is a compelling biopic on one of the most complex men of the Civil Rights movement. Criterion has likely delivered the most comprehensive and definitive home video release here, with a stellar HD transfer and a terrific assortment of legacy and new special features, including the original 1972 documentary on Malcolm X. One of the best releases of 2022 is very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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mskaye

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Thank you. Ernest Dickerson is a master cinematographer/visualist. Spike Lee when he was at the peak of his powers. Can't wait to get this one.
 
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