I read Alex Haley's biography of Malcolm X when I was 18 years old and found it to be one of the most extraordinary and moving pieces of literature I had encountered to that point. When I heard that Spike Lee was going to direct the screen version of the book I had some trepidation but upon viewing the film I found that my fears were unwarranted. No matter what you think of Lee's personal politics there's no question that he's one of the most talented and significant directors of our time. Lee brings the full force of his abilities to this picture.
Malcolm X is essentially a play in three acts. The first act follows young Malcolm's exploits, as he becomes a two-bit hood and numbers runner. Act two covers his prison bound enlightenment and subsequent conversion to Islam. Act three recounts his meteoric rise within the Nation of Islam, his subsequent disillusionment with spiritual leader Elijah Muhammad and eventual assassination. Throughout these three stories we're treated to a visual feast featuring stunning camera work, incredible location footage and beautiful cinematography. The film runs just over three hours but never lets the viewer become bored or detached from the action onscreen. The script follows Haley's book closely and includes the text of many of Malcolm's most memorable speeches.
As if Spike Lee's adept handling of his subject matter and clear mastery of the motion picture medium weren't enough, we're treated to a tour-de-force performance by Denzel Washington as Malcolm X. Denzel is an actor with stunning range and he meets the challenge of portraying Malcolm's depth of character in fine style. At the end of the film we're presented with footage of Malcolm himself and it's a great testament to Mr. Washington's commanding performance that these clips seem not in the least bit incongruous with the rest of the film. Washington becomes Malcolm X. to the point that the two almost seem one in the same within the context of the film.
Malcolm X is derived from a reference quality print that shows no signs of wear or damage. Color saturation, flesh tones, black level and shadow detail are right on the money. Considering the wide variety of locations, both indoor and out, daytime and night, this disc has one of the better transfers I've seen. There are no compression artifacts, edge enhancement effects or color bleed to be seen.
For its release on DVD Warner created a new 5.1 audio mix and the result is theater quality sound. The soundfield is very immersive with plenty of ambient effects in the surrounds, artfully mixed music and even a number of good LFE moments. A bad 5.1 conversion can really kill a film but this one is so well done that it I can hardly imagine watching the movie without it.
Malcolm X fairly screams for a special edition but for reasons unknown Warner has chosen to present it with nothing more than a couple of cast and crew text screens. They didn't even include the theatrical trailer. The lack of extras really had me scratching my head but the merit of the film itself warrants its inclusion in a well-rounded library.
Warner really should have made an effort to build some ancillary content into this DVD. There could have been a making of documentary, some deleted scenes and an audio commentary track, all of which would have added a new dimension to the enjoyment of this film. The lack of this sort of content makes Malcolm X somewhat less attractive than it could have been but, as stated above, this is such a fine film that you shouldn't shy away from it based on that alone. If you're interested in the life of Malcolm X, enjoy the films of Spike Lee or simply love finely crafted movies you'll want to have Malcolm X in your collection. I highly recommend it.