The Anniversary Edition DVD of Boyz N the Hood is two years late, but for fans of the film this two-disc set proves to be worth the wait. Not only does the set offer high-quality special features, but the film itself has aged well, proving that it's a classic that can be enjoyed by any generation. Summed up in one word, Boyz N the Hood is real.
The reason this film stands the test of time is its focus on the characters, not the violence. When we first meet Tre (Dezi Arnez Hines II), he's a young boy who continually gets in trouble at school until he's sent to live with his father, Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne). Although the boys in the neighborhood are already getting in trouble with the law, Furious instills in his son the qualities necessary for him to become a man and do the right thing.
The great thing here is that we immediately get to understand Tre, his father, and the world around them, which is filled with drugs and violence. This allows us to care for the growing dynamics of their situations once the film jumps forward several years when Tre (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) is trying to not only get the girl (Brandi, played by Nia Long), but the knowledge necessary to get him into college, which in turn will get him out of South Central. Meanwhile, his friends across the street are in a completely different boat. Doughboy (Ice Cube) is fresh out of jail, while his brother, Ricky (Morris Chestnut), is on the verge of getting a football scholarship. Both want their mother's love, but only the good son is going to get that attention.
Although not all of us have lived in a neighborhood strife with gang violence, we've all had to deal with growing up, trying to deal with our parents, and handling our first exposure to "true love." This is the basis of what sets Boyz N the Hood apart from other films that tackle similar difficult topics. We empathize with and care about the characters, which makes the events that unfold that much more powerful. The characters make some difficult choices, but because we've seen where they come from, we understand how and why they make those choices.
Sometimes mislabeled as a violent film, Boyz N the Hood actually keeps the brutality on the outside looking in. It's a constant threat for the characters, who live in a brutal world, and it's a dark, powerful presence in the film. The violence is always close at hand, and when the carnage actually erupts on screen, it opens a wide range of emotions—shock, sadness, anger—that crush our spirit only because we learned to care about the characters and events we've seen.
Boyz N the Hood is much more than a "gangsta" film. It manages to have an emotional impact twelve years after its debut because it's not just about gangs and violence. There's real heart here, in part because of the amazing performances by a young cast. How writer/director John Singleton got such a quality performance from such a young cast, I'll never know. The energy all but emanates from the television screen. But the young men and women caught on film here are real. So is the story. And luckily for audiences, so is the emotion.
Columbia Pictures presents Boyz N the Hood in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (there's also a full frame version, but who cares, right?). This anamorphic widescreen presentation looks great, probably as good or better than the film did during its original run at the threaters. Unfortunately, the source material doesn't lend itself to a perfect presentation.
For the bulk of the film, the transfer is great. Detail is crisp, reaching well into the shadows. Colors are vibrant when expected to be, and skin tone looks correct. Black levels are strong throughout. Scratches and mosquito noise appear only occasionally and are never distracting. Same goes with the dreaded edge enhancement halos. They appear on the high contrast scenes, but they are never bad enough to take attention away from the film.
Perhaps the only thing keeping me from praising this transfer is the flat look to the picture. Many of the inside scenes and the ones with poor lighting look almost hazy and some of the background detail seems soft. The source material is the culprit here, and I can't imagine this film looking better.
Note that I was unable to compare this transfer with that of the original DVD release. Based on reviews of that first release, if this is a new transfer, it still has some of the same problems of its predecessor.
I was really expecting to find a 5.1 audio track here, but sadly, Columbia decided to include only a 2.0 Dolby Surround track (for three languages: English, Spanish, and French). However, I was pleasantly surprised with the sound. With Pro Logic kicking in, the rears actually sound pretty good, particularly with the helicopters flying overhead. Although the baseline of the rap music and the pop of gunfire aren't all that powerful, it still sounds great.
Upon very close inspection and more than enough scrutiny, some of the voices seem to lack power. The voices are clear and crisp, but they sometimes sound a tad high on the treble side. Not tinny, actually, but they sometimes lack a deep sound. I didn't find this objectionable in the slightest. As a matter of fact, I didn't even notice until a friend pointed it out. I've included this bit of information only in the effort of getting you the best review possible.
THE BONUS FEATURES
All DVDs should strive to have bonus features like the latest Boyz N the Hood DVD release. Although it's not jammed with goodies, the ones you do find are top notch. The most important extra is the new, screen-specific audio commentary by writer/director John Singleton. In a smooth, friendly voice, Singleton goes back in time to explain why he chose certain camera moves, points out various technical aspects of the film, relives moments on the set, and shares heartfelt and comical insights from the making of his debut film. Not only is this commentary informative, it's very entertaining.
You will find the remaining extra features on the second disc. The primary bonus here is the documentary, Friendly Fire: The Making of an Urban Legend. More of a retrospective, the 45-minute documentary features recent interviews with the director, cast, producer, reporters, and casting agents. This isn't fluff. It's lively and fun and truly includes the inside scoop. Cuba Gooding, Jr. relives his first on-screen sex scene, Singleton remembers the gang problems, and Ice Cube reveals the truth about his first screen test. There's great stuff here.
Also on the second disc are two deleted scenes, one of which is the important and very powerful Furious/Doughboy confrontation. You also get two music videos, Compton Most Wanted's "Growin' Up in the Hood," and Tevin Campbell's "Just Ask Me To." Both videos sound great despite the 2.0 track, but c'mon Tevin, were those bright clothes ever in style?
Rounding out the second disc are cast and crew filmographies and eight trailers, which include Singleton's Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice, and Baby Boy.
I debated and debated about what recommendation to give this DVD. It very well could be considered worthy of the DVD Collectors Series tag, but I couldn't bring myself to do that. The extra features are top notch, and the movie itself is one of the best. Based on the source material, the sound and video options are better than they've ever been, but the fact remains that these aren't flawless. I highly recommend this DVD, even for those willing to pluck down the money having never seen the film.
For those interested, please check out my interview with John Singleton.