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    NEW JACK CITY: TWO-DISC SPECIAL EDITION (Warner Bros.)

    "A MODERN GANGSTER THRILLER"
    -Michael Wilmington, Los Angeles Times


    Often called, amongst diehard fan circles of this film, "Scarface-meets-the-inner-city-streets-of-New-York," Mario Van Peebles' New Jack City has garnered enough of a fan following and established enough of a cultural impact characteristic through its somewhat gritty realism about the crack epidemic that rocked major cities during this time period that parent studio Warner Brothers felt it was time for a major Special Edition release of this title to replace the aging snapper-cased single disc bare bones version. It's probably --- next to Demolition Man --- Wesley Snipes at his best as a bad guy (we rooted for him in Passenger 57 and perhaps Blade, but we have no choice but to absolutely hate him as "Nino Brown" in New Jack City)....and hate the character we do. As bad as his "Simon Phoenix" character in Demolition Man? That's a tough call; but he is downright evil in this as an ambitious yet soul less crack kingpin.

    I personally like to put New Jack City right up there with films what I believe are becoming "modern day urban classics" such as Boyz N The Hood, Higher Learning, Juice and the like. It has been a favorite of mine ever since I was young from the first time I caught it on cable, and Warner has given fans what they have been waiting for --- the same treatment that the studio has recently given other fan-followed titles such as Heat and The Lost Boys --- this package remains no different, with a two-disc presentation and tons of supplemental material on what went into making this urban landmark. Thankfully, the original release's snapper case package is gone, replaced by the typical Warner two-disc keepcase box which holds each disc on a tray inside; the box itself is then encased in a beautiful outer slipcase --- just like Heat was (but not The Lost Boys) --- rimmed with a shimmering red border for a touch of class and an eye catching look proclaiming the words "TWO-DISC SPECIAL EDITION" up top. The artwork is carried over from the inner box to the slipcase in typical Warner Brothers style, boasting Snipes in a haze of gunsmoke, holding a pistol, above smaller images of the co-stars, including Ice T, Judd Nelson and Mario Van Peebles himself.

    For those of you who never caught this flick but possibly plan on picking it up based on this review, I'll try not to do what I usually do with the detailed plot analysis and give too much away; Peebles opens the film amongst the backdrop of a hip-hop score supervised by rap star "Queen Latifah" and shows the rooftops of New York City during the crack epidemic that hit in the 1980s, setting the tone for the drug oriented theme of this picture. We are introduced to rapper Ice T's character, who is an undercover narcotics cop named Scotty Appleton, who is pretending to want to buy some crack from dealer Chris Rock; after a chase ensues when Rock tries to steal the "money" T has brought for the buy, T's character shoots Rock in the leg and has him arrested for dealing as backup officers arrive at the playground in which he shot him. Peebles then expertly flash-forwards the time to circa 1989, where Ice T has arrived at the same playground once again in the city where the information about drugs is being spread to children and it seems there may be a chance to reduce what is going on with this crack epidemic.....until Appleton spots some empty crack needles in a puddle of water, reminding him there is still work to do on these streets.

    We are then introduced to the villains of this show: drug kingpins Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes) and his sidekick "Gee Money" (Allen Payne) who are overseeing a drug empire on the streets of New York much like Al Pacino's character did in Brian DePalma's Scarface (which is hinted to many times during this film) with the cocaine business in Miami. Brown and his men are ruthless, killing rival drug dealers in broad daylight on the street corners and eventually taking over an entire apartment building in order to centralize their drug making operations; their gang is known as the Cash Money Brothers (CMB) and it is at this point that Mario Van Peebles, the head of the narcotics division of the police, is authorized to set up an independent unit to try and stop Snipes and his men and bring them to justice for good. Peebles turns to Scotty Appleton (Ice T) and Judd Nelson, who is another off-the-wall cop who almost got his last partner killed in a motorcycle chase. Appleton has been on suspension, and with Nelson's wild background, the two seem like they're all Peebles needs to bring down Snipes in this "New Jack City" he's dealing drugs in. The racial bantering between Ice T and Judd Nelson are comedic most of time, as whenever Ice T is arguing with someone Nelson will interrupt with "Uh, excuse me, but is this some kind of black thing?" which always sends Ice T's personality roaring; but there is no doubt a chemistry that builds between these two cops as the film goes along, eventually getting on the same page to be on one mission and one mission alone: to kill or bring down Nino Brown (Snipes).

    There is a subplot which develops here involving Chris Rock, who, after being shot by Ice T in the opening sequence when he was a crack dealer, becomes a basehead and junkie, but eventually is taken under Ice T's wing for rehab because T just feels so bad for this kid who is obviously lost and alone in this drug world he has slipped into. Once recovering in rehab from the crack he has been on, Rock wants a chance to work for Ice T and Nelson on helping to bring Snipes down --- as Rock is now a loyal employee of Snipes' working in the room where the crack is actually made in that apartment building the CMB set up for their operations. Against Peebles' and Nelson's advisement, T decides to send Rock in undercover --- wearing a secret camera in his belt to record everything that goes on in Snipes' secret drug making lab; unfortunately, Rock succumbs to crack once again after being exposed to it on a daily basis, and now there is a race to save Rock's life after he is exposed as being an undercover snitch for the cops by Snipes' right hand man Gee Money (Payne) and other members of the CMB. The task force Peebles put together must now attack the apartment building crack facility that Snipes is running in order to get whatever information they can to put these guys behind bars and to try and save Rock's life. There's a lot more I can say from this point on regarding the plot to New Jack City but I won't, for those of you who have never seen it as this point I am leaving off at is a crucial turning point in the film and changes the outcome unexpectedly.

