ďHere - at this final hour, in this quiet place - Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes -extinguished now, and gone from us forever. For Harlem is where he worked and where he struggled and fought - his home of homes, where his heart was, and where his people are - and it is, therefore, most fitting that we meet once again - in Harlem - to share these last moments with him. For Harlem has ever been gracious to those who have loved her, have fought her, and have defended her honor even to the death."
- Ossie Davis
Iím not going to spend a lot of time trying to review Spike Leeís monumental 201-minute 1992 epic Malcolm X. The honest truth is that Iím not sure thereís a need as the simple fact is that this movieís status as a cinematic effort of merit has been more than cemented over these past two decades, and Iím not sure thereís any more I can add to the conversation that hasnít been said many times before.
Personally, I still feel Leeís Do the Right Thing is his best film, but even so it goes without question this one is easily his most important. I canít think of another filmmaker who should have tackled the biography of the still controversial Civil Rights leader, another director with the drive and the passion to get his vision up on the screen. He knew any successful biopic would have to showcase the man warts and all, would have to show where his multiple transitions came from making him less of a legend and more of a human being.
Not an easy task, too be sure, especially for those in the African American community who have put Malcolm up on an obscenely high pedestal that doesnít allow for negative thoughts, ideas or concepts to enter into the conversation. But Lee was undaunted, and as such his movie becomes all the more resonant because of it. Black, White, Yellow, Green, everyone can relate to the story depicted here, and if a person cannot embrace the filmís themes than they just as likely have trouble looking past the end of their very own nose.
It is unimaginable that this film would have been what it was without the talents of Denzel Washington. This is the performance of a lifetime, the one he was born to play, the actor inhabiting the character in a way that is uncanny and haunting. Itís still freakishly hard to believe he lost the Best Actor Academy Award to Al Pacino and his showy work in Scent of a Woman (a movie I do admittedly enjoy), especially considering the actor was also nominated for his far superior work in Glengarry Glen Ross that very same year. This is the kind of dynamic, multidimensional bit of acting that is instantly that of legend, and anyone who watches the film cannot help but come away astonished by what it is that Washington accomplishes.
Iím not going to claim to be Civil Rights scholar. I canít say I know a lot about Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X or any of the other leaders who became cultural titans through their words and actions during that time. But I know a great motion picture when I see it, and Spike Leeís Malcolm X is indeed a massively great movie. Watching it led me to Alex Haleyís The Autobiography of Malcolm X back when I was in High School, watching it led me to learn more about a time and a place we only covered in minute detail during my AP American History studies.
But Malcolm X is far more than a didactic history lesson, far more than a tool for educators to show their charges in hopes theyíll be interested in learning more. It is, in fact, an important piece of modern American cinema that has more than passed the test of time, and hereís hoping in another two decades it will finally be fully embraced as the classic it so obviously is.
Malcolm X is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.85:1/1080p transfer.
Malcolm X comes to Blu-ray in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 and includes optional English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles.
Extras here include:
∑ Audio Commentary by director Spike Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, editor Barry Alexander Brown and costume designer Ruth Carter
∑ By Any Means Necessary: The Making of Malcolm X (30:28)
∑ 9 Deleted Scenes (20:54) with Introduction by Spike Lee (1:04)
∑ Original Theatrical Trailer (2:51)
All of the above extras were first available on the two-disc DVD special edition, and theyíre just as terrific now as they were then. The audio commentary, in particular, is essential for those looking to know more about how Lee and company set about the task of bringing Malcolm X to life, each member adding indelible insights I found fascinating.
The best extra, however, comes on the included DVD. It is the Academy Award-nominated 1972 documentary Malcolm X (92:00) narrated by James Earl Jones and featuring tons of excerpts from Alex Haleyís seminal work The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Watched in tandem with Leeís classic the effect is rather startling, and as such anyone even remotely interested in knowing more about this central figure of the Civil Rights movement owes it to themselves to give this Blu-ray digibook from Warner Bros. a look.
Spike Leeís Malcolm X isnít perfect, but itís darn near close to being so in all the ways that matter. Featuring a titanic central performance from star Denzel Washington, this two-disc Blu-ray digibook is borderline essential, Warner Bros. once again showing that they know how to give proper respect to their catalog classics like no other Hollywood studio.