Believe it or not, the original Black Dynamite was released theatrically almost five years ago...but like 99% of the film's cult followers, I was introduced to it on home video between then and now. I'd imagine that most of the remaining fans will hop on board via this animated series, a slight retooling of the film's subversive mix of comedy, action and tongue-in-cheek Blaxploitation that's wildly entertaining in the right mood. Of course, not everyone liked the original film, and I'd expect that anyone who rolled their eyes at the movie will either (a) avoid this series like the plague or (b) give up after a few minutes. But if you've seen an enjoyed the original Black Dynamite more than once, you'll probably dig this.
If you shut your eyes, Black Dynamite the animated series pretty much sounds like the real thing: most of the voice actors reprise their original roles, recognizable music cues and sound effects remain intact, fight scenes are vicious and heavy-hitting, and mountains of goofball dialogue retain the original's satirical sensibilities. Gone, however, are the subtle visual clues that we're watching a (purposefully) low-budget affair, save for one clever gag about a wayward boom mic in the second episode. These are replaced by a much slicker atmosphere loaded with artistic compositions and flashy "camera moments" that would feel right at home in your average episode of The Boondocks. It's a subtle trade-off that barely even registered during the first few episodes, and the admittedly strained nature of the original's pacing is no longer burdened by a need to run 84 minutes. More often than not, the strange world of Black Dynamite feels right at home within the tighter confines of a 22-minute format, as these 10 episodes prove in relatively short order.
Not counting the half-length pilot episode (included in this collection as a bonus feature), Black Dynamite hits the ground running with what might very well be the first season's best episode, "Just Beat It". Like other episodes to come, this 22-minute adventure takes a famous (or infamous) icon from the time period---in this case, Michael Jackson and family---and either subverts their legacy or slyly puts their destiny in place, alternate universe-style. It's wildly entertaining for all the right and wrong reasons...so if "Just Beat It" doesn't impress you, I doubt the rest of Season One will change your mind. Other highlights include the obligatory Christmas special ("A Crisis at Christmas"), a flashback-heavy trip to Vietnam ("Apocalypse, This!"), a spoof of everyone's favorite classic monster movie that isn't Godzilla ("Honky Kong"), and a madcap race across the country for fame, fortune, and a Wheaties box cover ("The Race War").
No shortage of celebrities and other period icons pop up along the way, including Richard Pryor, Elvis, OJ Simpson, Isaac Washington, Eartha Kitt, and the returning "Tricky Dick" Nixon. A talented voice cast has been rounded up, too: returning in-character from the film are Michael Jai White (BD), Byron Minns (Bullhorn), Kym Whitley (Honeybee) Tommy Davidson (Cream Corn) and others, as well as guest stars including Billy West, Eric Bauza, Corey Burton, Snoop Dogg, Eddie Griffin, Chappelle Show's Charlie Murphy and Donnell Rawlings, JB Smoove, Aries Spears, Gary Anthony Williams, Debra Wilson, and Cedric Yarbrough. This series also has the good sense to borrow of the movie's best (or at least the most memorable) elements, from various catch-phrases and dialogue exchanges to sound effects like this one.
Warner Bros. serves up this short and sweet ten-episode collection on a single disc; much like the network's other "Adult Swim" productions, this is an adults-only affair and no longer censored (at least in the audio department, as body parts are still either pixellated or blocked out). It's a decent little package despite the lack of compelling extras.