    Peebles' directing style is interesting on this project, using multi-camera techniques which at times has characters at a "slant" as the camera pans back and forth or just stands still; it adds a unique quality to New Jack City and, amongst some roundtable cinema discussions, is what makes the film so memorable. We get a good look inside this crack epidemic which was indeed crippling the streets of rather bad neighborhoods inside and around New York City --- and other major cities in the country at the time, and we cannot help, as I have said, hate Wesley Snipes' Nino Brown character, who could honestly care less how many people die --- women or children --- in order to further his riches in the drug trade. There is another sub plot in the film regarding a rival Italian organized crime family who is battling Snipes and his crew for ownership rights to drug-infested spots in the city, leading to murder after murder and hit after hit between these two operations.

    But at the end of the day, the film just works. It never outstays its welcome, running at a brisk 101 minutes, and keeps you entertained pretty much from beginning to end. For those of you who have never seen New Jack City, give it a spin in your player. It's a fun way to kill a little over an hour and a half----and the ending has a VERY uplifting, surprising twist.

    Let's take a closer look at Warner's Two Disc Special Edition release of this title in terms of audio and video performance, and then I'll go into the special features which is why many fans of the film will be picking this up to double dip on; this was the first time I have put this title in my collection, knowing this version was coming eventually, so hence the reason I waited for the Special Edition.

    DISC 1 contains the transfer itself --- which was NOT advertised by Warner as being digitally remastered or cleaned up in ANY way --- as well as the theatrical trailer and a running commentary with director Mario Van Peebles.

    VIDEO SPECIFICATIONS:
    WIDESCREEN VERSION PRESENTED IN A "MATTED" WIDESCREEN FORMAT PRESERVING THE ASPECT RATIO OF ITS ORIGINAL THEATRICAL EXHIBITION, ENHANCED FOR WIDESCREEN TVs; DUAL LAYER FORMAT

    Getting around this "Warner speak" for "no or little letterboxing present," New Jack City's 1:85:1 transfer played back with no letterboxing on MY 55" display, filling the screen from top to bottom with film image. This widescreen transfer --- digitally remastered or not --- looks absolutely great for a film of this year, budget and status in Warner's vaults. I detected NO grain anywhere except for a very quick moment at one point where a scene went dark and a bit grainy --- but that was it. The overall look of the print is downright SMOOTH and colors remained rich throughout the run of the presentation. Very good work here from Warner, especially considering the fact that they did not claim any video remastering was done on this transfer.

    AUDIO SPECIFICATIONS:
    ENGLISH DOLBY DIGITAL 5.1, FRENCH DOLBY SURROUND (DUBBED IN QUEBEC); SUBTITLES IN ENGLISH, FRENCH & SPANISH

    I don’t really know what to make of this Dolby 5.1 mix for New Jack City; it exhibits a very strange characteristic not usually typical for a DVD release: I actually found that the DIALOGUE track was heftier and more forceful than the ACTION or MUSIC sequences which drive the heart of this film. Can you believe that? The mix opens nicely, with the Queen Latifah track complementing the stars onscreen during the opening credit sequence, and this wraps around the soundstage pretty good; but something is missing here which I cant quite put my finger on --- it's a front-heavy Dolby track for sure, with good right to left stereo separation across the front soundstage, but not much makes it to the surrounds. Onscreen gunfights don't seem to pack that much punch, at least they didn’t to my ears, and when they happen, the effect is a bit off----as if you don’t really know where these guns are being fired from and the overall presentation gets a bit "messy" sounding. For such a soundtrack rich in Hip Hop music, there is a shallowness to the LFE present, but all these characteristics I am describing may in fact come from the aging audio stems Warner had to work with for this film which was released in 1991.

    Yet amidst all this hoopla, the strangest notion about this Dolby Digital track is what I mentioned above: the dialogue actually comes across stronger and with more heft than does the action and score; it's USUALLY the other way around on a surround mix---any surround mix. If there's a scene with dialogue and then the next scene abruptly shifts to one with score or, say, an interior nightclub sequence, you can easily hear the difference in volume from the dialogue to the music, as the music sequences seem to drop somewhere into the speakers and lose some "punch" and fidelity; this MAY, as I said, have to do with the elements Warner was working with for this film from 1991.

    There was, however, one memorable scene audio-wise where there was a helicopter not visible yet the sounds were there, hovering in the surround channels creating a realistic environmental support which stood out on the track.

    It must be assumed, because I couldn't get an answer from Warner's press division before this review was written, that this was the carryover 5.1 mix from the original release because the packaging states nowhere that this audio track has been remixed, tweaked, or "digitally enhanced" at all.


    DISC 2 housed the Special Features which is probably what is most alluring to fans of this film. These exhaustive insights included:

    -NJC: A HIP HOP CLASSIC - Artists, radio personalities and other hip-hop icons show their respect for the movie that brought the streets to the big screen
    -HARLEM WORLD: A WALK INSIDE - Mario Van Peebles checks out the sights and sounds of the Black Capital of the World
    -THE ROAD TO NEW JACK CITY: Get the lowdown on the making of the movie with Wesley Snipes, Ice T and Allen Payne
    -NEW JACK CITY: MUSIC VIDEOS - "New Jack Hustler (Nino's Theme)" by Ice T, "I'm Dreamin'" by Christopher Williams and "I Wanna Sex You Up" by Color Me Badd

    As aforementioned, DISC 1 includes the commentary by Mario Van Peebles as well as the theatrical trailer.
    Last edited by Lexmark3200; 09-07-2005 at 12:11 PM.

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