For his third picture, director John Singleton ("Poetic Justice", "Boyz In The Hood") has changed locations from the inner city to a college campus for his third feature. Taking place in "Columbus University", Singleton's film takes a look mostly at the negative aspects of what happens during the college experience of these characters.
New to campus are Malik (Omar Epps,) a young white woman named Kristen (Kristy Swanson), and a young white man named Remy (Michael Rapaport). Malik is there on a track scholarship and everything seems to be going pretty well. Kirsten gets herself settled in school, but soon has a terrifying experience as she becomes a victim of date rape, then hanging out with another girl (Jennifer Connelly). Remy is a character who doesn't find himself fitting in with the rest of the students and looks to fit in elsewhere. Unfortunately, he finds himself accepted into a group of skinheads and then finds himself in a downward spiral.
I'm sure that awful and unfortunate things do happen on campuses across the country, but aren't there some good things that go on, as well? Singleton mainly shows us the negative side, not the high points of these characters' situations while in school. Personally, I recently finished with college and found it to be nothing like any sort of "college" that's ever been presented in film. I went to a very diverse college and was friends with different people from different backgrounds. There was no "tension" - heck, there was hardly any energy. People came into the three hour classes, learned our facts and that was the day.
I will say that Singleton attracted a fine group of performers for the various roles. Ice Cube, who has shown himself to be a terrific actor in a wide variety of roles, does fine work again here. Swanson and especially the beautiful and luminous Jennifer Connelly also provide good performances. Epps has always been an intense actor, and shows strength again here.
Not a bad film from Singleton and certainly some good performances as well as interesting moments, but parts of it are more successful than others.
VIDEO: "Higher Learning" is presented by Columbia/Tristar with a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Although clear, crisp and generally pleasant looking, the image has a rather "flat" feel; it's very good looking, but it doesn't quite reach greatness. Sharpness and detail are fine, with the exception of a few scenes here and there that either look slightly on the murky or soft side. These are very minor concerns though, and the majority of the movie looked well-defined.
Problems are visible here and there, but were really nothing to worry about greatly. Print flaws appeared briefly in the form of a couple of random, infrequent speckles, but that was about it where print flaws are concerned. No edge enhancement or pixelation was seen for a mostly smooth presentation.
Colors looked neither vibrant or subdued - they mostly took on a realistic, natural feel that remained visually enjoyable, but not eye-catching. This is a very nice transfer, but it's not an exceptional one. English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai subtitles are included.
SOUND: "Higher Learning" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The movie doesn't present a particularly agressive or even that active sound environment. For the most part, the movie keeps the sound in the front, as the classroom and interior sequences don't call for much in the way of sound use. Some of the outdoor sequences begin to use the surrounds a bit more with some ambient sounds, but besides the music, that's all there is to having the sound open out beyond the basics. Audio quality seemed fine - the music came through clearly and crisply and dialogue sounded natural and clean. No problems, but also nothing much going on.
MENUS:: Menus are non-animated, with very basic images serving as backgrounds.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director John Singleton. The director provides an interesting, relaxed commentary about the making of the film, discussing the entire span of the production during the track, from how the film was brought together towards how different sequences were filmed. A few scenes have the director talking about what it was like to direct Tyra Banks, who was his girlfriend at the time, in her first feature. It's a fun track as Singleton is able to remember some fun stories about what happened during the making of the movie and an interesting one as the director discusses his thoughts about filmmaking in general.
Also: Trailers for "Higher Learning", "Boyz In The Hood" and "Poetic Justice".
Final Thoughts: I didn't think "Higher Learning" was an entirely successful picture, but Columbia has provided a very nice DVD for those who are fans of the film. Picture and audio quality are good and Singleton provides a fine commentary. Available for $19.99 or less at stores.