Malcolm X: Special Edition

January 28, 2012 11 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

When it comes to the films of Spike Lee, only a few stand out for me. “Malcolm X” is certainly one of them and I liked his recent “25th Hour” as well. I’m not going to second guess one of the most praised filmmakers of the last twenty five years, it’s just that most of his movies aren’t of my taste – that’s not to say they’re not well-made and entertaining. That said; let’s take a trip back to the year 1992, shall we? I remember the “X” symbol being just about everywhere, mainly in anticipation of this movie. The “Malcolm X” style of glasses was popular and Spike Lee’s film was just about the hottest thing going. Somehow I never managed to see it until it came out on DVD the first time around. I loved it. In my mind, no one else could have played the role of Malcolm except for Denzel Washington. No one. The sheer transformation from teenage hoodlum to world leader was remarkable and I feel that it was only because he was up against Al Pacino (for “Scent of a Woman”) that he lost the Oscar (not to worry, he would win in 2002 for “Training Day”). After all is said and done, “Malcolm X” is probably the role that Denzel will mostly be identified with. That’s just my opinion, however, but the true test of an actor is how well they ingratiate themselves into their role and Washington certainly did that here. For those who haven’t seen it, here’s what to expect…

“Malcolm X” is the gripping, story of real life Muslim radical leader. Born Malcolm Little in Nebraska, this movie chronicles Malcolm’s life from his teenage years until his assassination. Denzel Washington, who in my mind is probably the only person who could play this role, is simply fantastic as Malcolm X. Malcolm (Denzel Washington) and friend “Shorty” played by Director Spike Lee start getting involved in crime in Boston. The movie seems to concentrate on all the wrong things they did wrong when they were younger, and makes it that much more of a stronger case how ‘wrong’ they were. As Malcolm and Shorty get involved with white women, robbing and doing drugs, they eventually end up in prison. This is where Malcolm first learns the teachings of Islam, and starts his transformation. It’s here where the movie really takes off, being just short of 3 and a half hours, there are some very slow scenes, it is to develop character, and it’s nearly 90 minutes into the movie when we first start to see the arrival of “Malcolm X”. It’s also here, that we see how much power and influence that Malcolm has over his disciples. The whole concept of being a Muslim was not only to hate the white man, but to blame them for everything that has gone wrong. Their view of things is that they have had the short end of the stick for more than 400 years, and now it’s time for him to pay. Gone are the affairs with white women, the drinking, the drugs and the way of life that they were accustomed to. Malcolm amasses a small army in one scene to check on an injured “brother” (they refer to each other as brother, i.e. brother Malcolm, etc.).

We first see the power of Malcolm X as he controls a peaceful mob with but two waves of his hand, and it’s a bit of foreshadowing when the police officer mumbles to himself “No one man should have that much power.” We all know the saying about power and it is, unfortunately, very true as this movie comes to a close. Watching Malcolm X for the first time on DVD was a great experience, this was my first time to actually see the movie and I’m glad that Warner Brothers did it right. Spike Lee, in my opinion, did a fantastic job with the script and in my opinion was influenced by Scorcese. At some points during the movie, I felt like I was watching GoodFellas! Denzel Washington gives one of his greatest performances, and I have to admit that Spike Lee has gained a new fan in me as well. While Malcolm X might take an afternoon to watch, I can honestly say that it’s worth it. For those of us who grew up long after his assassination, we can see how some of the turmoil of the 60’s and how much influence has had a lasting effect on our country that is evident still today.

Video: How does it look?

The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer appears to be the same used for the original disc as I compared the two side by side. If Warner did a new trnasfer it A) Looks almost exactly as the original version and B) Aren’t promoting it (the new transfer). In any regard, the transfer never looked bad to begin with. The colors range from very colorful and vivid to very muted and almost drab – but this is the way it’s supposed to look. There are a few instances of minor edge enhancement and some dirt on the print, but nothing too bad. The movie, lest we forget, is a dozen years old and it looks surprisingly good for a 1992 film. The movie is spread across two discs this time whereas the first version had it on one disc, so the picture has a little more space to up the bit rate.

Audio: How does it sound?

“Malcolm X” isn’t really so much a movie to showcase sound, but it’s occasionally used with great effect. Many crowd scenes, or scenes with speeches, literally throw you right in the middle of the action. Dialogue is obviously very important here and is clear with no real distortion. Surrounds are used frequently, but you tend not to notice them, as you’re caught up in the action of the movie. This sounds fairly good and the range is pretty impressive. It’s nothing too overly special, but then again it’s not supposed to be.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Features were what was lacking on the original DVD for “Malcolm X”, but that’s been fixed with this new version. Granted, this isn’t so loaded down with supplements that a day will be sacrificed to watch them but there’s a lot more for your dollar here. First up, there is an Oscar-nominated documentary on Malcolm X from 1972 (yep, vintage) which runs at 90 minutes. I realized how good Spike Lee’s movie was when I watched this and though informational, it was merely an uninteresting version of what I’d just seen. What was more interesting was “By Any Means Necessary” which was a behind the scenes documentary of the making of the film. Certain directors are very passionate about their projects and we see how much this meant to Spike Lee (his image of him wearing that hat with the “X” on it will forever be ingrained in my mind). The featurette is narrated by James Earl Jones, whose presence is always noticed. It also helps to break this out of that “cookie cutter” mold that so many “Making of…” featurettes fall into. Ten deleted scenes with Spike Lee’s introduction are also included, these total 21 minutes and it’s nice to have a little reasoning as to why they were cut. Lastly, the audio commentary by Spike Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, Editor Barry Alexander Brown and costume designer Ruth Carter is almost worth the price of the disc itself. The movie was nominated for Best Actor and Best Costume Design and about the only thing that could have made this better was the inclusion of Denzel Washington. Just about everything you wanted to know about the movie is covered here and at three and a half hours – they’ve plenty of time to discuss it all. A theatrical trailer is also included. This new version of “Malcolm X” is a must have for fans and even if you own the original. Warner shows that they do new editions of their movies as a replacement (except “Gothika”) and not just to get more of your money. Highly recommended.

Disc Scores