Review by Sean Boelman
Recent months have seen several strides towards diversification in the Criterion Collection, one of which is the inclusion of several Blaxploitation films. This month sees one of the most beloved films of the genre enter the collection — Gordon Parks’s 1971 action classic Shaft — and it is a must-own for any cinephile.
The film follows the story of a cool private eye who is recruited by a crime lord to find and rescue his kidnapped daughter. It’s a storyline that has been replicated ever since — hell, even Star Wars is doing it in their Obi-Wan Kenobi series — but there is a reason why this film has stood the test of time to become such a classic.
No one would deny that a big part of this film’s success is Richard Roundtree’s performance as the eponymous private eye. In subsequent sequels, Samuel L. Jackson and Jessie T. Usher would take up the mantle as the descendants of Roundtree’s o.g. bad-mother-shut-yo-mouth, but no one can or will ever live up to his pure swagger.
There is also no denying that the style of the film is a big part of its success. Shaft was one of the foundational films of the genre, with the stylish action and funky music that would come to define Blaxploitation. Isaac Hayes’s Oscar-winning music is certainly memorable, and is a joy to hear the new uncompressed mono soundtrack on a good at-home sound system.
The new edition also features a new restoration of the film, and it’s very nice. Granted, there are still a few 35mm prints of the film circulating around, and that’s probably the best way of seeing this picture, but a crisp new 4K restoration isn’t a bad way to go. And this is the first time the film has been released on the format.
This edition also includes a Blu-Ray copy of the film’s first sequel, Shaft’s Big Score. While it’s not quite as good of a movie as its predecessor, it’s certainly more underseen and is still an interesting action flick. And who’s gonna turn down the chance to see Roundtree back in his role again.
For a film that already has so many releases on home media, the bonus features with this edition are surprisingly strong. There’s a new behind-the-scenes documentary, a new interview with the film’s costume designer, and a new featurette. And if you’re a fan of the film like me, you could hear people talk about it all day.
Shaft may not be the most preservation-minded addition to the Criterion Collection, but it’s still a fun and worthy Blu-Ray to add to your shelf. If I dare say, I can dig it.
The Criterion Collection edition of Shaft is now available.
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