Malcolm X: Special Edition (Dbl DVD) (O-Sleeve)
Adapted from the novel, "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" written by Alex Haley, this is an amazing biopic of one of the most influential African American leaders to date. It follows the life and times of Malcolm Little through his transformation to Malcolm X and his departure from the Nation of Islam. Spike Lee's epic film captures the internal struggles, the spiritual, political and structural changes that Malcolm Submitted himself to throughout his life to achieve his changing goals.
Along with the beautiful transfer and remastering on the new two-disc special edition of Spike Lee's ambitiously entertaining 1992 biopic Malcolm X
, the special features are abundant if somewhat of a mixed bag. The best component is Arnold Perl's Oscar-nominated 1972 documentary, which is also titled Malcolm X
(in fact, the final script of Lee's film was partly based on another script by Perl). Made up exclusively of brilliantly edited archival footage, it's no surprise that the events included mirror the story arc of Lee's version in many ways. Most of it is public-speaking newsreel footage of the charismatic activist, a lot of which ended up in Lee's script as verbatim dialogue spoken by Denzel Washington. The most astonishing thing about watching the older documentary is seeing just how precisely Washington nailed his characterization. He absolutely became Malcolm X not only in the physicality of every nuance, gesture, offhand finger wag, and facial expression, but also in the tone and tenor of voice and fierce passion that drove his subject's soul.
Less remarkable but far more impressive than the ordinary behind-the-scenes compilation feature included on most DVDs is a new documentary titled "By Any Means Necessary: The Making of Malcolm X." The star of this show is definitely Spike Lee, a controversial figure in his own right for the pugnacity that has always followed his career as a director. It's a worthwhile look at the production company's uphill battle against the studio, the extraordinary efforts that went into getting all the details of a period picture right, and the technical challenges the crew faced in bringing such painstaking detail to the screen with an artistic integrity that comes through in every frame. Lee's well-known ego gets an even greater forum in his rambling, long-winded, and downright boring introductions to a handful of insignificant deleted scenes. It's also odd that Lee's contribution to the commentary track is the least interesting. His observations are often along the lines of "I love this scene," or "Ooh, watch this!" Interspersed with Lee's "Spike Lee fan club" notes are reflections by cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, editor Barry Alexander, and costume designer Ruth Carter that dig a little deeper into the fine points of the production's logistics. In all, this Malcolm X special edition is a sensible upgrade, and thankfully not just for Spike Lee fans. --Ted Fry