I'd heard about Drumline a long time ago and was initially resistant to it, which is a little personally ironic. I'm usually surrounded by them at the soccer games I go to. I dance, chant and sing to the beat of a drum. It's a mother's milk for some strange reason. My drummer friends call it their "expression of self." Ironic or not, it's fun and enjoyable, and that's was Drumline finds itself in the surprising position of delivering.
Tina Gordon Chism (ATL) writes the screenplay that Charles Stone III (Mr. 3000) directs. Devon (Nick Cannon, Roll Bounce) has just graduated from high school in New York. He's a drummer in the school band and quite a good one, getting a full scholarship to Atlanta A & T University for his work. He makes friends on the way down there, but when he gets there, he finds the demands of being in the group more rigorous than he was expecting. The leader of the drumline is Sean (Leonard Roberts, Heroes), who resents the youngster's brashness even though he respects the talent. He does whatever possible to get in the way of his progression. The quiet band director is Dr. Lee (Orlando Jones, Evolution). Dr. Lee wants to teach the kids the music of the '70s soul era, but the leaders and financial supporters of the school want a different direction. They want showmanship without refined polish (something that Devon symbolizes in his eyes).
The tough part for me was that not only is that the basic story, but the film plods on with this for almost two hours. It's filled with many of the predictable filler material for similar films. The freshmen get hazed, but they also go through training designed to build them up for the stamina of playing with the band. Devon tries to get with a woman that would normally be unattainable to a kid like him, but after some resistance does. Devon thinks he can handle the big stage of his first drumline, and freezes initially when it's offered to him, but then he recovers and takes over. What made this supposed protagonist unlikeable to me is the fact that he's never given the chance to screw up in a royal way. If you're going to use many of the challenges that get in the way of your character, at least make them a little more than topical nuisances. The story might be a little more predictable that way, but at least I'll respect you in the morning.
With those gripes about the story and the main character out of the way, I've got to admit that I was partially drawn into the film as it went on. And the reason I was is for the same reason I mentioned at the beginning; the drumming was creative, powerful and original. There are nods to older acts like the Jackson 5, Earth Wind and Fire and Funkadelic, but you can almost feel influences of Caribbean music and a little bit of go-go spread in throughout. There's a lot of music and drumming in the film, if for nothing else but for the great music and performances. The band choreographies and planning are very impressive, and the last sequence at the Battle of the Bands in Atlanta's Georgia Dome makes for some jaw-dropping stuff. Putting aside what felt like a subliminal arrogance that Nick Cannon carried as Devon, I even found myself enjoying the film.
I'm sure that Drumline is meant to inspire kids to be part of school bands as a means of expression. With that said, I don't think I could do what they do. There's just too many physical and creative deficiencies too deep to mention. But would I be inclined to watch a movie on drumlines or similar Battle of the Band events in the future? Sure, provided they were documentaries or done with a cast of largely nameless performers, so I wouldn't have to deal with a Cannon derivative in another film. Is Drumline a movie whose primary concept seems to carry the entire film, despite a distasteful leading character and largely telegraphed story? Oddly enough, yeah.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Drumline is served up to high definition consumers in a 2.35:1 widescreen presentation which Fox uses the AVC MPEG-4 codec for. The first scene is shot overhead looking down at graduation, and you can pick out the asymmetry of Devon's slouching rather easily. But when you get from New York to Atlanta, the film springs to life in brighter colors. The band's dark blue and yellow uniforms look vivid on screen, and rival bands' costumes of purple and red all look equally impressive and none of them have any bleedthrough that I noticed. Film grain is present and not a distraction for the viewer. From time to time during some of the darker sequences (especially after the loss to the city rival), the image tends to suffer from a bit of softness, but Fox turns in another solid effort.
I was expecting the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track to kick my behind from one side of the room to the other in a mountain of bass and surround effects. What I got was a more restrained and clear experience. Honestly, the subwoofer engaged two or even three times through the film, and one was in a club sequence early in the film after Devon and his new friends get to college. The drumming sequences are crisper sounding, largely because of the snare drum that Devon and Sean are virtuosos in. Dialogue sounds strong and doesn't get drwoned out by the ambient noise, like during Devon's first attempted solo. Speaker panning is evident on the early outdoor sequences, and directional effects are at a minimum. Overall, I didn't expect what I got, but I'm happy with what's here.
The film's theatrical cut and an extended cut are included on the disc, and you can select either version from the disc menu. The extended cut is four minutes longer, and includes the deleted scenes mentioned below. The commentary from Stone, however, is on the theatrical cut only. He does get technical on the track from time to time, covering the shot intention and breakdown, and recounting other areas on the production. He discusses his ideas as to what role the music should play in the film, and spotting things like the differences between an actor on film and his musical stand-in, or who certain extras were. He talks about how his own musical experience helped him make the movie, and pointing out particularly scenes of pride. Considering he's got to hold this track up on his own, it's not a bad listen. "Half-Time Heroes" (14:02) examines the real band members in the film as they speak to their allure for being in a band. They cover the music they play and their roles in the band, be it percussion, brass, etc. Rehearsal footage of the band is shown, and many members discuss its personal importance to them, while the cast talk about why they like the bands and how the film might impact the real-life musicians going forward. "Real Battle of the Bands" (9:01) is a look at the annual Atlanta event and includes cast thoughts on the jam, while the real band members talk about what it means to them and what they like individually from the Battle overall. "Anatomy of a Drumline (9:28) shows us rather quickly how the film came to realization, and what the cast thought of their musical counterparts. They also discussed how they prepared for the demanding work. Four deleted scenes (6:15) are next, and tossing an alternate performance and extended ending out of the way, there's nothing to be gained from these, and the trailer (2:08) in high definition is the only other extra to speak of.
While this version Drumline might not be this particular person's mother's milk, it's filled with a variety of percussion, horns and music that is certain to dazzle and impress. On the technical side, it's equally good, and if you have the earlier standard def copy, this is another for the double-dip list. If you're like me and are coming into this film unspoiled, a rental on a slow night is the best option for you.