"Just Beat It, or Jackson Five Across Yo' Eyes" - "Bullhorn Nights, or Murder She Throats" - "Taxes and Death, or Get Him to the Sunset Strip!" - "A Crisis at Christmas, or The Dark Side of the Dark Side of the Moon" - "Panic on the Player's Ball Express, or That's Influenza Sucka!" - "The $#*! That Killed The King, or Weekend At Presley's" - "Apocalypse This!, or For the Pity of Fools AKA Flashbacks are Forever" - "Honky Kong, or White Apes Can't Hump" - "The Race War, or Big Black Cannon Balls Run!" - "Seed of Kurtis, or Father Is Just Another Word For Motherf#@ker"
Video & Audio Quality
As expected, this 1080p transfer of Black Dynamite: Season One serves up a bold, vivid and eye-catching visual presentation that stands out from start to finish. The highly expressive and inky art style pops off the screen, while the warm and heavily saturated color palette has also been replicated faithfully. Black levels also hold up nicely and noise is kept to a minimum, but occasional banding issues are noticeable; whether or not it's a source material issue, only the pickiest of viewers will be distracted by (or even notice) this minor problem. Overall, this is a fantastic presentation that really captures the series' energetic, fluid and unpredictable atmosphere. Without question, fans should be pleased.
DISCLAIMER: The promotional images featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p resolution.
Not to be outdone, the included DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix also serves up plenty of action. The original film never skimped on the audio either, though it obviously had no shortage of intentionally flat, mono-sourced music cues and sound effects. This animated series actually borrows many of the same source cues, themes and other such material to great effect, creating a hodgepodge of heavy, thumping action with more reserved "analog" moments along the way. Still, any audio defects heard here seem to be completely intentional, as Warner Bros. has once again done a fantastic job of porting Black Dynamite to Blu-ray. Optional English subtitles have been included during all 10 episodes, which certainly might help some viewers decipher much of the rapid-fire dialogue, slang terms and unique character names.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The menu interface is clean and simple, though a handful of logos and warning screens must be dealt with beforehand. This one-disc release is housed in a clear keepcase with attractive and wordless artwork wrapped around it, which fits inside the iconic slipcase pictured up top. An Ultraviolet HD Digital Copy redemption slip has also been tucked inside.
A few nuggets, but some of what's were left me a little underwhelmed. The main attraction is Black Dynamite's original 2012 Pilot Episode (11 minutes), eventually continued in season finale "Seed of Kurtis". It's a pretty solid opener with the series' formula already locked (loosely) into place, from the voice acting to the rapid-fire dialogue. I even prefer the art style a little more, but it's possible that the eventual series' "look" was cheapened a bit for budgetary reasons.
Up next is a very short Behind-the-Scenes Featurette featuring Michael Jai White and Byron Minns, who go into modest detail about the series' inception and production. Unfortunately, at just under 10 minutes it really doesn't dig very deep and, as expected, it's more of a promo piece than something that was recorded after the season actually aired.
Last and (unfortunately) least are five Audio Commentaries featuring White, Minns, Tommy Davidson, Carl Jones, and Kym Whitley (in various groups of three or four) during the following episodes: "Just Beat It", "Bullhorn Nights", "Taxes and Death", "For the Pity of Fools", and "Honky Kong". Though a handful of interesting stories and casual banter keep these interesting for the most part, I didn't care much for the format style or recording quality: not only are these limited to "picture-in-picture" (which covers up part of the artwork to show us the participants just sitting there, and prevents viewers from switching audio tracks on the fly), but their comments are mixed too low in comparison with the episode audio. You'll probably have to turn these up a little louder than normal; as a result, you'll get a nice little jump-scare during the lapses in conversation. Optional English subtitles are included during the pilot and featurette only.
I heartily enjoyed the original Black Dynamite for its attention to detail and refusal to take itself too seriously. This animated series is definitely a different beast but still hugely enjoyable, thanks to the familiar voice cast, anything-goes atmosphere, gonzo art style, unhinged humor and subversive plots. It's a brash, confident new series that's obviously helmed by people who care about it, and I'd dare say that any fan of the original movie will have no problem devouring these episodes in just a few short sittings. Warner Bros.' Blu-ray is very good with mild reservations, serving up a terrific A/V presentation but a (somewhat) lacking platter of bonus features. Still, the episodes themselves are enjoyable with a solid amount of replay value, which makes Black Dynamite: Season One a no-brainer. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.